by Joel France
reviewed on PC
A risk of clones
Humanity has stripped Earth of all resources, and is unable to sustain life any more. In Genesis Alpha One, you find yourself the captain of an ark built to carry humanity across galaxies in the search for a new home. In this part-FPS, part-resource manager, you’ll work tirelessly to improve your ship and ensure you’re equipped to deal with the perils waiting in the night sky. The tone here is all very self-serious, but is at least consistent - the dejected voiceovers of the opening scenes of each mission pair perfectly with the moody, muted greys and browns that make up most of the locations.
You’ll start each run with a small ship and a smaller crew, though (luckily) cloning was perfected before you had to abandon Earth; so if you’re able to find some spare biomass lying around on a planet, you can take this back to the lab if you need extra pilots, gunmen, or complex moral implications. This cloning procedure provides the backbone of the crew upgrade system; by combining biomass with DNA from other species you can create hybrids which have different stats, though it’s never explained quite how you’ve got the clearance to be making these decisions. The crew also serve as your backup in case of player death - one will be chosen at random to be promoted, and you’ll continue from wherever they were when you died. This is of great help when you fail to spot an angry red-brown bug on the brown-brown surface of a dimly lit planet, though in a situation where you’re genuinely being overrun, those extra lives tend not to have too much of an impact. There’s also the risk of the clones dying before you get a chance to - which is not only frustrating, but really kind of rude.
Warning: Prepare for Hyperdrive
In order to make any meaningful progress, you’ll need to be routinely relocating your ship throughout the quadrant, as you can only gather resources from nearby planets and debris. The galaxy is divided into a grid, which you can navigate using the terminal on the bridge of your ship - you can scan the resources available in a 3-by-3 area before choosing where to make your next move.
These movements are achieved in-game by performing a hyperjump, which is represented by a combination of slow motion and an extensive stretching of your field of view - whilst effective at conveying the speed of travel, it didn’t do much to help with the queasiness I was already feeling due to the heavy-handed motion blur present throughout the game, which does not appear simple to turn off. With each randomised galaxy having over 550 grid coordinates to visit, you’ll certainly be feeling those Gs with some regularity.
Unsuited For The Rage Of War
Resources that you beam in from nearby debris have a chance to contain unwanted diseases or alien species, so it’s important to be on the lookout to prevent being overrun. At one point, I had neglected my duties for a little while, coming back to find the access tunnels under the ship were teeming with all manner of ugly tentacle blob things. As the crew seemed to be conveniently ignoring this infestation, I had to get on hands and knees to crawl into the underbelly of the ship, clearing out these creatures as I went. It’s dealing with routine situations like this that feels the most evocative of a management position. My crew can’t seem to do a resource expedition without bring back a stowaway, so I have to chaperone them, and don’t get me started on their half-hearted attempts to defend the ship from rogue intruders. Sometimes you just get boarded out of seemingly nowhere, and endless intruders are suddenly running down your ship’s corridors, killing crew and setting rooms on fire.
These situations are difficult to deal with at the best of times, with the poor feedback of the gunplay making it difficult to know if you’re even landing any hits. If you’re still just getting started with a run, you might as well restart here, since it’s unlikely you’ll be able to turn the tide in your favour without having had the chance to prep. This is frustrating and leads to an unwillingness to try again - why bother if you’ll just be caught short again? A common draw for roguelike games is that feeling of ‘just one more go’, which I can’t say I ever really felt present in my time with Genesis Alpha One. The fail states often feel arbitrary, and you’ll need to invest in a good few lost attempts just to understand what hazards you might need to deal with, let alone how to deal with them. You do unlock upgrades as you go and can choose to start a fresh run with a small subset of these, but most seem so minor that I didn’t always bother equipping them.
No One Types Like Captain
As the ship’s captain, you have the ability to assign various tasks to your crew of clones. However, they don’t possess enough initiative to make the big decisions, so you’ll find yourself micromanaging a fair amount. Once you set them a task, they can just about cope, though jumping in to help out nets some pretty strong boosts to productivity - the act of hurrying these tasks along distilled down to typing furiously into computers with an archaic aesthetic, reminiscent of the Apple II. In fact, many of your on-board activities are provided an in-universe explanation - it’s clear that a lot of thought has gone into creating an experience which conforms to a realistic sensibility. This has been streamlined greatly for engagement’s sake - adding new modules to your ship is instant, since you really don’t want to wait for a crew of 4 to build themselves a fully-equipped hangar - but there are some nice touches that help to sell the believability of this little ship you’re piloting through the cosmos.
Wandering Free, Wish I Could Be, Parked On That World
The main goal of Genesis Alpha One is, of course, to find a prospective new planet for you and yours to settle down and begin humanity’s rebirth proper. As you scour the galaxy, you’ll soon come across a Genesis Candidate - a planet with potential to bear the brunt of humanity going forwards. Job done, right? Not so fast. Each Candidate will have a specific criteria you’ll need to fulfill before you’re able to complete your mission - you might need to enhance your clones with a certain strain of DNA so they breathe the air of their new home, or bolster your numbers before landing. Once you’ve found a possible end point, you continue past it - looking for the resources to help you achieve the criteria set out, or failing that, another planet that might suit your current crew better. It’s a welcome change of approach in a genre defined most often by gauntlets of steadily increasing difficulty - to be able to dictate the speed and method of achieving your goal brings new challenges and decisions to be made.
A Game Worth Fighting For?
Genesis Alpha One, at its best, is an engaging resource-management sim that gives a good approximation of what I imagine running a ship out in the middle of space would be. However, the first-person perspective seems to have shifted the design towards a combat-oriented game with resource management elements, and unfortunately that is not where the game’s strengths lie. If you can get on board with the lacklustre gunplay, there’s some fun to be had organising your ship and crew, but the combat elements seem at odds with the slow pace of the rest of the game.
Ship-building/customization, consistent retro Sci-Fi aesthetic
Weak gunplay, unfair randomization, excessive motion blur