Hands-On: Project Genesis seamlessly blends competitive sci-fi ship and FPS combat

It’s been about a year since developer 8 Circuit Studios initially unveiled its debut project, an ambitious competitive sci-fi game called Project Genesis, but you’d be forgiven if this was the first you’d heard of it. Up to this point, Project Genesis has been (if you’ll pardon the expression) flying well under the radar, but that’s started to change now that 8 Circuit Studios has begun hosting a series of pre-alpha playtests.

I recently got to participate in one of those playtests, and I came away impressed by how smooth and seamless Project Genesis’ gameplay already feels despite its pre-alpha state. 8 Circuit Studios still has a lot of work to do, but as I’ll soon explain in more detail, Project Genesis is definitely worth checking out if you consider yourself a fan of intense ship-to-ship (or person-to-person) combat.

Shoot For The Moon

When 8 Circuit Studios announced Project Genesis in August of 2018, the studio also laid out its ambitious developer philosophy. This philosophy involves, among other things, cryptocurrency, the Ethereum blockchain, and 8 Circuit’s ultimate goal of building a collaborative “metaverse” where digital assets can be easily shared between gamers and developers, and across multiple games.

More recently, 8 Circuit has scaled all that talk of blockchains and metaverses back a bit to instead focus on Project Genesis’ evolving gameplay elements. However, even a cursory look at 8 Circuit Studios makes it clear that the developer has some big plans which go well beyond the scope of Project Genesis. For now, though, 8 Circuit is focusing squarely on what it’s calling the ‘Andromeda Playtests’ for Project Genesis which interested fans can sign up for via the game’s Test Pilot Program.

Master and Commander

As I mentioned above, Project Genesis’ main hook is its seamless blend of two distinct gameplay formats, thrilling ship-to-ship battles and tense close-quarters first-person-shooter (or FPS) skirmishes. In the pre-alpha build I played, every match would begin the same way: two teams of up to five players compete to either reach a specific score limit or destroy the enemy team’s capital ship.

At the start of the round, players pick from one of nine different smaller ships, each with its own performance stats and weapon systems. Some ships can quickly annihilate enemies in close quarters thanks to their shotgun-like close-range cannon blasts. Others can harass enemies from afar using guided homing missiles which need a short time to recharge. Then there were the ships that used charged up energy blasts to efficiently bring down the enemy capital ship’s shields.

While all of the smaller ships function similarly when it comes to maneuverability and speed, they still embody a number of different player archetypes. If you’d rather just zip around and dogfight with enemy players, there’s a ship for you. If you want to hang back and defend your team’s capital ship with long-range weaponry, there’s a ship for you. And if you want to simply rush in and board the enemy capital ship, there’s a ship for you as well.

Once the enemy capital ship’s shields are down, a player can initiate a boarding by finding one of the capital ship’s pre-designated boarding spots and initiating a pod breach. The player’s perspective then shifts to the robotic avatar contained in the pod as they slam into the capital ship’s interior and ready themselves for an FPS-style breach attempt.

The goal for players who board the enemy capital ship is to navigate through a series of rooms and halls so they can complete a list of tasks and ultimately blow up the ship’s reactors. Players on the enemy team can also spawn into the capital ship to defend it from invading players, with tense firefights breaking out in the massive vessel’s tight hallways and cramped rooms.

This balance of ship-based combat and FPS boarding naturally means that teams who can communicate in real-time have a distinct advantage as they coordinate who is doing what. It also means that teams can play to their strengths while also quickly shifting their priorities as needed. There were several matches where my team would secure a surprise victory by disabling the enemy’s capital ship from within even as the enemy team dominated us in the air.         

Lost in Space

Overall, Project Genesis’ moment-to-moment gameplay felt solid and stable, and I was especially impressed by how seamless the transitions between ship combat and FPS combat felt. However, the game is still in a pre-alpha state, which means there’s a lot of room for improvement.

One of the first problems I noticed was that there wasn’t any sort of quick-reference page on the initial ship select screen. This meant that the only way to figure out how a ship functioned and what particular weapons it had was to actually spawn in as that ship. This was also a problem since, after several matches, I’d end up forgetting which ships had the performance stats and weapons I preferred. The only point of reference I had was the ship images, and that wasn’t a huge help considering how similar all nine ships look.

The FPS ship breaching segments could also use some fine-tuning. In the pre-alpha build, objectives that invading players must complete are highlighted with yellow waypoints. However, there isn’t a natural progression of distinct waypoint objectives, they’re all just highlighted at once. This proved to be quite frustrating as I had to constantly double-back and navigate the ship’s confusing interior layout, slowly figuring out by process of elimination which yellow waypoint I had to visit next.

The FPS sections also felt noticeably barebones since players couldn’t configure their weapon loadouts or use any sort of auxiliary gear like grenades or other abilities. I don’t want to ding 8 Circuit Studios too much for such omissions since I’m sure they’ll come in due time, and it bears mentioning that what the FPS sections do currently offer is at least functional.

Sky’s The Limit

Even in its pre-alpha state, Project Genesis already offers a solid foundation of unique sci-fi combat that smoothly blends two distinct (yet complimentary) gameplay formats. I’m not sure how all the blockchain stuff is going to shake out, but it looks like 8 Circuit Studios is wisely pivoting a bit to play up the unique strengths of its debut game.

According to the official Project Genesis Steam page, 8 Circuit plans on eventually introducing elements like narrative-driven seasons, Battle Pass-style progression paths, and unlockable cosmetics like ship badges and skins. If the studio can successfully balance these player engagement elements along with Project Genesis’ unique gameplay format, it could easily have a winner on its hands. In the meantime, fans of epic sci-fi battles should definitely keep Project Genesis on their radars.