Legendary game publisher Team 17 have partnered up with a small Indie game developer from Germany called Radiation Blue, to bring us Genesis Alpha One. This is a game that is trying to be a lot of things; space exploration, resource harvesting, ship building, base management, crew cloning, corridor crawling, alien shooting, survival… the list goes on – but does it do it well?
The Genesis Program
Genesis Alpha One is set in the year 2147 where humanity has overgrown itself and has left the Earth as an over-populated, polluted and resource-stricken wasteland. Brought on by corrupt governments and global capitalism this future is a bleak one. Despite this massive corporate greed there were four influential companies that could not sit by as mankind perished, they worked together to initiate the Genesis program. A program of which its purpose was to find other planets in the Universe to start a new colony on. Together they found the Galaxy of Alpha One, full of star systems rife with the necessary requirements for new settlements and colonies.
Many ships with a skeleton crew were sent out amongst these star systems to find suitable Genesis candidates. And this is where you come into the picture. As a Captain aboard a star ship you have been assigned the task of finding a Genesis planet for your crew – a planet that is perfect for their requirements for life. But more on that later.
At the start of the game you are met with a screen where you can select from different corporations, crew and what artefacts to take with you. If that’s a bit confusing don’t worry as on your first go none of this is selectable until you do the tutorial mission. Once you have completed that you will be able to select a corporation – this will decide what starting resources, crew and ship modules you start with. More corporations unlock after a play-through which will alter how you start the game quite significantly, with more and more resources available from the start as you access higher tier corporations.
Building your ship is the first task as Captain regardless of whether it’s the tutorial or not. Met with a top down screen showing your ship’s Bridge, you are tasked to build the four necessary modules to enable life support and quarters for your crew, and the means to start harvesting resources. You are free to place the four modules – Greenhouse, storage, tractor beam and crew cabin where you like, according to their connecting snap points and using corridors to connect where required. You will be spending a lot of time in this screen during your play-through’s so don’t be shy to have a play and experiment with your layouts, you will learn a lot very quick after you have started playing.
Once your ship is built you are ready to embark on your mission of discovery and survival, and so begins the tutorial. You are prompted to walk round the modules you previously placed and how to make use of them all. This is assisted by I.D.A – a holographic A.I. who appears in every module and guides you through what you need to know. You will learn how to beam raw materials from space debris using the tractor beam, how to plant a fern in the greenhouse and learn about atmosphere requirements and also how to build other rooms like the workshop and cloning lab in the ship building menu.
Crew members will need to be allocated to these modules, and at the beginning you will not have many so deciding what modules have staff is important. They can all be assigned or dismissed easily from any screen on the ship.
Not long after you begin transporting resources onto your ship using the tractor beam you will have your first alien encounters, as some will randomly be sent in the beam. At first they are only creepy crawlies, but as you progress through the game they will become bigger and more deadly. At this point you will have to start thinking about defending your ship from the inside, and you do this two different ways:
The first is to grab some turrets and shield barriers from the workshop you built at the beginning of the tutorial and strategically place them around your ship, starting with the tractor beam module. The turrets will help your crew defend against these aliens and the barriers will stop them from crawling/slithering into other modules.
The second way is really creepy, so this is a warning! Your whole ship has maintenance corridors that run underneath all the modules. Some modules like the tractor beam have access ramps, and where there are none you can install them in the ship building screen. This is where it gets creepy – you have to crouch and crawl through all these dark, gloomy corridors and look for aliens that are either crawling about or starting to nest/lay eggs. Aiding you is a motion tracker on your left arm which indicates a direction and beeps for proximity – a help indeed but makes your heart jump and skin crawl when you are in a confined section and your tracker starts beeping like crazy! You have a selection of weapons from the weapon rack in your workshop, and they all have torches equipped so that does help.
You will soon want to grow your crew, and you do this by cloning them in a lab. All those aliens you have been killing have dropped biomass, a green substance you can harvest with your own personal mining beam in your right gauntlet. The biomass is stored in a biomass tank so make sure you build one of them as soon as you can. Once you have enough stored up you can start cloning. At first you will only be able to clone humans, but with enough alien DNA you will be able to research new clones with different stats and alien abilities that can be applied to your crew. Adding this DNA into your crew can give great benefits, like making engineers that are smarter and soldiers that are tougher.
