Genesis Alpha One is a Roguelike first-person action game developed by Radiation Blue. It is available on PlayStation 4, Xbox One and The Epic Games Store. This game was Reviewed on a standard Xbox One console by Joseph Pugh.
The scale and variety of gameplay systems weaved inside of Genesis Alpha One is quite an undertaking for an indie game. It hits some serious high notes with me. Upfront, it is a game designed almost entirely to my own personal tastes. It is a roguelike with a deep layer of strategy and both, crafting and resource gathering play a central role in the game. At the same time, I feel like a lot of its potential is squandered over a couple of seriously head-scratching limitations. Strap on your space suits and buckle up, were about to get lost in space.
You play as the captain of a Genesis starship. Your mission is to find a planet capable of sustaining life and settling on it with a crew able to prep the planet for settlers from earth. To accomplish this, you will explore a procedurally generated star map, visit planets to gather resources, clone crewmates, and fight off alien infestations and hostile incursions.
One of the most unique and intriguing aspects is how the first-person shooter gameplay and overhead shipbuilding coexists in the same game. At the start of your mission, you choose a corporation, crew, and artifacts that you begin the game with.
You can unlock a large number of all three of those things by playing, making future runs start out differently. You begin in the shipbuilding interface and have to design your initial layout, complete with a greenhouse, tractor beam and crew quarters.
Once in the game, you can return to the shipbuilder at any time while you are on the ship. The transition is seamless and the shipbuilding interface doubles as a real-time map of your ship.
It’s incredibly surreal to personally wander around and use the facilities of the ship you designed, in real time. Its a definite high point of Genesis Alpha One, especially how fast and easy it is to transition between the two modes.
Furthermore, the shipbuilder is intuitive and easy to use, even on consoles. You have an immense amount of freedom in its design. You can also build multiple floors that you and your crew can traverse via lift modules. But you have to build with security in mind.
Your ship is going to face a variety of threats, infestations by different types of alien species, incursions by hostile invading forces and more. The first person nature of the gameplay means you have to think about defensive designs in a completely different way than in similar games. More on that in a bit.
You won’t have a lot of resources to build with at the start, you need to gather more to continue working on your ship. And you have to find the technology for new and more advanced types of modules. This means exploring different solar systems. The map and everything in it are different each playthrough. You have to seek out the resources you need each time.
You gather resources in two ways, by beaming up finished resources from space debris, or by sending a crew to a planet’s surface to mine raw material. Both of which can be refined in your refinery later. Both are risky in their own ways. Alien creatures can sometimes hitch a ride through the tractor beam, and they can also come aboard via the harvester shuttle. These freeloaders will spread like a plague and are more difficult to get rid of than visiting in-laws.
You aren’t alone though, you start with four crew members and you can clone new ones later on. You can assign your crew to work the different facilities of your ship and they will attack hostiles.
Assign them to a refinery and they will process raw materials brought back from planets. Assign them to the hangar and they will go to gather the raw materials. Have them crew the bridge and they will scan planets to find out what resources can be found.
Another unique aspect of Genesis Alpha One is the symmetry between the player controlled captain and the crew. You are able to run any of the processes that they can. You can speed up refining by running the terminals in the refinery, you can go planetside with the crew and you can harvest the resources with your mining tool. Captains on this ship aren’t above menial labor, hop to it.
Going planetside isn’t really optional. Some planets have special sites on them that require the captain to locate. These sites can provide new tech, weapons, and information integral to your success. A small field is emitted from the harvester ship making a limited area around it atmospherically safe to explore. But you and your crew will come under attack by hostile lifeforms while harvesting resources on a planet.
I mentioned security earlier. Your ship can be infested by aliens, boarded by hostiles, struck by asteroids and more. You can see hostile ships and space hazards on the navigation map and you can construct shield modules once you have the blueprint.
So through preparation and avoidance, you may mitigate some of the danger. But if you ever get infested or shields go down. Your design is going to highly influence whether you survive the ordeal in addition to your shooting, and your crew.
You can construct defensive modules like security gates, and you can build energy barriers and turrets that you can carry around and deploy at will. But all of your modules and corridors have maintenance tunnels underneath that alien bugs can infest, and hostiles of any kind will attack your crew and destroy your ship. Genesis Alpha One can be brutal.
You have to design your ship in a manner that mitigates the spread of infestations and gives you a fast and easy route to react. It also has to provide the most help to your crewmates in the event of a disaster. A security gate dividing key parts of your ship from areas where aliens can hitch a ride, such as your tractor beam or hangar is a good idea for example.
In addition, you can also personally place energy barriers and turrets in hot spots. This is especially important in the maintenance tunnels under your ship, or in crew heavy areas. You can’t be everywhere at once to help them. For example, sometimes giant nasty insects lie in wait in the crates of your raw materials and will pop out when the crate is brought to the refinery.
If you’re on the other side of the ship, they are going to be chewing on the faces of your crew before you ever get there. An energy barrier and turret in the right spot can aid them in your absence.
Genesis Alpha One loves to throw some curve balls at you also. My first complete loss was when a crewman working the tractor beam contracted an illness I hadn’t seen. Sick crew members go to the crew quarters to heal. But this fella coughed up eggs the entire way there. Gross
Aliens love to dart inside tunnels and lay nests in hidden places. The eggs spread so quickly I couldn’t respond in time and my ship began to collapse around me. In an attempt to save my reactor I ran in to attempt to fix the power panel, but it exploded while I was inside and I got spaced. Evidently, I was no Commander Sheperd, I did not survive.
