EXTROPIA’S RETRO-GAMING: ‘RETURN TO GENESIS’’.
“This looks like Uridium!”.
I am guessing that this was the first thought people had when they first laid eyes on this shoot-em-up from Firebird, and released in the late 80s. The game itself was created by Steve Bak and Steve Lyon who, by the way, were responsible for another game covered in this series (‘Leatherneck’).
Whereas that game was set in the Vietnam War, ‘Return To Genesis’ is set in the future. The year 6600 to be precise. The plot revolves around twelve scientists who have been cloned fifty times and live on fifty planets, where they are attempting to find a cure for all known diseases. But then, an evil alien race known as the Mechanoids invade those worlds, and somebody has to rescue those scientists. No prizes for guessing who!
The game itself consisted of a horizontally-scrolling field of play, about forty screens in length. In theory, your job was simple enough. You had to fly along, looking for scientists. Once you spotted a little guy in a lab-coat, by flying over him you picked him up. At the same time, you had to keep an eye out for enemy Mechanaut ships and be ready to shoot them before they shot you, and the environment threw up its own challenges, in the form of obstacles that you had to avoid colliding with.
I said your overall task was simple in theory but in practice this was a damn hard game. The main issue was the sheer speed with which your craft zipped along, giving you hardly any time to react to enemy ships and obstacles. The landscapes looked great (in fact, this was a very pretty game for its time) but it was difficult to distinguish between mere backdrop and obstacles you were in danger of colliding with. To add to the difficulty, your ship had inertia, so you couldn’t just suddenly stop in a split second.
To add to your problems, the mechanaut fighters were uncannily good at locking on to you and blowing you away. This made the radar screen an indispensable aid. This showed where on the field of play enemy ships were, along with any scientists that needed rescuing, so with a bit of strategy and quite a bit of luck, it was possible to get yourself into a position where you could shoot the enemy before it appeared on screen. But the speed at which your ship moved made it very hard not to shoot a scientist by accident.
As if things were not hard enough already, on some levels there were these narrow tunnels you had to fly through. The problem was, if an enemy ship happened to fly down after you, you were as good as dead, because there was no way of avoiding its attack.
Overall, the main problem with ‘Return To Genesis’ was that it chose style over playability. For example, the designers chose to include a very snazzy-looking scoreboard, and I can only assume they were really proud of it because it takes up one-third of the screen. It looked pretty, sure, but it came at the expense of giving you less space for actual game play. This made ‘Return To Genesis’ feel like a narrow tunnel, chock-a-block with enemies and obstacles that would suddenly appear. I think it would have helped if there was more space devoted to, well, space, rather than being taken up by the scoreboard.
So, was ‘Return To Genesis’ a bad game? I think that depends on your tolerance for game difficulty. Uridium was a classic shooter and this game was obviously inspired by it. The extra power of the Amiga meant bells and whistles could be added to it, like the aforementioned graphics, and some excellent synthesised speech (we’re spoiled with hundreds of hours of voice acting in games nowadays of course, but when this game came out in-game speech was a rare thing). But the game was hard as nails. I guess if you loved shoot-em-ups, had room in your collection for another game like Uridium and were not put off by an extreme difficulty, you might have found some value in ‘Return To Genesis’.
Me, I was rather disillusioned by a game that was so tough it was hard to make it beyond even stage one!
Thanks to Firebird for the images.