Ever since space travel became a reality, the human race has been striving to push the boundaries of what is possible. I guess the eventual aim of any space race is to head on out into the unknown, travelling the galaxy in the hope that we can find a planet suitable for our race to thrive. It could well be classed as the ultimate mission.
And that is what Radiation Blue and Team17 have planned with Genesis Alpha One, putting you in the shoes of the commander of a Genesis starship, requesting you to enter that unknown and find a suitable planet for humanity to survive on… or any other race for that matter.
This goal is not an easy one though and Genesis Alpha One will not just see you running and gunning your way across the universe, taking down enemies in the process, for in order to traverse the wonders of the galaxy, a steady ship will need to be yours. And it is up to you to build and maintain it, mixing roguelike mechanics, ship building and super smooth first-person action, as you attempt to succeed in your role of an interstellar pioneer.
Genesis Alpha One starts off with you learning the ropes of space travel, delving into a hugely in-depth ship builder as your very first task as commander.
This ship is crucial to any success that you may well be after with your mission objective and setting it up correctly is absolutely essential. With multiple units that can be added once the initial Greenhouse, crew quarters, tractor beam and storage units are in place, the world – or should that be the galaxy – is your oyster. Want a refinery to allow you the chance to harvest the best minerals from the worlds around? You got it. Prefer to ensure your ship inhabitants are well catered for? Go ahead and build yourself a relaxing lounge area. Think that going gung-ho is the best port of call? You’ll want to build yourself a Weapons factory. There are a huge number of various units you can place to make your ship the very best it can be, and when you combine those with corridors, lifts, access points and more, you will find that any long term aim will be to create a sprawling ship set across many floors and reaching out to all corners.
Keeping this ship maintained and watching it grow is a huge part of the fun of Genesis Alpha One, but from there on out what you do, and how you go about doing it, is completely up to you. Do you visit planets to go farming for resources, do you drag in space debris in the hope it’ll prove useful, do you reinforce your existing structures in case invaders arrive, or do you just hyper jump time and time again through the galaxy hoping for a quick and efficient end… either as you crash and burn or as you find that Genesis planet you are after.
Whilst going on the attack is a more than viable option, it’ll see your time with Genesis Alpha One over before it even begins, leaving you to start the game again with little learnt. Instead you’ll need to take your time running through various menus and deciding upon a decent course of action. This will usually involve harvesting iron, sulphate, aluminium, gold, platinum, uranium and more, as it is these which provide the base materials for ship expansion opportunities, which then in turn allow for a better form of space travel.
Getting them won’t be easy though and you’ll not only have to warp to a planet-filled sector of the galaxy, before scanning each planet and debris unit to see what they contain, but you will then have to either harvest them manually, or ensure you have enough clones on your ship to do the hard work. As you may well have understood by now though, getting clones isn’t simple and ensuring enough biomass (the lifeblood of the universe) is in place is key. But unfortunately you’ll only get that by dropping onto a planet’s surface and taking down aliens.
This is best done by visiting planets in your harvester, letting you syphon off core minerals as you scour the hundreds of random planets that are found in any game. Each one of these planets is different too, not just in their appearance (some are barren landscapes which are easy to navigate through, others are fauna filled globes, more still are gas giants), but also in regards to what minerals, alien species and hidden secrets are found within. You’ll need to carefully weigh up the pros and cons of landing on each planet, harvesting what you need, finding hidden secrets and taking down aliens for their biomass, should you wish to survive.
Thankfully taking on alien foes is decent, the combat is damn hot and the overall pace of the gunplay great. Your commander moves around with just enough speed and guile to ensure that visiting planets (or indeed moving around your starship) is a joy, with unlockable upgrades pushing suit statistics to higher levels with faster speed, granting you added armour and making much more possible. With the variety of multiple guns to find the blueprints of, research and then create, Alpha One is certainly not lacking in this department and whilst it will never rival the standalone shooters that have been created for gunning purposes, what is present works really well. Throw in the fact that energy shields and automated turrets can also be used – either taken with you on your travels, or set up in a variety of positions on your precious ship – to help fight back against alien invaders, and you will find that much like everything else inside Genesis, the depth of the gameplay can never be questioned.
Aside from the ship building and run and gun elements of Genesis though, and a smattering of roguelike style gameplay is a clever addition. Even though I’m still not sure it works entirely as intended, the opportunity to constantly drop clones of various races and skills onto your ship – once you’ve researched them of course – which then in effect work as extra lives, is a lovely one. Of course, in order to ensure these clones don’t get sick, or die a death before you need them, making sure the environment is suitable for habitation is an essential part of the overall gameplay… which is why you can’t do a thing in Genesis Alpha One until that initial Greenhouse has been placed and a variety of fauna are working to provide a healthy atmosphere.
