The Gene Machine

a Reeeview item by J Nash (Monday April 26th, 2010)

JN says...JN saysFor PC Gamer, in the period when the office’s, “Ugh, this point-and-click adventure game is terrible,” was closely followed by, “Flash the phosphorous beam to alert J Nash at the polar base where he is summering as a decoy.” The baton has since been passed to J Walker, who has faithfully used it to hit and kill people who make terrible point-and-click adventure games.
By chance, the universally expected-to-be-rubbish Toonstruck turned up next month, my championing review of which led to one of the The Gene Machine programmers ringing the PCG office drunk and shouting that I only hated his game because I’d been bribed by the publishers of the rival adventure. Hurrah!)

Publisher: Vic Tokai
Developer: Divide by Zero

A game about Professor Challenger? Or Harry Flashman? NO.


Let’s pretend. I’m The Gene Machine, you’re the main character, it’s the beginning, and you have to instruct me in such a manner as to find some money on your person. You’re holding a wallet. Mull it over for a minute.

If you said, “Open the wallet,” bad luck, there’s nothing to be seen. But it is a wallet of fine but battered leather bearing your initials.

If you said, “Search the wallet,” you’re worryingly well-informed about the approach of the game, but still, find only your calling card.

If you said, “Search the wallet three times,” we’ve flushed out one of the designers, and these brutish henchmen will now administer a severe beating and throw you into the street.

This, then, is The Gene Machine, a point-and-click game that takes the fantastically rich idea of a Victorian-age gentleman agent and by dint of great effort turns it into a competent, mediocre and pointless game that seems to really enjoy COMPLETELY WASTING YOUR TIME.

For example: items only appearing when you need them, so you have to walk back and forth tediously revisiting locations in case something’s suddenly turned up. And, indeed, empty locations to pad things out.

For example: screens so cluttered with incidental characters and background objects (which serve no purpose but can still be clicked upon to be told they serve no purpose) it’s a job to find enough space to make your character walk across the screen because the game keeps thinking you’re pointing at something. And you can get stuck behind exits.

For example: although puzzles can be tackled out of order, the game doesn’t consider you doing it. At one point, after lengthily and complicatedly winning a bet, I had the means to charter a vessel and dashed to the harbour, only to be told there was a shipping blockade and I’d have to appeal to the authorities. Why not, for instance, have the docker mention that in the first place, or the bettor point it out, or at least have a congratulatory animation so I felt I’d achieved something? Instead of COMPLETELY WASTING MY TIME. Say.

For example: puzzles so thoughtlessly constructed you end up trying to use everything with everything, and a script so poor you can’t be bothered trying all the questions so you hear all the jokes. (The script really is extraordinarily miserable, with a plot that’s just a lot of feeble contrivances hung together, and an atmosphere that’s consistently off. In the 1940s-set Flight of the Amazon Queen, say, which this curiously resembles structurally, the writers had obviously done their research. In The Gene Machine you get the feeling the writers have sat down with a history book and picked a period with amusing names. Then concentrated on vomit jokes.)

I finished The Gene Machine in three days, becoming stuck once, but losing interest before even the halfway mark. The handful of neat touches — the splendid character animation, the polished interface, the reasonable voiceovers, the three funny lines — are squandered in an adventure that can’t even be bothered spelling “its” correctly. And has a spinning CD when it’s loading a new scene. It must be really annoying for publishers to hear how their latest point-and-click adventure isn’t as good as Monkey Island, which is five years old. Perhaps almost as annoying as being sold a point-and-click adventure that isn’t as good as Monkey Island, which is five years old. For example.

Competent, mediocre and pointless. Buy Amazon Queen… or… Monkey… Gak. (Dies.)

See also: Toonstruck