Available on: PC
Developer: Team8 Studio
Publisher: Team8 Studio
Released: Dec 13, 2017
Genetic Disaster is a 2D top-down rogue-like action game by French Studio, Team8. You and up to 3 others pick a character, each with unique stats and abilities, and dive into procedurally generated levels to fight swarms of enemies. As you progress, the world will utilize a cycle system to modify itself in ways that further challenge the players. With each level you complete, you unlock new enhancements to your character, ranging from less kickback to more life.
What they did well, they did extremely well. The hand-painted art style was a funky freshness I hadn't felt since Rayman, and the music was a perfect pairing to the bronze laden mechanical workings of the procedurally generated world. The characters are creative and unique. I loved the idea of Panic, a fish in a bowl that operates a lanky body, being constantly afraid of the danger that surrounds him. The way your character is able to evolve as you progress lets you feel like you're becoming a hardened veteran with each new level you descend. The expansive weapon selection, with multiple ammo types therein, allowed for some wonderful diversity. My favorite part of playing again was to see what new weapons I would find next time. These aspects of the game felt so refined, that I would believe it came from a top-level studio. The fact that I can do all of this cooperatively with my friends made it even better.
Good graphics and interesting characters can only get you so far, however. There remains to be a number of gameplay aspects that prove to be an unfading hindrance to the experience. Not all of these aspects are flaws or bugs, but an intentional feature that either felt unenjoyable or sometimes downright bothersome.
The most noticeable issue is the complete lack of explanation. You choose a character, and you're dropped into the game. Controls and gameplay mechanics have to be figured out through trial and error. The only exception of this is when reading the character descriptions, and when you select upgrades to your player. Only through blindly pushing keys did I discover how to pick up ammunition, and I'm still not sure how to switch weapons when using a controller. This is a problem that could be solved through any number of different ways, from tutorial levels to dismissable popups. Except that there isn't any of them. Since the options menu remains under construction, I can't even sift through the control settings to learn from that. This issue stretches beyond just controls. The Cycle system, which modifies the world you're in as the cycles change, remains unexplained. I found myself confused about what each cycle would mean, and how to make it change.
The cycles are a frustration for more than just the confusion, but for intentionally being a bother. The way they augment gameplay is almost always negative. Fire will spawn, ice will fall from the sky, enemies drop bombs on death. While these effects can work towards your advantage, they felt more like punishment for just playing. Negative situations were being presented to me, regardless of how I was doing. It took the challenge of the game and toyed with it at regular intervals.
The other intentional, but less in-your-face problem I faced was with the camera. When playing alone, I found that the camera was zoomed in too closely. In order to get close enough to enemies to be able to see them (and subsequently shoot them), I had to be closer than I felt comfortable with, and would often take damage as a result of the close proximity. In coop mode, the camera will correct itself to accommodate all players, but if you're playing alone, then you're stuck with one level of zoom. Aside from zoom, the smooth motions of the camera actually worked against me at times. This was an issue I purely had when playing with mouse and keyboard. As the player moves about the room, the camera will shift its centering to allow for smooth transitions and maximum room coverage. while this seemed nice at first, the shifting would often result in difficulty aiming my shots with the mouse cursor. This can easily be solved by using a controller, but not everyone has one.
The game would benefit greatly from some simple quality of life changes. Additional camera controls would make gameplay more comfortable, and a tutorial of any form would make it much easier to get into the game starting out. While I personally did not care for the world modifying cycle system, I understand that it's a gameplay feature that some others may enjoy.
There is some forgiveness to be had. While I do my best to remain objective to the games I review, sometimes there are circumstances that need to be considered when making a final decision. Small studio projects are seldom a heavily funded one. Genetic Disaster was released ahead of schedule due to financial reasons. This is most likely the biggest reason for the missing aspects of the game. The studio has stated that there will be free updates post-release. Assuming that these updates address the missing content, then this game would make a worthy front page contender.
We have decided to rate Genetic Disaster 6 out of 10. What the game does, it does it well. The missing content is quite noticeable, however. This is the product of an indie studio with more talent available to them than budget. This is one of the few instances I would recommend purchasing the game, as the success of the game will likely be an integral part of the games continued development. I will be watching this game closely and will be revising this review as it continues to update post-launch. You can find Genetic Disaster on Steam for $19.99.
A review copy was given to us for the purpose of this review.