These clones allow for any single playthrough to be able to run into the hours should you so wish, although for anyone to really make the most of this game, they’ll be found needing to whizz this great hulking beast of a starship across multiple galactic arenas. With hundreds of randomised planets and a wide variety of space debris that needs to be harnessed, your time travelling is a long deep one. This can thankfully be made quicker by utilising a hyperdrive component on your ship… but searching out the blueprint – or buying it with your precious resources from a variety of traders – means that it is never immediately available. This sees early progress through the galaxy a slow one, but then much like everything else in Genesis Alpha One a bit of time, patience, willpower, and luck sees many magical things happen.
So, all good with Genesis Alpha One then, eh? Well yes, but much like any other game it’s not perfect. In fact, other than the omission of a multiplayer system that would work brilliantly, there are some simply sloppy areas which are a little bit annoying.
Firstly and the overall menu system and control scheme that has to be utilised when inside the ship building and terminals is just a bit clunkier than I would have liked. There are times when the combination of using d-pad and thumbstick either gets too confusing or is slightly laggy, with a decent push of the stick nearly always required in order for you to start moving though planet navigation areas.
There are also moments when information screens refuse to show, button prompts fail to appear at the bottom of the screen or when a trigger has to be pulled twice in order to help give your precious research work a little shift on. None of these things are game killing affairs – and if I’m honest, I’ve got used to holding back for a second or so for things to catch up – but I’d certainly expect the teams at Radiation Blue and Team17 to have them ironed out pretty swiftly. As it stands though, a slight lack in focus is found.
What is more concerning though surrounds the roguelike elements of Genesis Alpha One on Xbox One. Whilst the overall idea is great, letting you live out more than once in the body of other crew members, the fact of the matter is that seemingly no matter how many clones you have present, and how many turrets you have set up to defend your ship from incoming aliens, once they take a hold in your warren of corridors, levels and rooms there is little way of really coming back and being able to establish yourself again. Yes, much of saving your ship will be down to your own gunning skills, and taking a few turrets and energy shields along for the ride will always help, but your basic crew are so pathetic in fighting terms, and the invaders are that powerful and repetitive, that an alien embarkment nearly always ends in defeat and game over. That said, it’s good to see the odd bit of knowledge earned from one game able to kickstart your next Genesis mission, ensuring that much of what you do, before succumbing to invaders, is not in vain.
Being chased around the galaxy by evil races, all as you attempt to find that Genesis planet you can begin to try to call home rarely gets boring though. In fact, even though the very earliest run-throughs will come across as frustrating affairs, once you get to grips with the control scheme and what is required of your ship building and gunplay skills, there is more than a smattering of an addiction that begins to take hold. Wanting to see exactly what that next planet not only looks like, but also what it is able to bring your way in return, is hugely appealing – even when the ramp up in difficulty between the low risk areas of this galactic world, and those of high and critical levels are tempting, they are also hugely rewarding at the same time. The line between temptation and holding back in order to establish things further is a fine one in Genesis Alpha One, but Radiation Blue have seemingly perfected it.
For all the gameplay in the world though, nothing is going to get a look in if the visuals are poor, and that means we must now talk about that side of things. I’m not going to beat around the bush – I’ve been pretty damn impressed. The ship building moments are played out with decent visual clarity and witnessing your little ship grow to huge proportions is great. It’s even better when moving away from the blueprints and into the main overview stage dropping into first person, as this is where you really get a good view and understanding of what each and every component is for, and how it works – even if watching robots float through the occasional structure can be a bit disappointing. Visiting planets is always a highlight too; sitting back as the hangar door opens to reveal a different surface to explore each and every time never gets old. Unfortunately though spending your precious minutes in the terminal system, helping your clones research new ideas, brings more of an old school affair: whether intentional or not I’d personally prefer a slicker menu interface.
Of course, you can’t have the visual side of things without chatting about the audio and Genesis Alpha One absolutely nails everything that will be thrust towards your ears. From the sounds that make you feel that you are aboard a living breathing ship, to warning calls once invaders hit, radar pings and turret blasts, hyperdrive squeals and more, I’ve got absolutely no concerns over any element of the audio. In fact, it’s pretty much blown me away.
Genesis Alpha One is an ambitious project that thankfully has been overseen by highly skilled teams. Whilst initial moments are slow to take hold – and your first few runs will end in confusion and disaster – should you be prepared to throw everything you have at it, and are ready to take a good few hits in the process, then you will easily be rewarded by a mammoth game that delivers ship building elements, gunplay options and exploration in spades.
It’s not perfect, and it’s a shame to see a few little issues in place, but if you want something deep and are prepared to work for it, then Genesis Alpha One is for you.