"It's fun watching organic starships explode in massive clouds of blood. It's fun sucking genes and fluids from the carcasses of defeated ships. It's fun throwing Drake shells from halfway across the map...Genesis Rising is too much fun for me to care about the crappy voice acting and crappier script."
A good space RTS needs a good premise, and Genesis Rising has one: The "Organids", biomechanical starships capable of adapting and evolving independently and on the fly. In gameplay terms, this translates into a substantial library of "genes" used to mutate ships, giving them special abilities and attacks. Upon constructing one of three combat-oriented vessels, your newly built (or I should say "grown") Organid launches from your command ship, totally unarmed and defenseless, a blank slate for you to mold to your will.
Rather than having a dozen or so preconceived units, Organids come with gene slots, more slots being available on larger ships. You, the player, inject genes into these ships through the Gene Lab screen, granting weapons, engine enhancements, extra armour, special abilities, and so forth. Mistakes are easily corrected; simply left-click on the undesired gene and a portion of its resource cost is refunded, freeing up the slot for further mutation. Not only can this be done during construction as well as after, but the player can mutate and adapt his ships on the fly, even in the middle of battle. A skilled commander, therefore, will constantly be adjusting his Organid fleet to best cope with his opponent's tactics.
Genesis Rising is set some three thousand years in the future, where the human race rules the universe unchallenged and, apparently, we've all become religious fanatics, striking a solid, ambient atmosphere in the same vein of the Dune chronicles.
But this is the story of one Captain Iconah, as he leads a small fleet into the last unexplored corner of space on a holy pilgrimage to find the Universal Heart. The Heart holds huge religious significance, being the supposed source of all life in the universe. As neat as this sounds, the writing is...well...I don't want to say "awful", but it is. This stuff would make William Shatner wince.
But here's the thing: where horrid scriptwriting would normally break a game for me, I keep on playing anyway, not out of some vain hope that it'll get better, but because it's fun. It's fun watching enemy organids explode in massive clouds of blood. It's fun sucking genes and fluids from the carcasses of defeated ships. It's fun throwing Drake shells from halfway across the map - and that's another thing: seeking projectiles increase in damage potential the longer they fly. Great fun when an enemy dodges your Geneticality missile only to have it swoop around a minute later and serve a hearty helping of wtfpwn. Genesis Rising is too much fun for me to care about the crappy voice acting and crappier script.
But while it’s a great game to kill a weekend with, sadly, every title has its flaws, and GR's forgiveable script is not its only one. To begin, a number of NVidia graphics incompatibilities present during beta have, as of the time of this writing, still not been resolved. Though thankfully, I discovered a workaround to the no-text problems I encountered before. But NVidia compatibility is not the only hardware hangup; on a number of machines Genesis Rising doesn't correctly allocate system resources. After about twenty minutes of play, this memory leak crashes the game. Again, at the time of this writing (about a month and change since launch), this leak has yet to be fixed despite numerous threads on the official forums by annoyed users.
Coding oversights aside, Genesis Rising places massive emphasis on micromanagement and tactical, rather than strategic gameplay. This is done by limiting the number of controllable units to between twenty and fifteen per player, maybe thirty if he has an inexplicable aversion to heavy fighters. An understandable move, since a fair bit of strategy lies in gene mutations and combinations. But here's the thing: computers think faster than humans. Most tactical RTS titles that place emphasis on micromanagement compensate for this by having a Pause feature during off-line single player gaming. Genesis Rising lacks this. Frustrating, but workable.
Which brings me to the lack of an in-game save feature. Saving is done automatically when jumping between star systems, and while one could theoretically save at any point simply by jumping away in the midst of an encounter, the UI prevents the player from opening a jumpgate until all objectives are cleared.
Given however many decades of gaming, it's disappointing, and a tad insulting, that Genesis Rising's in-game menu is about as extensive as Pong's. "Resume" and "Exit". Thanks. If missions were shorter and didn't require often half an hour of preamble, this could be dismissed, but...no, sorry Metamorf. I could have forgiven all the other flaws, but this one actually broke the game for me.
Genesis Rising is a great concept. I mean, come on, living spaceships! The Vorlons can stick that in their pipes and smoke it. And who doesn't love tactical real-time combat? I know I do. But there's a lot that's wrong with it, and most of them are problems I look at and ask, "Why was this not spotted during playtesting?" Genesis Rising feels like it was pushed out the door too soon, when it could have benefited hugely from about a month of additional testing. A few good updates might be sufficient to salvage it, but the lack of news regarding patches does not bode well.
There are a lot of great elements to Genesis Rising, and given a bit more development time (and a better scriptwriter), they might have pulled together to create a superb space RTS. It's a shame they never did.
Freelance review by Will Roy (May 06, 2007)
Will is grumpy, sarcastic and Canadian. He occasionally crawls out of his igloo to cover sci-fi and strategy games. Has a love-hate relationship with cats. And the colour purple.
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