Genetic Species logo

After reviewing the mighty Quake last month, Andy Smith wonders if Vulcan's clone can possibly compete?

Quake. Brilliant. The tension, the levels, the monsters, the sound, the experience. Almost everything about the game's brilliant. Almost, because you need an amazing Amiga to get the thing to run at all and, even then, one of the game's biggest features is inaccessible to 99.9% of Amiga owners - the network option.

Even for that 00.1% of people who could get their go-faster Amiga networked, they'd better stick to only playing other Amiga gamers because the machine's simply not fast enough to take on anyone who's got a decent Pentium in front of them. Just ask Ben about all the tears of frustration he's cried...

Genetic Species is much more accessible to the Amiga gaming public. Sure, you need a decent slice of memory and an accelerator card is going to be very useful, but you don't need a graphics card to get the thing to move at a decent speed - your ordinary AGA chipset is fine and you'll be able to get all the enjoyment from the game, allbeit at a lower detail level and at something less than the full screen.

So what's it all about then? Well, you can probably make up your own storyline but the official one's something to do with a spacestation gone haywire and you're sent in (well, you being some kind of BioShifter thing or whatever) to sort it all out. Familiar stuff and suffice to say it's a Doom clone in space, so that's all you really need to know.

All the usual elements are included - you start off with a simple .44 Magnum and get to find and use better weapons as you explore the levels.

Talking of exploring, Genetic Species really needs a map. There's a simple area map that can be called up whenever you lot onto one of the orange computer terminals that are scattered around. However, these are very general and i's very easy to get yourself lost as you sneak or run about the place.

... you start off with a simple .44 Magnum and get to find and use better weapons as you explore the levels.

Even when you've been told that a level's clear of enemies so you can breathe a sigh of relief and go back and try to find all those extra energy and ammo packs you saw earlier but were unable to pick up, it can be annoying because you can waste an awful lot of time wandering around very similar-looking corridors.

This could, arguably, be a gameplay feature. "Well, it's like real-life where you don't have a map anyway", could be the argument, but it's not washing with me. We've become used to maps in games of this type and though Quake didn't have one, that was because you didn't really need it much.
The levels were not all full of identical corridors and it was quite easy to remember how to get to that balcony you passed a while back because, although large, the levels were easy to navigate as they were in proper three dimensions.

Which is another thing Genetic Species lacks. It's back to the Gloom, Breathless, Alien Breed et al school of pseudo 3D. No balconies above you, no dungeons below you.

Genetic Species cannot be penalised for this but just be aware that you're not going to be playing in a true 3D world. And after playing Quake, which was in a true 3D world, it's very obviously a step backwards when you're forced into pseudo 3D again. But, as I say, this isn't GS's fault so, though it's worth pointing out, it's not going to lose any marks for it.

As well as having most of the elements present in the game in the shape of ammo packs, extra weapons and energy boosts, GS's level progression is fairly familiar.

Thankfully, the game doesn't allow you to pick up extra energy when you're topped up so you can come back for any packs you were unable to take onboard when you first found them - if you can be bothered to go and find 'em, that is. Ouch, that's a bit harsh.

Essentially, you'll run around everywhere that's accessible, clearing any baddies out of the way, and then you'll concentrate on getting through all the doors that were denied to you previously. This means the familiar routine of finding and tripping switches and hoping they relate to the door that you wanted (there's no small visual clues to show you what effect you've just had).

Like most of the better games of this type though, the enemies you face are never in their thousands. Sometimes you come across packs of them, especially the spider-like Face Huggers, but they're generally fairly spread out.

You're never going to be very far from something that needs killing, and you can eventually guarantee that every new room or corridor you enter has at least one baddie.

However, the fewer and further between approach makes this much more of an exploration/combat game, rather than a straightforward DeathMatch-run-around-with-all-barrels-blazing affair.

And again, as you'd expect, there's lots of scenery to interact with. Fuel tanks, barrels of nuclear waste and what have you can usually all be blown up (don't stand right next to them, though, eh?). It's worth noting the placing of them as you're moving around the levels because they're often the keys to unlocking otherwise inaccessible areas which you wouldn't normally be able to get to. Let's take the first level as an example as it tidily deals with the game's saving structure too.

Fuel tanks, barrels of nuclear waste and what have you can usually all be blown up (don't stand right next to them...)

There you are on the first level, you've had a good look around, got into a couple of scraps and found enough ammo and health-bonuses to make you feel you don't really want to have to do it all again.

The game only allows you to save your position at certain points. There are these swirly white clouds in certain areas - enter the cloud and you're allowed to save your position.

On the first level you can see one of these clouds in a room. The weapon you've got at the moment isn't powerful enough to blow open the cage door (this can be done on certain doors on later levels if you've found yourself a powerful weapon).

