Real-time strategy in future space is a tired concept. Remember Starcraft? Total Annihilation? Or more recently, Star Wars: Empire At War? The long list of genre standards goes on, and consequently it's important for developers hoping to carve a niche for themselves in the RTS market to avoid falling into cliches.
Dreamcatcher Games, a PC-game production company based out of Toronto, may have just succeeded in breaking the mold with their latest game, in development by Metamorf Studios. The folks over at Dreamcatcher, who are best-known for their award-winning shooter Painkiller, gave the Gauntlet an early look at the beta build of Genesis Rising: the Universal Crusade, their ambitious entry into the world of RTS games.
The player commands a fleet of blood-hungry biomechanical ships and is required to manipulate their genetic makeup in real-time in order to adapt to various combat situations. As the player adds gene tokens to ships at the cost of a proportional sum of blood--which is apparently the intergalactic standard for currency in the age of genetics--the ship morphs to represent the chosen modifications. The graphics engine designed by Metamorf is able to transfigure large ships mid-battle, providing for uniquely dynamic visuals at no expense to the flow of gameplay.
How does an aspiring space pirate maintain a healthy reserve of the 'red gold' necessary to wage wars funded by blood? Diplomacy is always an option, but the unique system introduced in Genesis Rising allows players to feast on the stumpy carcasses of defeated enemy ships as well. It's obvious which option is more fun.
Unfortunately, in this stage of development, the action involved in intergalactic warfare is a bit sluggish. As badass-sounding as a fleet of genetically engineered monster spaceships may be, watching them slowly crawl across empty expanses of space to engage in drawn-out conflicts which take forever to get anywhere isn't as badass.
Combat aside, where Genesis Rising really shines is in its presentation. The bizarre designs of the biological vessels look like something straight out of the movie Species, and are awe-inspiring to behold in full, glorious next-gen graphics. In addition, stunningly rendered galactic backgrounds provide a vivid and epic atmosphere to the last unconquered galaxy in the universe. Variety is a major selling point here, as players can choose to take one of three factions to battle, each with its own unique selection of ships and genetic upgrades to draw from. Between this and the dynamic nature of the DNA-upgrade system, gameplay promises to provide a different experience each time.
Genesis Rising: the Universal Crusade has an excellent premise (how could living vampiric spaceships waging wars for territory in a bleak and violent future not have been done before?) and providing the gameplay can be improved enough to keep pace with the concept and exceptional visuals in time for release, this collaborative effort from Dreamcatcher Games and Metamorf Studios is definitely one RTS to watch for.