I've been accused in the past of being a borderline-bootlicker to Bullfrog; they could do no wrong as far as I was concerned. But that was until Gene Wars. The game seems to have everything Bullfrog's past efforts have provided, including an incredible premise and astounding audio-visual elements. But what made games such as Populous, Syndicate, and Magic Carpet so mind-blowing was that beneath all the beautiful atmosphere lay a finely-tuned, ingenious game. Gene Wars, on the other hand, is just a gorgeous mess.
What's most disheartening is that it is almost impossible to judge the game itself because the process of accomplishing the various tasks assigned to you is just so aggravating. This is primarily because events happen so damn fast - you're trying to move your guys, gals, and beasts all over the map to perform their duties, all the while beset upon by your enemies' forces and the local creatures. On more than one occasion one of my specialists was dead before I could even scroll over to a problem area and remedy a situation. Other unfortunate traits add to the frustration, such as the fact that it is inexcusably difficult to select an animal unit (you must click exactly on its little physique, which more often than not is moving about at rapid-fire pace), and the fact that sometimes your units just don't respond to your commands. There are solutions to these problems, but learning them is just as time-consuming as trying to do things intuitively. Even more strange is that this comes from the makers of Populous, which had one of the most ingenious and oft-imitated interfaces of all time. The game is also unrelentingly unforgiving. Any major guffaw results in having to restart a scenario, which in itself is not inexcusable. What is inexcusable is that there is no built-in-manner of restarting said scenario. More than once I realized that I was in a losing position, and had to restore a game several missions previous and work my way back. Sure, maybe that's a lack of foresight on my part, but is it too much to ask to simply be able to restart a mission?
Or how about the ability to slow the game down a bit to get a handle on what's happening? The real heavy-hitters in the strategy game department (WarCraft II, SimCity, Bullfrog's own Populous) have always had one thing in common: they give you time to appreciate your accomplishments. There's the feeling of looking out over your creation and saying "it is good." But Gene Wars never even gives you a chance. Bullfrog had a similar problem with Theme Park, albeit to a lesser degree. There's not a great level of detail to worry about in Gene Wars, but once a scenario gets cooking, you never have time to stop and smell the crabomules. The result is that the game is never enjoyable, simply frustrating.
So much care was put into the atmosphere of the game, that it is a shame to see it go to waste. The graphics are wonderful and the retro sci-fi sound effects, from the ambient sounds to your specialists' shouts, are hilarious. But until Bullfrog releases a patch which addresses the problematic issues, we'll never get a chance to play the wonderful game that undoubtedly exists within.