A considerable shift in tone.
The Grand Theft Auto games are an example of a series that has matured considerably over the years. The gameplay and world have gotten more and more refined, leading to a far more developed and immersive experience. However, there are always those of us who long for the good old days, harking back to simpler times and appreciating a more primitive gaming experience. In particular, Grand Theft Auto 2 holds a special place in many people’s hearts. But what if the series went in a different direction, staying with the Grand Theft Auto 2 style and adding incremental rules and ideas on top of the base game? A game by the name of Geneshift gives us a tantalizing glimpse into what might have been.
The story… well, I can’t say it particularly grabbed me. It’s to do with evil organizations and a zombie outbreak. Nothing particularly new or engaging. Interspersed with the gameplay are various quips from the characters, and I found these quite enjoyable for the most part, what with the sarcasm and assorted bits of dry humor.
Oh, gene-y with the light brown hair…
The game sees players traversing through levels from a top-down, overhead perspective, reminiscent not only of the aforementioned Grand Theft Auto 2, but also of other shooters such as Crimsonland. Of course, the shooting isn’t mindless and the level design is not static; there are rooms to traverse, stairs to climb, doors to unlock, and bridges to cross or go under. There’s also a nifty system where players and enemies cannot see one another behind a corner, adding an element of strategy and surprise to the mix. There’s also chances to pull of stealth kills from behind enemies for extra points and bragging rights.
Mixed with the shooting is the to-be-expected vehicle play, in which you hop inside a car and proceed to mow down baddies or perform elaborate hit-and-runs. These are enjoyable and are perhaps the most obvious influence from Grand Theft Auto 2, but the controls could have been a bit better. Still, it’s especially fun if you happen to have a friend with you. While the game may be tackled in single-player, it was clearly built from the ground-up with multiplayer in mind. You can see what they were going for: carnage with different players shooting in every direction while somebody takes control of a car and mows down the hordes. It’s the sort of goofiness that would be at home on a console with a bunch of friends on the couch and some pizza and beers. If the story mode isn’t your cup of tea, you may also indulge in classic deathmatch and even a form of capture the flag.
What’s in your head, zombie? Zombie? What’s in your head?
There’s a lot to love in Geneshift, and its long gestation (eight years and counting) has produced a mostly well-rounded experience with a ton of content. There’s already a lot on offer with all the abilities to unlock and the principle campaign, but of particular importance is the community built around this game. Users are encouraged to create new maps and content (there’s a level editor included) and you get credit for recruiting new players, getting people playing your levels, and having folks joining your server.
Sadly, when it comes to the presentation, Geneshift kind of falls flat. Graphics and sound do their jobs without being offensive or objectively bad, but things appear very simple and generic. Sure, it’s indie, but that’s hardly an excuse these days as various indie endeavors have managed to produce visually stunning products with but the most meager of budgets. The UI could also do with an overhaul; there’s too much clutter on the screen and the icons and fonts are none too appealing. Nonetheless, it’s functional and colorful and doesn’t make the game unplayable by any means.
Geneshift may be a little rough around the edges, but it’s a really fun little blast of gameplay that mixes up top-down shooting with RPG elements and vehicular combat. There’s a good time to be had if you go it alone, but the real essence of the experience lies in the multiplayer component. If you don’t mind a lack of polish and a general feeling of stuffing too many ideas into a single game, you’ll find that Geneshift is a true hidden gem that will only get better with age, a strong community, and some more input from the developers. Fire up your browser and head over here to snag a copy for you and your mates.
Final Verdict: 3.5/5
Available on: PC (reviewed); Publisher: Nik Nak Studios ; Developer: Nik Nak Studios ; Players: single-player, multiplayer (co-op, deathmatch, local and online). ; Released: 23rd of May, 2017.
Full disclosure: this review is based on a Steam key for Geneshift given to Hey Poor Player by the publisher.