I’ve been a sucker for exploration games since I started gaming as a child. When I got Metroid II at the age of 10, and spent months playing it, I was hooked. From then on out, any game that had exploration as a main mechanic hit the huge part of my brain dedicated to gaming. Over the years, I’ve also become very interested in aliens and cyberpunk literature as well as manga. My father was a chemist, so science; biology, geology and math have all been a huge part of my life as well.
None of this really matters, except that Lightstorm3D has just released a game called Gene Effect, and it encompasses environmental puzzles, exploration, and an amazing back-story of researchers and miners finding teleportation devices hidden on Mars during mining expeditions around the year 2050. Basically incorporating everything I surround myself with. So it’s no wonder I’m instantly fascinated by the game.
The story starts in 2033, with the first manned NASA mission to land on Mars is started. Once they land in 2034, build a base camp, and start their 16 month stay, the crew explores a 75 mile radius around their camp, collecting soil samples. After returning, a coalition of industrial nations and private investors found the GSA – Global Space Alliance, who’s main objective is to colonize Mars, and start mining the planets resources. Some time later, teleportation devices were found while mining, and a huge expedition for more starts up. While in a mine, one of the mining crews crashes, and this is where you come in, sent into the mines to find the ship and crew. The story has a LOT more to it than that, but what fun is ruining it for our readers? There’s an entire Chronicle section within the game, which gives you quite a bit of a backstory, and grows as you unlock more information throughout the game.
The story is a huge part of the game, but the game lacks any sort of cut-scenes. So you’ll have to read if you want to find out more. This isn’t required to actually complete the game, but it definitely adds to the incredible immersion.
Now, the gameplay can be incredibly immersive by itself as well. You’ll control your mining ship with a virtual joystick and two buttons, one for your repulsor, which you can use to blow up rocks with a seismic blast, clearing paths, and uncovering hidden objects, and another button for T-Drone (Termination Drone), which launches missiles to clear out extremely hazardous areas before entering. The physics are another fantastic aspect of Gene Effect, with great collision detection, collision speed and damage detection, weight of the mining vessel, impact reactions, falling rocks, and even gravity manipulators having been tweaked to convey realism and increase the immersion in this sci-fi world.
Each Mission has certain objectives which you’ll need to achieve either before progressing to the next area of a level, or completing the stage. These range from collecting DNA samples, to finding different resources like Koronite (the main orange material which you’ll be collecting a ton of), and taking it to certain drop off areas within the levels, or collecting red, blue, and yellow crystal energy to start up reactors, as well as searching for sensors to unlock doors, and more.
As you progress through the game, the story opens up drastically, as do the levels. At the beginning of the game, levels can be completed as fast as 30 seconds, but very quickly expand to levels with speed run times of 7 minutes or more, and will usually take around 20 minutes to complete your first time through. A pretty major drawback of this is that there’s no multitasking support, and no mid-level checkpoints, which means that this is not really a pick-up-and-play game. Luckily, there’s plenty of quick pick up n play games available, with incredibly immersive, sit-down for a 2 hour gameplay session games are few and far between, which definitely makes Gene Effect stand out within the AppStore.
Adding replay value to the game, each stage also has a set of medals which you can earn for getting a high-score. There’s bronze, silver, and gold medals available for each Mission, as well as medals for perfect navigation, which is completing a level without crashing into any objects, and time, which you’ll receive for completing the Mission quicker than the allotted time. If you can grab the gold medal, and get both medals, you’re awarded a special full completion medal. There are also hidden relic items in every level, and 12 hidden artifacts that you can use to upgrade your ship scattered throughout the game.
The graphics and animations, as well as the lighting effects, are incredible. The extreme attention to detail, especially with the environments, with the plant-life, and backgrounds for the caves, as well as movement of plant-life and all of the mechanical devices within the world of Gene Effect are insanely impressive. Sadly, there’s another drawback with this at the moment. The game is only built for the iPhone/iPod Touch, which means that you’ll be playing on your iPad in 2X mode, making the game pretty pixilated. The good news is that an update which will make the game Universal is in the works for the future, as are more lighting options and performance and graphical tweaking. But as it is now, the environments look incredible, and make Gene Effect a game that you’ll want to show off to friends.
Lightstorm3D has definitely shown that they know exactly what it takes to make an amazingly immersive, incredibly depthy game with Gene Effect. The story, gameplay, graphics, controls, music, everything about the game really stands out as top-notch. Even without having GameCenter integration with no online achievements, or leader boards, it has a great amount of replay value that will drive completionists batty. Fans of exploration, sci-fi, mining, action, adventure and even puzzle games would do well to get this on their device as soon as possible. Gene Effect is definitely a game that stands out as a true console-like experience in an AppStore full of casual pick-up-and-play flash games. The $5 price of admission is well worth the journey you’ll be privileged to experience, and is highly recommended to all gamers looking for something more from the games on their iDevice. I sincerely hope iOS gamers will be able to see more from Lightstorm3D. It’s games like this that give me hope that the iDevice will grow into a serious gaming platform in the near future.