Radiation Blue and Team 17 launch into the deep reaches of space with an intriguing and unique blend of base building, crafting, exploration and FPS action that makes Genesis Alpha One a very different roguelike experience. Not content with mixing these genres together, there are deeper mechanics layered in that push things in the direction of God Sim as well. Juggling too many elements can mean walking a fine line between success and failure, but which side does it fall into?
It’s the future, far in the future, and the human race is looking for places to expand to after things don’t really work out on Earth. The Genesis program has been created to send clones into the deepest reaches of the galaxy to find planets that can support life. It’s a dangerous mission up against aggressive indigenous life and the ravages of deep space, and made more so by warring corporate factions that are racing to be the first to settle in the outer reaches. As captain of the U.S.S. Genesis it’s up to you to explore star systems and planets, build and expand your vessel, and create new clones that can survive the harsh conditions out there whilst not getting killed. Only a small ask then.
The first order of intergalactic survival is to build your home away from home and depending on which faction you’ve aligned with will determine how many resources you have to put into the design. Your bridge is a permanent feature, and there are some essentials like the greenhouse that’s needed to provide atmosphere, the tractor beam to salvage scrap, and crew quarters to keep everyone happy, but the rest of the modules are up to you and the amount of raw materials you have available. Nor is the beginning design the final one – with a click of a button the build menu pops up and new habitat modules can be added with ease. Of course, you’ll need power and resources to complete them, and that’s where the exploration elements come in.
With randomly generated systems and planets, materials are collected in two ways that come with risks:
- using the tractor beam to pull them from the local area along with maybe snagging a lifeform or two along the way,
- heading down to a planets surface and mining them out of the rocks, but having to fend off attacks from the inhabitants.
As captain there’s no need to actually take part in either one, simply order the crew to manage them and relax whilst they build the stockpiles. However, not knowing what’s going on can be disastrous, particularly if the away team happen to bring back something nasty from wherever they’ve visited. There’s also the incentive of bonus goodies in the form of archives that only you can retrieve from a planet, so heading down and leading the way has its advantages. Each planetscape is randomly generated and interesting to look at – from barren deserts to lush jungles, there’s a surprise waiting each time the cargo ship doors open, though movement on each world is limited by the protection bubble the transport casts, and the amount of time spent gunning down everything trying to kill you.
The size and frequency of attacks varies depending on the world and it’s where the FPS mechanics come into their own. Weapons feature initially as a pistol and rifle/shotgun, and a pickup/mining tool as well, though exploration yields more powerful variants later on; and in the early low risk areas of the galaxy they’ll do fine for those who can back pedal and circle strafe. Once the wildlife starts shooting back it’s time to adopt different tactics and make sure you and your crew are the last ones standing ready to reap the spoils of battle. Grabbing biomass dropped by enemies can either be used to heal or create new clones, and even better, hoovering up DNA samples and researching the species specific abilities means being able to splice new traits into the crew. Fancy some health regen then its yours, though it might come at the cost of needing a new atmosphere to breathe on the mothership. Fortunately, managing the different environmental requirements is easy.
Genesis Alpha One’s approach to the strategy elements is keep it simple and straightforward. Most of the activities that need to be worked through are automated and the captain is only needed to trigger them. Stepping in can speed processes up, but it’s not like anything takes a lot of time to do. This is assuming all the correct facilities are built which comes naturally enough as the game time progresses. It looks like a relatively comprehensive list of modules to begin with, though more are revealed depending on how much of the galaxy is explored, and as this is a roguelike, most discoveries are taken though to the next playthrough giving advantages that might have been hard fought in the first instance. Don’t underestimate how brutal this game is though. Traipsing the cosmos to find a new home is unforgiving and the unprepared and careless are quickly dispatched. My initial playthrough was cut short when the crew was wiped out by a marauding rival corporation. Lives are simple – run out of clones and it’s game over, and trial, error, success and failure are the only ways to evolve.
It’s not just the mix of gameplay styles that create such a unique piece, the art style and audio add to it being unlike any other game out at the moment. Aesthetically there’s a very heavy Alien influence on hand even if it’s not a direct copy of the Ridley Scott imagined film. There’s a dirty, utilitarian feel to the ship, and the bolt on modules make it all look ungainly yet functional. Interfaces with computer systems are basic text and sprites with a few colours to highlight differences, and the clicking and clacking of keyboards and scrolling text evokes that late 70s/early 80s scif-fi vibe. There are no Giger designed xenomorphs running about, but there are plenty of crawl spaces you need to head down with a flashlight and gun to clear out infestations; and the auto-turrets are straight out of Cameron’s epic Aliens. Find a suitable planet for colonisation and once the requirements are met there’s even a face off with a queen beast. Genesis Alpha One’s score underpins the creeping dread whilst capturing the isolation of space travel as well, so much so that it feels like playing a horror game akin to Dead Space more than a ship building sim.
There’s a really special feel to Genesis Alpha One that does actually come across in the images and videos, but can only be truly appreciated in person. I have been watching the development and looking forward to this for some time, and it doesn’t disappoint. Sure, it’s hard at times and will punish you for a mistake, yet it’s not unfair it what it does – it just expects you to learn and adapt (there’s a meta comment there on the genetic editing of the clones so that they can withstand whatever the future throws at them). Whether you build a thriving space-faring community, find a new home for the human race, or get wiped out in a solar storm there’s always a lesson to be learned and carried forward to the next generation… along with whatever lovely tech’s been scavenged during the last mission. Look past the slightly repetitive gather/construct/shoot bugs side of things and there’s a great sci-fi adventure to get truly absorbed in.
A PS4 review copy of Genesis Alpha One was provided by the Team 17 PR team, and the game is available now on PS4, Xbox One and PC for around £30 depending on platform.