Genesis Alpha One Review
PCAlso available on Sony PlayStation 4 and Microsoft Xbox One
Life as a starship captain in Genesis Alpha One is a tricky balancing act. Whether it's scanning planets in search of vital resources, dealing with infestations of parasitic alien life that try to make their home in the guts of your ship or flying down to the surface of a potential new haven for humanity to exterminate an alien queen - there's always something demanding your attention. As the last hope for humanity out among the stars, you've got to strike that balance well, assemble a crew and face choices like "Do I add spider DNA to my next clone so it's smarter but more fragile?". And you most definitely will.
Genesis Alpha One kicks off as you assume direct control of the captain of a small, simple ship as it arrives in a sector of space intended for colonization. The ship's computer explains the situation and game mechanics as you go, tasking you with expanding your vessel with new modules so you can begin gathering resources. You're pulled out of the captain's head and into an overview of your ship, with resources listed and potential new rooms available to place and immediately use. Place some new rooms, press a button and once more you're back in your captain's head and can walk around the ship to check out what you've put together. The sense of scale is immediate, as adding winding corridors, tractor beams, refineries and greenhouses quickly turns your once easily navigated ship into a labyrinthine space hulk.
Colonizing isn't as simple as floating through space and stumbling across a planet with a breathable atmosphere alas, so you'll be using those new facilities to gather enough warm bodies, plant life and minerals to send a serious effort down to any new home for humanity. Using your ship's bridge to select sectors of space to investigate, you scan space debris and planets to see their resources before tasking your tractor beams with the debris and heading to the surface of planets yourself to grab whatever resources you can.
On the planets surface you'll find yourself trapped in a reasonably sized radius, surrounded by resource nodes to mine and occasional relics and lost technology to scan and add to your collection as hordes of enemies spawn and descend on you. Lighting and atmosphere on different planets alongside plant life and other vision obscuring factors combine to make some of these missions a frantic dash in the dark, desperately trying to grab what you can before hostile hologram soldiers or skittering insectoid nightmares overwhelm you. Should you die, a surviving crew member is promoted and you continue the mission in their shoes. Crew being a valuable resource indeed, you'll probably find yourself heading to the cloning vat soon after to bake up a fresh person.
Cloning your crew begins as a simple choice to replace lost staff or expand your numbers, but once you've visited some planets, killed some aliens and gathered their DNA from some handy glowing pickups, you can add their traits to new clones. Things start slow and simple, with other DNA often causing fairly minor changes to crew abilities and requiring different atmospheric conditions on the ship, regulated by the plantlife you gather and what you grow in your greenhouses. Venturing further into the game and using resources to research unlocks further versions of these clones, more specialized and suited to specific roles.
Creating the correct crew can provide massive advantages to balance the effort of unlocking unique traits and creating the living conditions for them to thrive. Placing smarter clones in rooms like the tractor beam and refinery speeds up their processes, while crew you can assign to join you on trips down to planets benefit from the increased health some DNA provides or unique traits like Harm Touch, an ability that damages enemies when they get close. Eventually, what starts as a crew of four can balloon to fifteen or twenty making a once desolate ship seem thriving and busy. Having done it all yourself, the satisfaction that comes from slowly building an almost self sufficient ship is palpable.
The ship itself isn't a completely safe haven, it must be noted. Tractor beaming debris can bring hostile life with it, requiring you to set up sentry guns and pay attention when the ship's computer alerts you to their arrival. Leaving those alien critters to slink off into the bowels of your ship is a big mistake, as they begin to nest and grow potentially threatening parasites and spores in your corridors and rooms. Under every module is a network of access tunnels, maintenance tubes featuring vital power controls. If an enemy destroys one of those controls then the room loses atmosphere, eventually falling apart and leaving you with a big gaping wound in your ship. Your only sense of where aliens lurk, both on the ship and planet side, is a tension inducing, beeping proximity sensor undoubtedly inspired by those used in the Alien movies. Mushrooms growing from your deck make crew members ill and need to be shot to pieces before they can spread. Clusters of eggs burst with fresh enemies. Everything is out to get you one way or another and they will if you turn a blind eye for too long.
All of this is presented to you through some fitting graphics, though this is where Genesis Alpha One stumbles a little. Your ship's industrial design is claustrophobic and dimly lit, while planets are very often equally dark and crowded with plant life and rocky debris which leads to difficulty spotting enemies in the mire of low light and visual noise. A little too often, especially on the ship, I found myself more frustrated with the lack of light rather than being taken in by the challenge of searching in the dark. If I can build a hyperdrive then surely I can choose to install a few light bulbs in the access tunnels, or so you'd think.
Textures and models for enemies are fairly simple and the animations that give them character are really quite rough at times, being limited to canned "attack/taking damage/running" sequences that become glaringly obvious when three or four enemies are doing exactly the same thing at the same time. Your crew, in turn, move similarly and live deep in the uncanny valley when it comes to looks. You might find yourself rushing to clone some far less human clones sooner rather than later simply because the dead eyed stare of those almost human things is so disconcerting.
Setting the tone and enhancing moments endlessly, Genesis Alpha One's soundtrack is a foreboding, synth strewn scene setter. Pressing, driving electronica is your warning that enemies lurk close, while a selection of other tunes are used to highlight tonal shifts and the moments you're experiencing. It fits the grim, high tension situation you're managing well, though as is ever the case after numerous hours of play, just a couple of variations on combat music or the most regularly heard tracks would slow the process of becoming over familiar and delay some from lowering the music setting altogether.
Genesis Alpha One's unique combination of first person shooter and resource management challenges, as well as it's strong sci-fi aesthetic can really make you feel like you're truly in control of a one person mission to the furthest reaches and really, what more could those interested in such things want?