Your crew are the most important part of your ship, mainly because they are what keeps it running. Staffing crew in modules improves their performance and automates the process they perform. Every module has terminals at which you can manually perform tasks, such as planting a fern in the greenhouse. This is how you will do some things at the start of the game as you have low crew numbers, but some rooms need crew in to keep processes going. For example, in the tractor beam room you always want to have at least one crew member assigned so that they will continuously be beaming in resources, with two crew members the beaming will be faster. The workshop however does not need to be staffed full-time as you will not be making weapons and ammo as often as beaming resources. This is where crew management comes into its own – prioritising what modules are staffed and when. After some time in the game you will eventually be able to staff every module to full capacity.
Another reason your crew is so important is that if you happen to die, you will be resurrected into one of your crew members’ body. All your previous character traits and flaws that have developed along your journey will be transferred with you. Having plenty of crew therefore not only makes your ship run more efficiently, but also gives you many extra chances of life, and a future.
Shuttles and Refining
In every star system there will be planets and space debris. The debris is where you beam resources from using your tractor beam, and is an easy way of getting essential materials but there is a limited amount. The big hauls come from mining the surfaces of near-by planets. This is done using a hanger module which comes with a shuttle craft that you can either use alone or assign some crew members to. Using this you can travel down to the surface and mine what you can find. You can scan planets from your ship using the consoles at the bridge or hanger so you know where to land to get what you are after.
When you land the shuttle you will have a large bubble around you and the craft. This contains breathable atmosphere, so it’s not a good idea to wander out of this as death will be swift. You can have a walk about and find the different resource nodes to harvest using your personal mining beam. There are plenty of different materials to look for that all have a purpose. To start with iron lithium and sulphur are a good bet, enabling you to build more storage units and ship defences. Later on you will be after rarer materials to power advanced modules and to reinforce your ship.
Other things to look out for are:
- Plants that you can extract – These are for your greenhouse and provide the atmosphere for your crew.
- Sites – Some planets have ‘sites’ that can be scanned to unlock upgrades, find new blueprints or discover the whereabouts of Genesis candidate planets. Anything you unlock from these sites can not only be used straight away, but will be the artefacts that you can choose to start with when you create a new game after the tutorial ends. This is a great feature for replay value, as you can choose to start with maybe a suit upgrade, your favourite weapon or some intel on an alien species or plant. Every play through can be so different!
Gameplay – Shooting
Now its not all walk around, admire the pretty view and get your mining on as each planet has hostile creatures that will try to come and eat you! If you have not yet picked up any weapons then you should go to the rack inside the shuttle now, this is where you choose your guns, and re-stock ammo turrets and shield barriers. You do start with a basic pistol and another gun but you may want to swap them about a little.
Shooting in Genesis Alpha One is a little different than in other games. The left trigger does not bring up the gun to aim down the sights, but instead locks onto nearby enemies using aim assist. It takes a little getting used to and is a bit counter-intuitive especially as someone who plays a lot of FPS titles but it works OK and just helps to make the game play a little more unique than others. The main drawbacks of this system are that it locks onto enemies at centre mass so no lock-on head shots, and it only locks on within a certain range. This makes combat intense and exciting as you have to get closer than you may like at times, but also makes using longer range guns not worthwhile. This would not normally be an issue as you should be able to hip fire just fine, but the sensitivity of the control sticks made this game feel a bit sponge. There is the usual setting to change it on a slider but one that only had increments of ten rather than one, which left me feeling like I needed somewhere in between. It was something I became used to, and it encouraged me to use the aim assist on the left trigger a lot more than I would have chosen to use. Don’t know if this was intentional to the game design or not, but did leave me a bit frustrated at times.
Once you have mined all the resources from the first system you will want to travel to your bridge module and decide where to travel to next. Using the console you can view all the systems within the area, but you can only travel within a confined space until you get another hyper drive engine. You can scan all the surrounding systems to see what resources they contain, choose your system and make a hyper drive jump. This is where the tutorial ends and the real fun begins.
The play-through does not end here as it lets you continue on your way, finding new systems, growing your ship and crew, discovering and then promptly killing new forms of life and generally learning the many different aspects of the game.
