January 12, 2013 3 Comments
Damnit. Damnit damnit damnit damnit damnit!!
How did this happen? Early on in my play through of Genix, I felt I was playing a pretty good game. I tweeted that it was “fucking awesome.“ I joked about having a “chick-boner” over it. I probably should have put more than an hour into it. What started as a fun neo-retro space jaunt ends up turning into a tedious, sprawling mess riddled with unfairness and frustration. It’s one of the most disastrous turns I’ve seen an XBLIG make.
Genix’s hook is centered around its unique presentation. The free-floating line graphics over a static background gives the game a holographic look similar to “floating image” games of the 70s and 80s like Sea Wolf, or especially Asteroids Deluxe. This effect is also known as the “Pepper’s Ghost” and is used to create the special effects in the Haunted Mansion ride at Disneyland. While playing this, my boyfriend commented that Genix, more than any other XBLIG covered at Indie Gamer Chick, belongs in an arcade. Imagine a cocktail cabinet hosting Genix, using the Pepper’s Ghost effect. It would be spectacular to look at. Hell, it’s pretty damn nice to look at now on a television. Even better was the amount of restraint shown by the developers to never allow the graphics to get in the way of gameplay, which is such a common mistake on games this stylistic. It’s too bad this restraint didn’t extend to level design. It’s like an alcoholic who triples his cigarette intake to quit drinking.
Genix is all about navigating labyrinthine stages, looking for keys and doors to mate with the keys, shooting enemy ships and searching for an exit. It’s certainly a different concept on the space shooter genre. It’s probably been done before, but being a whippersnapper, this was new to me. And at first, I enjoyed it. Levels were well-organized, the mazes were clever, and the combat was.. well, that was always a bit tedious, but never annoyingly so. The problem with the shooting is the enemies are pretty dang spongy. Getting past early enemies isn’t so much a challenge as it is a device for killing the game’s pace. The spongy enemies also combine with limited ammo to create a sort of puzzle effect on the game. Although totally optional, Genix keeps track of how many enemies you take out in each stage. It seems to give you just enough bullets in each stage to defeat every enemy. This could have been a clever device to extend the game’s shelf-life, but the problem is it’s just not implemented in a fun way. Enemies take so many bullets and firing them is so loosely done (even a snap-pull of the trigger fires multiple rounds) that you end up having to pump the fire button, shooting one round at a time in hopes of not wasting a single bullet. It stretches the combat beyond boring and into the realm of torture.
But, the well designed stages more than made up for this, and I never grew tired of the beautiful graphics.
And then something happened.
About ten stages in, Genix gets teeth, and not in a good way. Enemy turrets that fire quickly and are dead-on every shot are placed around corners in a way designed to guarantee you take damage. Enemies are also placed just around corners in ways that force you to take damage rather than being able to strategically take them out. Levels become more sprawling, sometimes taking ten minutes or longer to complete. Your health drains relatively quickly and there are no checkpoints, so imagine putting ten minutes into a stage just to die because a boss appears out of nowhere and you’re trapped in close-quarters combat with a sliver of energy remaining. That means you get to replay those ten minutes again. Sometimes I don’t mind it, but Genix’s design doesn’t really lend itself well to forced-replays. It also doesn’t help that weapon upgrades are dull and don’t really help so much with the sponge factor. In early videos of the game, enemies don’t seem to be such bullet-eating bastards, so what happened? Why do I get the feeling this is yet another example of a developer getting too good at their own game and beefing it up for their personal benefit, to the detriment of others?
An hour into Genix, I had it pegged as a top-20 game, but it’s not. I can’t even put it onto the Leaderboard. It has too many problems, chief of which is the game ramps up the difficulty by being a dick instead of being a fair challenge. This dissolves the early sense of awe and makes the problems that were always present stick out much more. Control is too loose, firing is too loose, the levels have too much needless backtracking, enemy design is basic and boring, and the game has serious pacing issues. Like sometimes a tiny box-shaped stage with no maze elements appears at random that feels totally out-of-place. Or sometimes you’ll get a new gun (like the plasma cannon) and realize that maybe it DOES kill enemies faster, but it also uses ammo faster, thus maintaining the status quo. Let me stress that Genix has all the potential in the world to be something special. Not by tearing it down and rebuilding it from scratch, but just by using some common sense and a little bit of patchwork. This could very well be a top-10 game, but I can’t recommend it. Like the crater that enjoys eating donkeys, Genix is too in love with being an asshole.
240 Microsoft Points (160 points too much) are practically begging for this game to get patched and ask for a Second Chance with the Chick in the making of this review.