However, there are a couple of fuel tanks nearby. Get the picture? Retire to a safe distance and fire a couple of shots into the fuel tanks. Hey presto, you've done what you're supposed to (cue Michael Caine, "You're only supposed to blow the bloody doors off!"), and you can now safely save your game.

That doesn't mean you can walk into just anything though. Some things are extremely bad for your health and unfortunately you're probably not going to know if it kills you until you walk into it, so err on the side of caution and assume everything's going to kill you.
If you really want to find out if those green bars are as painful as you think they might be, the best thing (obviously) is to try to save your game immediately before.

One thing Genetic Species doesn't do too well is allow you to carry different weapons. There are some exciting weapons to find, but say you come across some hand grenades when you're already carrying the Tazer (what a useless piece of kit that is - stun the guards a couple of times and in about one second they're back up and shooting at you - grr!) then it doesn't let you pick the grenades up.

Well, that's what happened to me, and I couldn't find a way to drop the Tazer so I had to go and use a keycard on a door that I didn't want to yet, simply to get a slot free so I could pick up the grenades.

And is it any fun to play? Mostly, yes. There are some annoying bits - you tend to be very bouncy when you're walking and running around and that can make targeting the baddies a little difficult at times.

Fortunately you don't have to be pixel accurate to kill off the enemies but it's easy to waste shots when you're moving and the last thing you want to do is run out of ammo. If that happens, you're stuck. Usually the only solution is to go and explore a new area of the level (which is bound to be crawling with baddies, just when you don't want it to be) and hopefully find some quickly.

This means the familiar routine of finding and tripping switches and hoping they relate to the door you wanted...

OK, so maybe I've been a bit harsh on Genetic Species in places. It is a good game and though it's not Quake, at least it's playable on a machine that doesn't need all sorts of extras to get it running satisfactorily. The graphics are good throughout, though the baddies aren't generally the best drawn in the world and the animation is jerky.

There are some lovely special effects, especially when you're shooting and blowing things up. The sound is fine but not astounding, and the game plays as well as any of the other Doom clones that have appeared lately.

At the risk of getting Vulcan miffed though, I'm going to stay shy of awarding this a Format Gold. For me, the game just didn't have the atmosphere and tension a game like this needs. Sure, it's big enough, sure, it's tough enough and sure, it's fun to play once you get into it.

The unfolding storyline does help you become more involved but when you're actually playing the game you can't help feeling you've been here many times before.

Alien Breed 3D II is, for my money, a better game. It may not look as nice and may not run as well on a lower-end machine, but it was just more enjoyable to play.

If you've had your fill of AB3DII if you just can't afford all the extras you need to get Quake (and any of its add-ons) to run, then I can certainly say you won't be disappointed with Genetic Species.

It's got everything that all good first person games should have and it's certainly hard enough to present a decent challenge to anyone (even on easy mode) and it's certainly well worth buying.

It's good but it's not an all-time classic, and much as I want to reward Vulcan for their efforts and much as I adore the glorious, long, animated intro at the beginning, I just feel it's lacking something.

The best thing to do is buy the game (you're going to enjoy it anyway) and then drop me a line and let me know whether you think I've been too harsh.


Genetic Species
At the start of the game, not surprisingly, you've only got a weedy weapon. The Magnum .44 is certainly not powerful enough to blow holes in walls, but the fuel canisters next to them are...

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Level two and life's becoming more bearable as you've now got a much better weapon. This one's powerful enough to blow holes in certain doors so don't be afraid to try it.

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Level three and you'll get some serious hardware, which is just as well because there are some serious enemies to contend with. Keep an eye on your ammo levels at all times though, because no weapon is any good whatsoever without ammo.

Genetic Species logo CU Amiga Super Star

Price: £29.99   Developer: Vulcan Software/ Marble Eyes   Available from: Weird Science   +44 (0)116 2463800

Swap bodies like there's no tomorrow and kill stuff... what more could you want?

I'm running down that damn corridor again. Every time I hear a clank - and that's all the time - I grip the rifle tighter. If one of those scouts is around the corner, I don't know what I'll do the last three I ran into nearly killed me until I was able to lob that grenade and take off back to relative safety. I've gotta find some first aid fast. There aren't any good candidates left for a takeover - all those petty guards were bothering me and I had to waste them. I sure wish I still had the ammo I blew on them, not to mention their flesh around for a convenient body swap.

But as long as I... what was that? Whirling around a second too late, I catch sight of the security officer I forgot was lurking in that section of hallway. And as the blood pours down the screen, all I can think of is - damn, it's been a long time since I was able to save the Game.

