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Epigenesis Review (PC)

A Whole New Ballgame

epigenesis

Epigenesis presents a promising take on the next few hundred years: no grim future centered entirely on war, no post-apocalyptic earth where Darwinian human instinct has taken over; instead, humanity created the most popular sport in history, some strange hybrid of Basketball, Soccer, and Unreal Tournament.  It’s also an interesting case for why “e-sports” doesn’t necessarily have to conjure up images of multiplayer battle arenas and first-person shooters, but that more traditional (albeit fictional) sports can exist in that space alongside the likes of Dota 2 and Counter-Strike. I really like what Epigenesis represents: it’s an innovative take on traditional sports that still provides the adrenaline rush of something like Quake or Unreal Tournament, in a well-produced package that you rarely see in games fresh out of Steam’s Early Access.

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In Epigenesis, two teams face off in an attempt to plant a ball inside an enemy’s goal more times in ten minutes than the opposition across a platformed ravine. The arenas aesthetically resemble something out of Tron but play like something out of Quake. Each player is given a non-lethal laser with two modes: rail (an instant, focused beam which pushes enemies back a small amount) and shot (a mode which fires a missile-like projectile which travels slowly but produces an explosion that pushes back enemies a lot).  The gun is a key part of both offense and defense — pushing an enemy back and causing them to fall off a ledge or preventing them from landing on one in the first place spells instant death, producing a 5-second respawn timer. In addition, hitting an enemy who’s in the air with your melee attack sends them straight downward, and if they fail to land on a platform? Splat.

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In order to score a goal, a player has to pick up the ball from the middle of the arena, take it to the enemy goal, and toss it in. It’s simple, but when presented with power-ups like “smokescreen” (which creates a cloud of smoke over a large area for a few seconds), along with arena-based hazards (like the desert maps’ Twister, which pulls players it catches high up into the air), it gets complex and interesting. Upon scoring, a player is given a seed, which they can plant on one of the unoccupied platforms, which in turn spawns a plant, a kind of “turret” which produces effects ranging from firing projectiles which slow enemies, to creating a shield in which players can hide. In addition, each plant provides the entire team with a buff to either jump height or speed. Each player also has a gauntlet called a “meth-glove,” whose use is two-fold: the first, called “methylation,” allows a player to power up a plant; the other, called “demethylation,” allows them to cause an enemy’s plant to wither and eventually become inactive. It’s here where the strategy of Epigenesis starts to shine: its rules are deceptively easy to learn, but when other humans are thrown into the mix, their collective strategies coalesce into something truly spectacular.

This is the server browser as of last night.

This is the server browser as of last night.

At least, that’s what I assume happens.

You see, Epigenesis’ community is dead. And when I say “dead,” I don’t mean “there are a few full servers,” I mean there are two or three people playing the multiplayer at any given time. It’s disheartening, because playing against the AI only provides a challenge until you’re out-thinking and out-pacing them, and with a complete lack of single-player campaign, its appeal only lasts for so long before you’re wanting something richer. I only got to play a single match against real people, and it wasn’t even a full house — there were four people (two on each team) with the other six slots filled by AI. I’m sure that if I’d gotten to play more of the multiplayer component I would have enjoyed Epigenesis way more, but unfortunately, that’s what often happens with Early Access titles: people play them obsessively for a few weeks or months and move on, and then when the game comes out nobody is still playing it.

Epigenesis is a strong case for why e-sports doesn’t necessarily have to be entirely composed of the likes of League of Legends and Unreal Tournament. It is, unfortunately, a product of the all-too-common disease I have taken to calling “Early Access Syndrome,” in which a game’s community is essentially non-existent on official release. I’d stay away unless you’re buying the four-pack with the intention to play with other people you know, or are content playing against bots — not because it’s a bad game, but because the community just does not exist.

Final Verdict: 3/5

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Available on: PC (reviewed) ; Publisher: Dead Shark Triplepunch; Developer: Dead Shark Triplepunch; Players: 1-10; Released: August 1st, 2014; MSRP: $9.99

Full disclosure: This review is based on a review copy of Epigenesis provided by the game’s publisher.

 

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Adam has a penchant for strong, minority opinions, and loves Mass Effect, JRPGs, and the Warriors games -- sometimes perhaps a bit too much. He will defend Final Fantasy XIII to his grave, and honestly believes people give Dragon Age II too much flak.

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