Genesis Rising is a game with a great idea that just went the wrong direction in development. A few different (and simple) design changes, and Genesis Rising would be an intriguing, fresh take on the RTS genre. The idea of organic ships, able to be redesigned on the fly to deal with whatever lay in their path, was intriguing as I read through the instructions prior to firing up the game. Unfortunately, developer Metamorf made some sketchy decisions when it came to the rest of the gameplay features, leaving this great idea wallowing in tedium and frustration.
First, the positive note. Genesis Rising does have a great premise. Humankind has progressed technologically to the point where they are about to rule the entire universe. They’ve done this by building organic ships, capable of rearranging their armaments and special abilities by genetic manipulation. While there are only a few different types of ships available for play, each of them are highly customizable thanks to the implementation of gene manipulation. “Genes” are the weapons and specials that are able to be slotted into a given ship, with more expensive units holding more slots. These can be changed out relatively easily (although not easily enough) as the situation warrants. In addition, as these are living ships, they can feed off the corpses of their fallen enemies, both allowing them to heal and stealing any new gene technologies that happen to be present in their foes. It’s just depressing that all this potential strategic depth is wasted by the rest of the design choices.
Genesis Rising gets the pacing completely wrong. For an RTS game of this potential depth, there absolutely has to be a pause-and-command option, or at the very least the ability to alter the speed of the game. I spent much of the game impatiently building up my forces, sending them across vast stretches of empty space, and then wishing I could stop everything as the battles hit fast and furious. Even though re-tooling the fleet’s genetic weaponry is simple, the action doesn’t stop at all while players are trying to sort out which ship needs which weapon. So in-battle changes will quickly get a fleet wiped out. In addition, the AI is quite poor, and there’s no way to set formations. Ships won’t attack with anything other than basic weapons on their own, so any of the more powerful weapons need to be individually activated. And player-controlled ships won’t even dodge enemy missile fire, making it necessary for players to move each ship around during the heat of battle to insure they stay alive a bit longer. Of course, the computer has no problem moving each of its ships quickly and without delay. Once the heat of battle dies down, it’s back to the dull process of harvesting the bodies and gathering resources, which would be great with a speeding up of the clock.
Another glaring error is the lack of an in-mission save during the campaign. With these stretches of blazing-fast followed by blindingly-dull, it would be wonderful to be able to have the option of saving more often. Many of the missions are multi-step, and I often found myself replaying a lot of tedious early battles just because I made a mistake late in the action. Even worse, many of the levels are interrupted by cutscenes preceded by laughably long load times. As I sat through the third load-screen for the fifth time of a particular mission, I found myself quite ready to hit the “uninstall” button. It might be that I’m just particularly bad at Genesis Rising, and need to crank the difficulty level down a notch or two. Well, that’s just not possible, as there’s also no difficulty modification to be had.
To be kind, Genesis Rising does look good. Although it’s 3D modeled, all the action takes place on a 2-dimensional map (missing a chance at some 3D combat action). Each of the races have very interesting designs, although I had some problems telling units apart when the action got heavy. I wish I could be as kind about the audio, but it didn’t hold up to the visual quality. The effects were decent, but the voice acting was pretty bad. The voices just felt wrong to me, and it jarred me out of the atmosphere of the game each time I heard a command confirmation.
As for the campaign itself, it’s full of sci-fi cheese and stilted dialogue. The cutscenes are not very well animated, and really not worth watching. At times, players can choose between “nice” and “mean” responses, which do change the flow of the campaign a bit. Still, there’s not much here that I found surprising, and certainly nothing that made me want to sit through the actual gameplay to discover. The multiplayer is about as uninteresting, although having human enemies helps to even out the AI problems. I wouldn’t call it fun, but it’s a little less tedious.
Genesis Rising took some risks, made some bad decisions, and came up short. With just a few changes, such as that in-mission save and a nice pause-and-command option, I think I might have a much better time with this title. Such as it is, though, I just can’t work up any enthusiasm for this game.