Genus and Species
Comparing Genetic Species to Doom, Quake, or your garden-variety clone thereof does it a disservice. Rather than try to reinvent the "running around shooting things" wheel, the Marble Eyes team have sought to use the concept of a first-person, realistically rendered terrain engine as the core of a Game of investigation, strategy, suspense and shooting things.

Be afraid...
Since "bright future" science fiction settings don't make for very good shooting action, this Game, like so many others, is set in a "dark future". In the early 2200s, humanity is in virtual enslavement at the hands of a few select megacorporations.

Nearly everyone has been fitted with mind-control devices, except for a select few who have evaded the system to former the Counter Force Alliance (CFA) who work to break the stranglehold of the corporations. The CFA has been developing the "Bioshifter" to take advantage of those mind-control devices by using the shifter to take complete control of corporate employees. Some very strange things have been happening on a large asteroid, including huge military buildups and the unexplained apparent self-destruction of strategic bases. So the CFA has decided to activate one of the Bioshifters in the remaining base.

Initially, your mission is simply to explore and try to gather clues as to what might be going on, and unsurprisingly the base's security will do everything in their power to eliminate the intruder (you). But, through cunning and superior firepower, you have to fight your way through levels too numerous to count, gathering keys, clues and even more weaponry to expose what eventually turns out to be an elaborate conspiracy and stop it before it can do any more damage.

Saving humanity the hard way
There's no way to dither around this issue - the 3D engine is just awesome. Once you open the first door and are greeted by the first row of flashing running lights, something I've never seen done nearly as well in any Game of this type, period.

You very quickly get the feel that you are there, running through the subterranean corridors of some cold distant atmosphere. The baddies swarm around you so fast you hardly notice that they have a tendency to "glide" in a manner vaguely reminiscent of Breathless, and the weaponry fire is so crisp and, well, satisfying that you only care how they die, not how they walk.

A nice touch is that weapons do not always fire straight forward into the center of the screen (because most human beings have trouble carrying guns squarely in the middle of their bodies), but a pinpoint gun sight helps you call your shot.

Genetic Species is full of unique little wrinkles. The artists really avoided "blocky computer graphics syndrome" in spades - there are a few things you can get "too close to", usually very skinny objects like rotting corpses from mishap experiments, but it's far better than most Games, where merely approaching a wall turns it into a big visual pizza.

The element of surprise is used to great effect - there will be times when you wonder where all those guards could have poured out from, only to realize that you should have reacted to the warning signs much earlier. Doors open and close around you - somewhere in the distance, but still audible - and will keep you guessing as to who might be coming, and when.

And then there's the "Portable Probe Device", or "Paradroid Meets Quake".
The PPD serves two purposes. For starters, you can launch it (presumably out of the head of the creature you're currently inhabiting, which would certainly look interesting) to shoot into the corridors ahead to investigate. It travels forward extremely fast and with a wild color scheme (very cinematic), and will travel for a few seconds or until it hits a wall.

The second use of the PPD is to take over an enemy. In theory, any enemy you meet can be shanghaied into your cause, but some are more vulnerable to takeover than others, and stunning them first (either with a stun-specific weapon, or sometimes you get lucky by whacking them with a few probes) helps as well.

When you successfully take over a creature, the one you had been inhabiting dies - sometimes, it seemed, taking all of his weaponry and ammo into the abyss as well, which is rather unfortunate, and difficult to justify from a design point of view.

But the takeovers are sometimes necessary, or at least extremely helpful - certain types of characters (particularly engineers and security officers) have access to rooms others simply cannot reach, and the physical stature of still other foes makes them attractive to get into small, cramped places. Because of this feature, it's sometimes in your best interest not to simply blow away everyone you meet.

The exploration of the four bases in Genetic Species is probably unlike you've ever experienced in a 3D shooter. This is nothing like a level of Alien Breed 3D or Doom or Quake - kill a dozen enemies, find a key, kill another dozen enemies, search for secret rooms, exit the level, do it all over again in another setting.

You will have to visit and re-visit rooms, backtrack to pick up weapons you had to drop in order to carry other needed items, go back to make sure there wasn't a hidden switch you missed, take countless elevators up and down, all while minding a rather frugal ammo supply and, of course, your sanity.

Add to that the very refreshing rudimentary AI of the enemies - they run away from you when they're dying, call for help, and even try to track you down if you get away from them or vice versa.

To get past all this madness, the key you need might be two or three full floors away, and many elevators in the Game have only one destination. Fortunately, in another interesting wrinkle, you always have access to a generally complete floor-plan in every level, which you can overlay on the screen at any time.

Certain things like discussed corridors or secret hallways and chambers don't appear on the map, though, so it is by no means exhaustive. The map is available even when you first enter a level so you can check out the entire floor-plan before you make a single step. It's a little disappointing that the secrets you do manage to find still don't appear on the map, however.

