Genesis Rising Multiplayer Hands-On - Gene Warfare

Organic starships and genetic engineering are at the heart of the multiplayer mode in this real-time strategy game.


With its focus on organic starships and genetic engineering, Genesis Rising: The Universal Crusade is far from a typical real-time strategy game. This highly stylized strategy game comes from DreamCatcher Interactive and Metamorf Studios and is set in a distant future where human factions battle amid the stars. However, instead of building starships the old-fashioned way with metal, the factions "grow" their living starships and then imbue them with powerful genetic abilities. We previously covered the single-player portion of the game, but we recently had a chance to play some of the multiplayer to get an idea of how it's shaping up.

Genesis Rising's distinct visual look is matched by its unconventional style of gameplay.
Genesis Rising's distinct visual look is matched by its unconventional style of gameplay.

If you're expecting the familiar mix of real-time strategy base construction, army building, and "tank rushing" in Genesis Rising, then don't. The multiplayer mode in Genesis Rising incorporates many of the concepts found in the single-player campaign. There isn't much any base building, and your fleet will be limited in size quite a bit. Much of the strategy centers on the gene system. Put another way, what's important is what genes you research, which ones you "equip" on your ships, and how you use them in battle. In this regard, Genesis Rising is a bit like a collectible-card game.

While the game is set in space, everything happens on a flat 2D plain, much like a tabletop, so you don't have to worry about maneuvering along the z-axis. You'll start out with your main station, a mothership, and a blood collector. Because all ships are organic in nature, blood is the key resource in the game, and it can be siphoned from your station or from the husks of dead ships. Blood is used for everything, including repairing ships, building new ones, and, most importantly, buying and equipping genes.

Because it's the heart of the game, the gene system has a lot of depth to it. Genes are divided into key categories, such as abilities, warps, boosters, cripplers, long range, and short range. One gene will increase the armor of your ship, another will give you an ability to temporarily paralyze other ships, and yet another can help "invade" an enemy ship and take it over or help your ship resist invasions. The kicker is that each ship has only a limited number of gene slots available, so how you mix and match the genes is important. And how you balance the gene abilities of each ship in your fleet is also important. If you want an ultrafast ship, you can add several speed genes to a single ship. Genes are cumulative this way, so you can increase the effect of a gene by adding more copies of it to a ship. The downside is that each copy eats up a gene slot. So you can create highly specialized ships or very balanced ships, but you can't have one ship with everything.

The faction you play as dictates the genes that you first get. However, you can also recover genes from enemy ships and incorporate them into your own ships. This is part of the strategy in multiplayer, and in the multiplayer arena we played in, there were numerous computer-controlled factions in addition to the player factions. There were also trade caravans passing through the battlefield. These caravans give you opponents that you can tackle and salvage genes from early on in the game. At the same time, you'll want to build at least two or three blood collectors to deliver a steady stream of blood to your mothership, which it can use to churn out other ships, such as fighters and frigates. The unit cap in the game is fairly limited, so you'll usually end up with about five to nine ships, depending on your selections. More-powerful ships use more slots on the unit cap than cheaper ships, but at the same time, the bigger ships have more gene slots.

When we talk about gene combat, we're not talking about a fashion.
When we talk about gene combat, we're not talking about a fashion.

Once you have set up your ships, you can go after the enemy or try to have it come to you. We found ourselves in a position where we attempted to defend our station, only to discover that the enemy had developed some long-range weaponry, allowing it to hit our station from afar. So we sallied out to engage the enemy, and that's where the next bit of strategy comes into play. Combat is much more than simply getting your ships close enough to the enemy so they can open fire. You also have to worry about bringing genes into play. While some genes are passive and work automatically, others require you to activate them. So if your ships are engaged in battle and an enemy vessel attaches a crippler to one of your ships, you should then use a purify booster to cleanse that ship of the crippler. To do so, you simply hold down the space bar to call up the list of available genes, select the gene, and then select the target. Once used, genes have a recharge timer that governs how often they can be used.

This means that the multiplayer in Genesis Rising often feels like a chess match because genes are brought into play and then countered. Planning is important because success can often be determined by what you bring to battle and how you distribute the genes among your ships. However, once you're in a fight, quick thinking also plays a big role because you have to evaluate what's going on and call the right genes into action at the right time. It's certainly a different type of real-time strategy multiplayer, and that's what DreamCatcher and Metamorf are aiming for with Genesis Rising, which is scheduled to ship next month.

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