To infinity and beyond!
By now you are raring and ready to go, I knew I certainly was! I thought Kirk had nothing on me and went on wards. Maybe a bit to cocky as it didn’t take me long to stray into some dangerous space and was boarded by a bloodthirsty crew of hairy Alien Pirates. My nice calm space exploration/building/management game suddenly got real pretty quick with alarms, alerts and crew death everywhere! And this is a small downfall of the game – As previously mentioned you can scan planets and systems for resources, plants and sites. This scanner can also let you know of dangerous areas of space, this can be due to extremely hostile life forms or critical space phenomena like solar flares.
The problem I found is that there isn’t much middle ground between safe and dangerous/hostile early on, there is no medium at all. Meaning that you either have to be brave and make some risky decisions, or hang back and take a slower pace building everything up over time. The latter is probably how the game is designed, but makes the learning curve for new players pretty steep. Finding blueprints to and building advanced modules like hyper drives and shields are essential to navigating through space but are down to RNG to find on a planet site, and then you need to find the resources to build them.
This does make for a game that you:
- Have to think about a great deal with regards to planning your route and managing your crew and ship
- Can take a long time to make progress if you are stuck near hostile space but have not yet found what you need to jump further distances.
These are not however bad points as they add a lot of satisfaction when you do start to make good progress, and help to make a game that will play different every time. This is paired with the fact that the worlds around you are all procedural generated. So every new play through you could get totally different resources and alien contact early on, making it a wonderful game for replay value.
Once you have got to grips with all the many aspects of the game you should find yourself with a decent sized crew – possibly of different species, a good stockpile of resources weapons and ammo, and some funky looking plants in your greenhouse. Your prime directive is to find a Genesis candidate planet for your crew, which isn’t as easy as it sounds. Candidate planets are few and far between, and even when you do find one it may not provide the atmosphere required for your crew. This means either finding one that is suitable, or cloning new crew to suit the planet’s atmosphere.
Depending on which route you choose it will take time, and this will be spent managing the crew, modules and resources, clearing your corridors, shuttle landings and site scanning. Along the way you will be able to build higher tier modules that reap greater rewards, clone more advanced crew with powerful alien abilities, and kick ass with some pretty cool weapons!
The experience here is what you make of it. You can choose to aim purely at getting to a Genesis planet, or you could take your time and research and upgrade everything you can, or you can equip some big guns and do some alien slaying!
I won’t spoil it but when you do finally get to a Genesis planet it’s not as simple as just colonising it, there is one final task to do. Once this is performed your colony can be established and the game ends, giving you a sweet story of what became of it over the years.
Genesis Alpha one is a game that is doing so much and does most of it really well. I was instantly hooked, desperate to get a Genesis landing complete and settle my first outpost. It was a lot harder than I anticipated, getting more and more intense as my ship and crew grew in size. I failed a fair few times, but was not deterred. I learned something from each experience and was even more determined that the next play through would be the one. Every failure also unlocked new artefacts that can be used for your next play through.
If you like any kind of space/shooter/base management game then there is something here for you and much more. This game may be incredibly deep, but don’t let that put you off as it’s not hard to grasp all the different game mechanics.
Using 8 bit retro styling in the menus and movie posters in the loading screens help to add charm to this title amidst the planets teaming with hostile life forms. However, there are plenty of moments when the charm turns to panic, and these are some of the best moments in the game – when you think you have everything down and then a spanner gets thrown in the works in the form of a crew sickness or hostile boarding party.
This is also however when the game’s only real downfall is apparent – the shooting and combat. It works ok, but just doesn’t feel smooth or natural. Again, I like how they have tried to take a different approach to shooting with their aim assist, but really wish that hip fire aiming wasn’t so spongy. The difficulty curve is also a little annoying but actually forces you to play the long game, which turns out is pretty awesome fun!
Aside from that I can’t really fault this game at all, it’s addictive and great fun with plenty of replay value for those you want a different experience every play through. And who can turn down shooting space Aliens?!?
A review copy for Xbox One was provided for the purposes of this review. Thank you!
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- Deep and varied gameplay
- Replay value
- Spongy hip fire aim
- Steep learning curve