reviews\ Mar 23, 2009 at 8:00 pm

Geneforge 5: Overthrow - PC - Review

You have to hand it to the folks at Spiderweb Software. They have a franchise that focuses more on story than on graphics, but while the role-playing genre has grown up a bit, the Geneforge franchise seems stuck in the past, struggling for its demographic.

Why? Because while the story is not bad, the presentation is almost as dated as the graphics and does not seem to be geared for adult players, but graphically it may not appeal to younger players, either.

If you remember back to the earlier games in the Ultima series (before Ultima Online), you may have a good idea of what this game presents graphically. It is strictly point-and-click, with keyboard inputs dealing with actions.

In all fairness, this is the fifth game in the franchise and thus there is a group of players who do enjoy the game and its setting – which can be best described as a fantasy world tinged with science fiction. And the game does try to be intriguing, but the way the story is presented, with text screens that allow for choices in dialogue direction, has been kept simple.

You begin Overthrow by selecting a character to play as; there are six templatesdf presented, each with variations in three categories – warrior/melee, magic and shaping. Shaping is the ability to morph or create creatures to do your bidding and a character strong in this discipline is your basic pet class in a typical RPG. Don’t expect to find a template that is proficient in all three areas. This is a game of give and take, where your actions and proclivities toward certain groups will affect the way the world views you. Help the rebels, for example, and you may find certain trainers who will not help you improve your skills. The game does have a total of five factions that you can choose from to find favor with, and you will not be totally alone in this adventure, as you can build up a party (of sorts) to venture around with.

But back to the story itself ... You begin in an enclave of simple-minded humanoids, who serve the shapers and their creations in the starting area. As the game explains, your mind was in a fog for most of your life until one day it started to lift. Coincidentally, the enclave where you served has fallen on bad times with the shapers either dead or having fled, and the creatures running amok. An overseer finds you and is amazed that you are speaking coherently, and not the illiterate broken speech common to the servants. You also sense a building force within you, power looking to explode through the internal chains confining it and find expression.

The first time you get to unleash some of this power is when a creature, afraid of flame, attacks. Overthrow allows players to load up either a melee attack or a magic-based attack (there are two slots for equipping and using skills) and then you approach a target and release the attack. That’s where the game encounters one of its first problems. This is point-and-click gaming and the default is not the character you play. You have to select your character, move close to your target and then click on the target to attack it. But in doing this, you have de-selected your character. This can prove a bit annoying when you have to continually click on yourself and then determine the actions you will take – especially since the world is moving in real time and not waiting for you to catch up to it.

The game world itself is fairly wide open and you can explore and work through the fog of war that conceals much of it. Load times? Nah, but you will have to wade through text screens and inventory screens to continue along the story’s path. Still, the storyline does a decent job of pulling players through to the next area in the overall adventure arc.

And the game not only allows players to skill up but to craft as well.

Geneforge 5 is the last in the franchise and is not a bad game. The only problem is that for everything it tries to do well, there is a counterpoint. And the game itself is very dated. This is definitely a niche game that should appeal to old-school RPGers, but will have trouble with anyone looking for a more modern RPG adventure utilizing strong story and graphic elements. This was a bit of a tough review because there was a desire to like this game simply for the way it brought back fond memories of the way the genre used to be. However, the game just did not strike a chord (and that is on the personal level) and too much seemed either to have been done better elsewhere, or just seemed to underreach the immersive effect. This is a decent distraction, but not a game that held for prolonged gaming sessions.

Review Scoring Details for Geneforge 5: Overthrow

Gameplay: 5.0
The self-targeting and point-and-click stumbled along, but aside from that, the game interface is serviceable. And this is a wide-open world with a number of things to do in it.

Graphics: 3.0
These graphics would have looked dated at the turn of the century. The point-and-click style fumbles a bit, as well.

Sound: 2.5
Minimal at best.  

Difficulty: Easy/Medium

Concept: 5.0
The dev team did a decent job in creating an open world that has a lot to do, from skilling up to crafting. It’s just that this all seems like it is a rehash of so much that has gone on before.

Overall: 4.8
Give the dev team props for trying to use an old engine and create a story that wraps up the Geneforge saga while offering a variety of things to do. However, in the end, the game is just a dated title that feels too familiar and struggles along in key areas.  

Below Average

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