If you die in Genesis Alpha One, another member of your crew gets promoted to captain and you play as them. In addition to helping and protecting the ship, they are also your lifelines. Run out and it’s game over man, game over. It’s a roguelike, so that means you are starting from scratch.
The end goal of the game is to find a genesis planet to colonize and there are several in each procedurally generated map. Each one requires a number of crew members who can live in the planets atmosphere type, and each genesis candidate has a different one. Humans can, of course, breathe Oxygen, but not every genesis candidate is going to be liveable for oxygen-based lifeforms.
This means cloning a crew who can. When you kill alien lifeforms, they drop biomass, and sometimes some DNA. Gather enough and you can clone human-alien hybrids. Each type needs a different atmosphere to survive and has varying stats and immunity. Some aliens even drop ability DNA, allowing you to add powers to yourself and your crew. Unethical? Maybe, necessary? Absolutely.
You also need to obtain plants for your ship that provide the type of atmosphere your hybrids will need. It’s another facet of strategy you have to plan for.
Something Genesis Alpha One does extremely well is atmospheric design. The game does a brilliant job in immersing you inside the sci-fi setting. Your ammo is a visual representation on your gun, your health is a numbered counter on your wrist and you have a neat little motion tracker that beeps and points in the direction of enemies. It’s a very immersive way to scale down the hud elements and it works very well.
The motion tracker, in particular, gives me intense vibes from the movie aliens. The audio cues enhance the eerie feeling, you can hear alien insects skittering around in your maintenance tunnels or in the darkness and vegetation of a planet.
The planets themselves are randomly generated as well, and many of them have poor visibility, either due to atmospheric lighting or tall grass. You have a flashlight, but some planets feature fog and turning it on will blind you. More so than any other game I’ve played in recent memory, the planets felt truly alien. Some very neat details like being able you look up at a hostile ship that was beaming foes down on the planet I was on, is also a very nice touch.
There are a lot of enemies in the game too, both insectoid and humanoid in nature. And some that fit neither descriptor. They each have different attacks and quirks to them. And the ways they can infest your ship differ.
Genesis Alpha One isn’t a horror game. But the planets can be very unsettling when you’re dealing with the nasties you can hardly see. The harvester ship has an auto turret with a bright red light that I found as equally unsettling as I found its protection comforting.
Crawling through the narrow maintenance tunnels to clear out infestations feels claustrophobic, and having a space spider sprint at you in the close confines is terrifying. Bring extra underwear, seriously. Arachnophobes beware.
Sadly a couple aspects of the game are very poorly designed and break that immersive nature pretty quickly. The AI is extremely basic, for both hostiles and your crew. It’s not a huge deal breaker for enemy soldiers to stand in place and shoot. But it’s frustrating when it’s your crewmates.
You can command them, but it’s very limited. You can tell them whether or not they should engage foes or flee. On a planet, you can tell them to gather or wait on the ship. Keeping them alive feels like babysitting inept children. They are perfectly happy to stand in place and shoot at a space spider that’s knawing on their legs. Unless you give the order to fully retreat.
Furthermore, you can research a bunch of guns and stock the weapon racks with a well-varied arsenal. But only you use it, ever. Your crew’s weapons are based on the corporation you chose. They never use anything else, and you can’t change their equipment. One corp, in particular, makes them use laser pistols. You can imagine how that can be problematic.
The lack of fine-tuned control of the crew can make infestations and enemy invasions harsher than they really should be. You have no real way of directing the crew around in such an event, since you can only tell them to attack or retreat, and only those in close proximity to you. Late game ships are huge.
It’s disappointing that there is no follow me command. You as the captain have to navigate the maintenance tunnels solo to clear out infestations. Or you the captain are evidently the only mechanic on the ship because no one else moves to repair anything. This lack of control and common sense extends to the more peaceful moments as well.
You don’t have a mainframe computer to manage anything. To assign crew to a module, you must physically take yourself to the module and use the computer inside it. To assign that module a task, you have to physically be in that module and access its computer. It makes micromanaging your ship a huge hassle as you have to run and navigate to each part of the ship when you need something done.
At times, it also makes the crew redundant. There is little point in having a crew member run your workshop when you have to actually go to the workshop yourself and put the order for ammo and turrets in the production queue. You can run the processes yourself and much faster than a crew member. Since you had to go to the workshop anyway, you might as well manufacture the items yourself while your there.
These oversights are nasty blemishes on a game I otherwise very much enjoy. Assigning your crew and managing processes is extremely frustrating. Even though the game very heavily emphasizes the importance of your crew, the brain dead AI and lack of control has me feeling as alone as ever inside the game.
For as much effort as the game puts in to atmospherically immerse you in its setting. The AI and amount of physical micromanaging me feeling less like a captain of a crew then it should. Since the game is a roguelike, losing crew, or the game due to the crappy AI and the fact that you must fight off a ship-wide incursion yourself is devastating.
Genesis Alpha One is still a good game and it hybrids a mix of genres in excellent ways. It’s flaws cant be ignored, however. I really hope the developers continue refining this title after release. They have a gem on their hands, they just have to sand down its rough patches.
- Excellent blend of top-down shipbuilding and first-person action
- Freeform gameplay
- Variety of tech, weapons, and aliens to unlock
- Great Atmospheric immersion
- Unique security aspects to think about when playing.
- Brain dead AI
- Can’t manage the ship from a central menu, you have to physically move to every module.
- Lack of crew control, limited ability to give them orders and you cant equip them
- Poor AI and lack of fine control can make its roguelike nature overly punishing considering the time investment involved.