It’s your job to set off into the galaxy and colonise a new world. With a basic ship and crew you must travel the stars, discover new technology, gather resources, expand your ship, deal with hostile aliens, and eventually find and seed a new planet. If you fail then its back to Earth to start again, only this time you’ll be more prepared for what’s to come. Welcome to Genesis Alpha One.
Genesis Alpha One is wonderfully compelling. Despite countless setbacks affecting your ship, countless deaths, and countless hyperjumps in a desperate search for the resources you need, Genesis Alpha One continues to entertain and draw you in. Indeed, it strikes an excellent balance with the difficulty of a rogue-like – keeping you challenged through RNG (random number generation) shenanigans – the scope of the space exploration and colonisation concept, and the minute to minute experience of managing your ship. it all results in a very busy game, with many things to consider and do to keep everything running smoothly, which in turn makes your time with Genesis Alpha One fly by. It’s ever so easy to get utterly absorbed by it.
A big part of its appeal is just how ambitious it seems on the surface and then how brilliantly developer Radiation Blue kept its scope manageable. The idea of travelling around the galaxy, building your ship as you go, cloning personnel, finding resources in debris and planets, discovering artefacts and new technologies, and ultimately finding ideal planets to colonise, sounds like a complex experience that could easy overwhelm. In practice, however, Genesis Alpha One makes smart design choices to make each of these aspects complex enough to offer interesting player decisions but simply enough to grasp and complete.
Ship building is a simple matter of managing building resources and energy to build certain structures on your colonisation ship, with each of these structures offering different benefits, whether that’s increased crew capacity through the crew quarter or biospheres, increased storage for raw and refined materials, facilities to allow for resource gathering and exploration, and ship defence systems. It’s all intuitive, with a clear tutorial and help options to teach you each structures’ function.
Planetary exploration and resource gathering is cleverly kept to a small bubble surrounding your landing craft, keeping the experience focused and highly manageable. After scanning a planet from your ship to determine what resources and points of interest are there, you simply jump on a landing craft, with or without a small crew, and collect what you can on the surface. Often multiple trips are necessary due to your landing craft’s limited inventory. Additionally, there’s always alien lifeforms to deal with, but switching between your resource collecting tool and your weapons is simple and quick, and coloured resources make identifying what you’re mining easy at a glance, especially useful if the alien presence is aggressive and you’re after a particular thing.
Debris mining is also a simple task that’s largely automated once you’ve got a small crew working on it. With the tractor beam built it’s then a matter of scanning debris and tasking the computer to start beaming it aboard. Your crew, and/or yourself if you’re low on crew or fancy speeding up the process even more, activate the tractor beam and deal with any aliens that tag along for the ride. It’s then a matter of ensuring you have the space to store the resources.
The process of making a hyperspace jump to a new region of space, scanning the planets and debris, gathering the resources and spending them on your ship, keep you busy, but as your venture deeper into space more threats emerge to really push your management skills. Early in the game it’s common for alien critters to stow away on your ship, beamed aboard by the tractor beam. If they get loose they like to damage electrical modules and build nests. Your crew do what they can if they see any of these menaces, and you can place turrets to deal with them, but once the aliens find their way into the guts of your ship it’s down to you to scrabble around below the flooring and deal with them. It can be quite the task clearing an infestation out but it’s important it’s done swiftly; allow them time enough to destroy too many electrical modules and the integrity of your ship can be compromised, causing sections to explode.
This is particularly entertaining and equally frustrating when it’s a section of the ship that you and some of your crew are in. As the section explodes, you’re helplessly launched into space. Fortunately, as long as there are crew available, you take control of a new member who is promoted to captain. It’s a neat mechanic for handling death that also emphasises the importance of maintaining your crew.
This crew of yours starts off as human, with more crew grown through cloning, but as you discover more artefacts, technologies, and encounter other races, you’ll gain the ability to clone alien lifeforms to be part of your crew, as well as genetic modifications to improve your clones. Alien races, however, often require different atmospheres to breath, so finding the right plant life on planets then growing them in your biospheres is necessary in creating the right conditions for all aboard. Furthermore, when you discover a planet that makes a good candidate for colonisation, it will only support life that breaths a certain atmosphere. It all comes together to encourage you to better manage your ship and really think about how you expand and explore. It’s excellent.
It’s also difficult. The aforementioned infestations can be tricky but as your expedition goes on, the threats get ever greater. Alien foes start off as spider and worm creatures but soon you’re dealing with sentient beings with weapons. On a planet this can often mean a desperate grab of resources before a hastily escaping, but as you venture into more dangerous regions of space you’ll have boarding parties to deal with that will truly test you. You can build a workshop and through that create turrets, energy shields, weapons and ammunition, a safe room for your crew also comes in very handy, but you can expect to lose a fair few lives on your search for planets fit for colonisation.
When you run out of crew the game is over, but this is a rogue-like, so found artefacts remain found. These can then be activated at the beginning of the next game, acting as modifiers or buffs to better prepare you for your next attempt. Meanwhile, you’ll also unlock different crew you can pick to start with, and different corporations to fund your expedition. Your choice of corporation affects the look of your ship and grants different abilities, buffs and weapon sets.
The types of aliens, resources, and safe regions of space you encounter is subject to RNG, as a result playthrough can differ in difficulty dramatically, however, the encounter rate for new technologies and artefacts is quite generous, so no matter how quick the playthrough of a ship, you almost always come away with something to show for your struggles. Additionally, the presentation of performance of Genesis Alpha One must be commented on, as it’s spectacularly fast and wonderfully creepy.
The music is reminiscent of 1950s sci-fi, meanwhile, the visuals are a melding of 1950 and 1970s sci-fi, with some areas of the ship looking very 2001 A Space Odyssey and others looking like Alien. Furthermore, the low sun on each of the planets creates long shadows which only adds to the mysterious atmosphere, whilst also making alien encounters planet-side sudden and scary. This is also the case on the ship as you scurry around in maintenance tunnels looking for the infestation of those dreaded alien critters. It’s very effective at inducing sci-fi nostalgia, horror, and hiding the fact that the textures are actually rather low in detail. It also loads lightning fast between visiting planets and your ship.
Genesis Alpha One is a hugely compelling rogue-like with an ambitious concept that’s expertly crafted within a small scope, delivering an experience that’s full of mystery and horror, measurable progress despite its difficulty, an excellent sci-fi aesthetic, and copious things to keep you engaged.