There’s nothing I enjoy playing more than a new rogue-like. There’s something truely enjoyable about being able to play the same game over and over knowing that you only have one life each run. It’s a brutal and utterly savage way to play but it’s a hell of a lot of fun too … well most of the time.It doesn’t matter what genre we’re in, be it a sci-fi shooter or a fantasy hack n’ slash the brilliant premise prevails. The game we’re going to be looking at today is a twin-stick, co-operative shooter called Genetic Disaster. Knowing how I feel about virtually everything in this genre, to avoid any bias, I just had to bring a friend along for ride and who better than my good buddy Will Georgiadis. Together we’ll be taking a bit of a look at whether this new addition to the rogue-like library is actually worth your time.
Genetic Disaster is what they call a rogue-like top-down twin-stick dungeon-crawling shooter. If the sheer number of hyphens in that sentence had you weak in the knees, don’t worry: it’s pretty simple stuff. You’re given the choice to play as one of four unique characters – Panic, Bunker, Sneaky, and Devil. They each characterize a pretty bog-standard class, from the soldier to the heavy brute, the spy to the maniac. They also offer special chargeable abilities, and minor differences in walking and reloading speeds.
The levels are procedurally generated dungeons that change each time you begin a new game. Roaming the corridors of these dungeons – it’s the lair of a mad scientist, actually, but no matter – are the bad guys, who drop health and ammo when killed and who tend to become more aggressive and less forgiving the higher level you achieve. The entire premise, then, can be summarized in one simple sentence: shoot your way from levels one to ten as you try to escape the evil stuff.
If you’ve ever played The Binding of Isaac (or, if you’re an old fart, Gauntlet or Rogue) you’ll know that roguelike games are unforgiving, seemingly unending in their vicious attempts to cut short your run. Genetic Disaster is much the same: the threat of permadeath, paired with the increasingly frantic gameplay, works to make the game a frustratingly addictive experience. It’s a tried and tested formula, and it always works, particularly when you’re playing with up to three friends, causing mayhem for all of 10 minutes as the friendly fire mechanic that this game touts so strongly reduces your efforts to rubble.
Genetic Disaster boasts some 65 unique weapons, each as goofy as the last. Plenty of these weapons proved to be more of a challenge than they were worth, often having limited range or a woeful projectile spread. In fact, Genetic Disaster threw several unexpected challenges my way, all of which were surplus to requirement; painfully slow reload times and small magazine capacities meant that busier areas required extraordinary dodging and careful use of the special abilities . Oh, and level 2 and above introduced enemies that launched homing projectiles, which in my humble opinion rather defeats the purpose of a top-down’s fundamental mechanics. Cover was limited, and enemies often spawned outside the visible area.
I could keep moaning about Genetic Disaster‘s many challenging features for hours, and you’d still come away thinking that I was just a filthy casual. So let me put it this way. All games need balance. Throwing in a bunch of stuff because you think it’ll be cool does not work, ever, and I worry that this is just what has happened here. Genetic Disaster contains elements of the sort of top-down tank shooter that we all played in our web browsers back in the day, but does not offer the caution and patience to match; it has the hallmarks of a frantic dungeon crawler, but offers enemies that almost exclusively keep their distance, launching projectiles that you often simply cannot avoid.
Can you see my issue? I see no evidence of careful planning and meticulous testing. Well, almost no evidence. For my very first thought upon booting Genetic Disaster for the first time was: ooh, that music is spooky. And look at these gorgeous visuals. The funky cartoon aesthetic and Danny Elfman soundtrack are magical, and everything about the level design from a purely visual perspective makes me wonder if this wasn’t a bit of a one-sided labor of creative love.
Of course, this just makes it all the more tragic that more effort wasn’t put into the actual gameplay. Genetic Disaster is a 2-dimensional game, in several ways. The basic, thoughtless approach to the mechanics and gameplay is only accentuated by pleasing art styles; from spelling mistakes to imbalanced weaponry, there can be no doubt that at least half of the game’s title is accurate. Grab a friend or three, and the chaos may offset the shortcomings – for a time. Unfortunately, this is not one to hang around in your library for more than a week or two.
Personally, I have very mixed feelings about this game. My biggest problem is that this title doesn’t feel at all finished. I totally get that it’s still an early access release and that there is more work that needs to be done. The problem I’m having is that Genetic Disaster was officially released on the 15th of December and for me that should mean it’s a mostly completed, fully playable game that just needs some work. What we have is a shell of game. Granted, this title is completely playable but at the same time it’s totally hollow. Let me try and explain why.
The mechanics are definitely there. You choose from one of four characters, each with their own skill and are then unleashed into a series of dungeons of critters intent on killing you. In true rogue-like fashion you only get one run at it per life and the levels change each time you play. Sadly, that’s were the rogue-like fun ends for me. The whole point of this genre is that you have randomly generated occurances thrown at you. You might meet different characters or have to surpass certain randomly generated events. The only things that really feel random here are the maps, which for me at least is sort of missing the point.
As Will has mentioned the sound-track and graphics are really nice and to be fair the game is playable and could potentially be a lot of fun. As Will has also mentioned, however, that fun is hampered by a shocking camera, (nothing should spawn outside your viewable range that’s tantamount to cheating,) and an array of relatively useless weapons. It’s okay to be able to play with an arsenal of 65 weapons as long as at least two thirds of them are useful. When you find yourself using the same ones over and over again because the others are unbalanced this stops being a selling point and becomes a crap-shoot to see what works.
Something else I noticed pretty instantly was a total lack of story. I was expecting some sort of introduction or at least to know why I was playing one of the four courageous creatures. You get nothing, you’re thrown straight into the game and appear to be expected to figure the rest out for yourself. I completely understand that most shooters aren’t particularly plot-heavy, they aren’t that sort of game but we need to be given something. You should at least care enough to want to keep your little guy alive but not knowing why you’re there or what you’re doing kind of makes things a bit pointless. The same applies to any kind of tutorial, it’s very much a case of play about with the controls till you figure things out. I don’t expect to be hand-held but I’d at least appreciate a bit of a leg-up in the beginning.
There is only one playable mode thus far. This would be fine in an unfinished pre-release title but for an official release you’d expect to see something more. The online function, which for me is a big draw of any co-operative title isn’t there yet. This means that you can only play Genetic Disaster from your own computer. For any type of console play this isn’t as much of a problem as you and up to four local players can join a game but for pc this is incredibly limiting. There aren’t that many computer rigs that are designed for four players to be crouched around a monitor, you need the online support to actually be able to play comfortably.
I really want to say nice things about Genetic Disaster. This is my genre and I want to say the game shines with everything I love about rogue-likes. The sad thing is I just can’t … yet. I’m going to keep an eye to see if the bugs are fixed and the balancing issues resolved. I’m going to keep an open mind because I really want this game to be good and I certainly don’t want to just come down like a hammer when a lot of hard work has clearly been done here. For now at least, I’d give Genetic Disaster a look and have a play with it but don’t expect to keep coming back for more for long. Actually at the price it’s currently being sold at on Steam I might not even do that.
This review is based on a retail copy of the game provided by the publisher.