Genetic Species makes very god use of a range of Amiga hardware. There is a small set of pre-programmed resolutions and the ability to use most graphics cards, and sound is provided through AHI. On a high end machine, 320x250 (the top resolution) looks just wonderful, far better than you would expect given the fact that it is considered "low res" these days, even with double buffering and full audio enabled.

Even if you're without RTG capabilities, the Game moves along at a very good clip for AGA users. And the sound is absolutely fantastic - the CD tracks of mood music are very appropriate, the constant spooky clanks and grinds keep you on edge, and the sound effects get gradually more sinister and "icky" as the Game wears on.

Evolution of the species
Nobody's perfect. Genetic Species has some design flaws - some niggling, some notable. I had a serious problem with the Game's saved Game and options screen abilities. You can only save your Game when you discover the exceedingly rare "save Game power-up" - you can leave it there or lug it around, occupying one of your three precious inventory slots until you're ready to use it, but once used, it's gone until you find the next one.

In a Game as huge and expansive as this one, where killing the wrong guy can suddenly make your mission much more difficult, maybe even impossible, frequent saves would certainly have been welcome.

So would an easily accessible options screen, to change screen size, brightness, or to reload each saved game. But to do these things, you have to locate a computer terminal. Sometimes, they're in great supply, other times you can literally be locked away from one and have to use a special keyboard combination to quit - there's nothing else to be done! Just hitting the escape key to pull up the menu is all that was required, but they really missed this one.

Finally, I have a problem with the Bioshifter/probe/taking people over premise. If, as the Game alleges, we're taking over the bad guys, who presumably are friends with the other bad guys, why do the other bad guys instantly recognize us as "good guys" and begin shooting?

I would certainly understand if they saw or heard us shooting at people or things, or saw us meddling with doors we shouldn't be near, but no, despite taking over the body of an enemy commander we apparently still have a sign tatooed on our foreheads reading "I am an intruder." I really wanted to get into the storyline of the Game but I found this a very glaring flaw. That, and I'm really sick of plotlines which rely so heavily on Alien.

The online documentation alludes to an upcoming level-building CD, but no word on the Vulcan site for a release date. Without that product a reality, Genetic Species remains a very impressive standalone Game. And, despite the difficulty in comparing Quake to GS, the comparison will ultimately have to be made, and it is for this reason that GS scores a scant point less than Quake.

Quake proper is the less engaging Game, but by buying into it, you buy into literally hundreds of other Games. GS is a thrill ride and a half but when it's over, until that level creator comes out and people learn its tricks, it's over.

Tools of the trade

All good things must come to an end, and here are the tools Genetic Species gives you to get them there faster. A game like this needs a nice range of decent weaponry, and genetic Species scores a definite A+ in that area. There are weapons by the bucketload, and they're complete with some spectacular lighting effects that give a real sense of just how powerful your latest discovery is. Get hacking, shooting and zapping!

Genetic Species
.44 Pistol

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Silenced Pistol

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Industrial Dril

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Fire Axe

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Laser mine

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Hand grenade

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Assault Rifle

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Rocket launcher

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Plasma gun

Know your enemies

Genetic Species boasts one of the most expansive and varied collection of opponents ever assembled for your destroying pleasure.

Genetic Species
Engineer: No real physical threat, but be careful trying to take them over - they're so frail that if you don't stun them properly, the probe will kill them.

Genetic Species
Space Pilot: Move like a butterfly, sting like a bee around this one. They're slow moving but still dangerous.

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Face Hugger: Looks like a regular cyborg spider but it seems like it takes forever to kill all of them.

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Scientist: Pencil-necked geeks with peashooters. Not a problem.

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Stormtrooper: Action Man he isn't, but he is a well-trained killing machine. Worth trying to take over if you're in a tough situation.

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Mantis: A good strafe of rifle rounds will do the job.

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Security Soldier: Your average grnt. Don't waste the good ammo on him, just some .44 rounds will suffice.

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Gel Man: The Danish promotional materials refer to him in the amusing, if not completely intentional terms of "an abdominal creature." But he's ugly and that which is ugly deserves to die.

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Chameleon Soldier: "Predator"-like opponents with lighning speed and bad attitudes. The invisibility effect is impressive and it's even more so when a gang of three of them buzz around you shooting you to death.

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Battle Cyborg: Almost omnipresent in the later stages of the Game, these guys can make crispy meat out of you in very short order.

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Mechanoid: One of the robotic menaces of the Game, very difficult to kill, even more difficult to make good use of if you take one over - they don't have good hands, you see.

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Wolfhead: GS's tribute to Robotech and Robocop. Brutally lethal. Throw grenades and run.

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Zombie: Disgusting and very hard to kill. Put them out of their misery with a flamethrower or energy rifle.