If you play Genesis: Alpha One you may become very familiar with this story, as it’s told every time you start a new game. Mankind is no longer suited to prosper on earth due to rising population, evaporating resources, global tension. You know, the usual. It might feel a bit like they are trying to pull water out of a long dried up well, but this portion of the story isn’t really the focus of the game. Rather, where the game wants you to be invested is in the journey that takes place aboard your space craft. A story which is almost entirely created by you.
There are old logs that you can pick up that give some lore to the mostly desolate Alpha One quadrant of space and your ship assistant I.D.A. provides interesting tidbits about ship function. Other than that though there isn’t much there. I might sound like I’m critiquing this game for a lack of story depth, but it’s quite the opposite. In a way, I love that this game feels barren and lonely. After all, you are piloting a cloning ship through empty and unexplored space. So, of course the game is going to be light on the story front. I get the impression that this is the point. The game does do a great job of giving you enough detail for you to take and then create your story with. Combine that with enjoyable resource grinding and intense ship invasions (where the stakes are so high that if you are overtaken your save file is completely erased) and you might not feel that bothered by a minimalist story.
So you might ask “then what’s the point of the game?” Genesis: Alpha One randomly generates a quadrant of space, and your role is to find one of only a handful of planets that are inhabitable. It’s also worth noting that these inhabitable planets each have different biospheres, so you have to find a planet where your crew can actually breathe. Along the way you will find debris and planets where you can gather resources to upgrade your ship and grow your crew.
As you explore further into space you will find star systems that are more difficult to explore, so it is vital that you upgrade your vessel. Otherwise, you will be easily overtaken by the alien stowaways that come onto your ship throughout your journey. I had a quadrant almost completely explored, but had to redevelope my crew to fit a planet’s biosphere. I was doing this because I discovered a planet I wanted to try and launch a genesis on (game slang for try to establish as a home). Before I could complete this journey I was invaded by very hostile aliens which took my crew from around 25 down to 0 in about 20 minutes. I feel like this was completely fair though because instead of paying attention to my defenses as I expanded my ship I had poured resources into advancing my cloning process.
I also spent way too much time customizing the cosmetics of my ship… But at least the drifters that found my wreck 200 years later were treated to fantastic taste in ship design.
Genesis: Alpha One is first, and foremost, a rougelike. The game is nothing if not unforgiving. Unlike the majority of other rougelike games I’ve played, Genesis: Alpha One‘s game time can be fairly lengthy. The ship I lost that I spoke about a moment ago ended with a final playtime of around six hours. Like I also mentioned, having all of your clones killed is a total game over. You ship is gone, your resources are lost to the vacuum of space, and you are left with a feeling that you should have done a lot different. Compare that to other rougelikes and rougelites like Everspace (where a session lasts between 15 minutes and an hour and a half) and the prospect of loosing the ship you’ve invested hours into perfecting is very significant. Those moments where your ship is invaded, or you have to fly into an asteroid-filled star system, feel like a more daunting task. Even if the first-person shooter style controls don’t feel as polished or tight as Destiny or Rainbow Six: Seige (which we’ll get into), those grave times where the destruction of your ship is truly possible creates an atmosphere of intensity that can, at times, be on the same level as both of those games.
There are a few things that carry over after hitting a game over, however. New additions to your ship discovered during voyages, resource identifiers, and starting organizations (which change the stats and resources that your ship starts out with) are retained after a game over. So at least the last few hours weren’t for nothing, right? Here’s of the truth of it: every time that I’ve lost I can attribute it to needing to do something better, and I’ve learned a lot that I implement on my next voyage to make it more successful. I’ve never lost in a manner that was unfair.
Let’s talk about Genesis: Alpha One‘s controls and camera. The entire game is played in a first-person perspective, which does a great job of letting you project yourself into the player character. Even after your initial character dies and you embody another clone on board, it still feels like it’s you in there. Due to this, it’s really easy to get wrapped into this fantasy. The graphics themselves feel very dated, though they aren’t poor enough that they hinder immersion. It’s just not going to look like Infinite Warfare. Graphically and perspective wise, this game feels like a natural pair for a VR setup, and I hope that is coming down the line in the future.’
One of the major aspects of gameplay is shooting things. You shoot enemies that come aboard your ship (or when you are farming their home for resources) and you shoot resource to collect them, in a beam-mining fashion. Aiming your weapon lacks a certain accuracy, and even after experimenting with the sensitivity settings I never really found a configuration that felt natural. Luckily Radiation Blue foresaw this issue and chose to let players lock into enemies by holding down the L2 button. This addition took all of the complaints I had about the game’s gunplay down from sever dislike to mild irritation. I would love to see the shooting polished in future updates, seeing as how it’s such a major part of the game.
What originally attracted me to the game years ago when I went to a demo of it was the fact that you have complete freedom in building and visually tweaking your ship. You are given total control to layout the modules of your ship however you see fit. There are no modules that have to be connected to other specific modules, and room placement is only restricted by if you have enough space to place it. I can’t emphasize enough how much I love this about the game. This element is 95% of the reason why I sit down to play Genesis: Alpha One. New modules are crafted from certain resources that you claim from farming uninhabitable planets and gathering space debris. This gameplay loop of looking for the correct resources, creating a room needed to expand my ship and improve the voyage, clone more crew members, and start it all again is simple in premise, but so enjoyable. It also makes the times where you loose your ship hit the extremes on the bitter-sweet scale. It’s bitter because you’ve just lost the ship and crew you’ve worked so hard to perfect. It’s also a bit sweet because now you can try out a new style and layout for your ship! If you liked the way you did something on a previous ship, now you can recreate it without any flaws that might have been present.
Designing the layout of your ship isn’t something you can pay half a mind to, however. You really need to pay attention to the security of that layout. If essential sections of your ship are destroyed, your whole ship is toast. For example, you’d be in serious trouble if you put your hanger or tractor beam right next to your greenhouse. Enemies come aboard in these two areas and if they have quick access to damage your greenhouse then your crew will quickly parish (being that they need the atmosphere to survive). There are also vents that run underneath every section of your ship. These make perfect breeding grounds for parasitic invaders. If you aren’t paying enough attention to how these vents allow traversal of your ship then you will be quickly overrun.
Genesis: Alpha One fuses together so many great ideas, but they only scratch the surface. I wanted more depth out of planetary harvesting, but once you’ve done this a dozen times it starts to loose its wonder and feels very procedural. You can unlock new abilities through research, but the combat never seems to evolve during the journey in any meaningful or impactful ways. Your interactions with your crew makes them feel like, well, clones. It’s hard to get truly invested in a group of people devoid of personality or growth. I hope that Radiation Blue continues to improve this game over time because they are really onto something special here. They just need to keep pushing the game and its systems further and encourage and act on player feedback, then we could really have something industry-defining on our hands. I’m also hoping that multiplayer gameplay will be added because this game seems like a natural contender for some couch co-op.