Genesis of the Gods review
Having previously been taken through the afterlife in The Divine Comedy, I felt sure that subsequent games in the Enter the Story series would focus on less grandiose subjects. Genesis of the Gods, the newest instalment, soon disabused me of that notion. Based on an epic 6th century BC poem by Hesiod called "The Theogony", players find themselves tasked with the all-too-common adventure endeavour of saving the Earth. This time, however, rather than facing a challenge in the present, you must travel back to the dawn of time and recreate the Earth in such a way that it will not be destroyed. Sadly, the freedom implied in being asked to build the Earth from scratch fails to materialise in an experience that's more education in Greek myth than game.
The year is 2012 and Peri, the spirit heroine of the previous two games in the series, has been having visions of the near future. Ouranos, embodiment of the fundamental laws of the universe, has decided to eradicate all life on Earth. With the aid of Virgil, also returning from the previous episode, Peri now seeks a way to prevent this impending disaster. Virgil thinks that the eight sibylline books containing the secrets of the gods hold the answer to the problem. Whilst the search for these ancient volumes serves as an overarching quest throughout the story, your journey will lead you to the void before the world was formed to display some godlike powers of your own.
Those excited by such megalomaniacal possibilities will be disappointed to learn, however, that the progression of the world is firmly tied to the Greek myths that were the subject of the original text. You will witness the rise of the Titans, assist in their subsequent overthrow by the first gods, and lead the ensuing pantheon to creating a better mankind. The most striking feature of this story is its contrast to the previous game. Dante’s adventure was quite clearly set in a Christian universe, and finding Peri suddenly allied with the Greek gods, without any real explanation of the change in theology, is a bit jarring in a series that’s meant to be cohesively connected.
The dialogue in Genesis is once again extensive, offering ample opportunity to engage in philosophical debates over whether mankind is worth the effort with the various divine entities in play. These are not mere dismissals of humanity, but rather give considered reasoning of each point of view, often spanning several conversations. Whilst mostly unnecessary for completing the game, I found these intellectual discourses stimulating enough to follow through to the end in most cases. However, the sheer number of such debates available, starting with Ouranos and continuing with the Titans and the Greek gods, may prove too much for those seeking to play rather than philosophize.
This volume of discourse makes it unsurprising that the dialogue remains unvoiced. However, the musical soundtrack is still of a high quality, including classical music and mixes with more contemporary pieces. All of them form a suitable background to the cultural setting, with soothing numbers giving way to more dramatic works when the story calls for it. Some tracks, such as “Gnomus” from Mussorgsky's Pictures at an Exhibition, appeared in the last instalment as well, but this game doesn’t suffer for the similarity, and indeed the recycling may help to tie the games together for players who follow the intended route of dipping in and out of each story.
Unlike the previous two games, Peri is now a presence on-screen throughout, making this a fully third-person game. Despite this change, the control system from the earlier titles is maintained for the most part. Peri directs characters’ thoughts by right-clicking an individual and then right-clicking other people or objects to make them interact. This includes Peri herself, with an initial right-click required to get her to perform most actions. Fail to do so and no amount of clicking will elicit a response about any object. There are a couple of refinements this time around, however. The first click attaches a label to the cursor saying whose thoughts are being guided. This stays on-screen at all times the cursor is not pointing at another person or object, reminding you which character you are currently trying to influence. Also, Peri now changes location when you left-click on an exit, saving the double right-click previously required to move visible characters about. In areas where Peri extends her angelic wings to fly, she moves towards the cursor at all times. This can be frustrating on occasion, as she can easily drift in front of objects you realise you want to click on, forcing you to lure her away before trying again.
The graphics in Genesis of the Gods once more use an amalgam of classic paintings, adapted photographs, and images gleaned from around the ‘net. Despite the disparate sources, these have been blended together into an effective overall look. This translates well across the whole game, without any scenes feeling discordant from the rest as you travel from the heights of the Olympian heavens to the depths of primeval earth in your quest to save the human race. Characters are still displayed in a black and white line style, with animation clearly based on actual human movement. With the entire Greek pantheon to represent, the character list is quite large and some peculiarities have crept in. Using the same character model from her physical emergence in the previous game, Peri the angel still appears to be carrying a handbag over one arm, and I was surprised that Nike, a goddess, would need glasses. Despite these small anomalies, however, the characters appear to have been well-chosen, with the apparel and posture of the gods especially in keeping with their traditional look and spheres of influence. Hera has the tolerant smile of a benevolent mother of the gods whilst Dionysus, god of wine, looks suitably dissolute.
The search for the sybilline books forms the central premise of the game, but these aren't the only things you'll find yourself looking for. More often than not, your task at any given time is to find an individual or object to achieve the next step. For this you will need to explore thoroughly, and here the series concept of a grand collection of linked games hampers the experience. The previous game included a handful of links to other titles due to appear later in the series, and clicking one produced a brief note about its forthcoming release. In Genesis of the Gods, this number has expanded by a huge degree. There are links to 22 separate games scattered across the Earth of 2012 alone, and other places link to still more games. Repeatedly meeting these dead end messages discourages exploring anything but the most obvious avenues, but that can mean vital locations and objects are left unseen.
This situation isn’t helped by the fact that, beyond the ongoing search for the books, you usually only have one other way to progress the story. The game follows the steps of the Greek creation myth closely, and these have to be performed in strict order. The required action is not always readily obvious, either. Assisting the gods in defeating the Titans required me to locate items they couldn’t logically use in battle and should already have possessed as part of their basic preparation for the fight. Even knowing what you’re looking for does not guarantee success, as locating items can be no easy task. On more than one occasion I found myself wandering around aimlessly in the hope of happening across what I needed.
The linked adventure concept hampered me here as well. While playing the previous game, I had to travel into Les Misérables in search of needed clues. Based on that precedent, it seemed reasonable to return to The Divine Comedy, partly set in heaven, when an angel was apparently required. I went through many angels there before eventually realizing the solution was self-contained in Genesis after all. Fortunately, the in-built hint system of the previous two games has also carried over here, as a tap of F1 takes you to Virgil, who provides a progressive series of clues for the current task. Even these are not always perfectly suited, with his most explicit hint once telling me to look "Not in the sibyll's cave, the other one." As I had yet not spotted the cave in question, but had found others elsewhere, this was not the most helpful of guidance.
A handful of standalone puzzles do exist, the most notable being one where you have to determine the family links of the 42 gods of the Greek pantheon. This is a mammoth task made all the harder by not simply having 21 pairs to match, as some gods make multiple connections. Thankfully, a tap of the space bar, normally reserved for giving information about the current locale, assists in this task by highlighting associated gods two at a time. Unfortunately, this method presents the links in a pre-determined order rather than offering assistance for the last selected god. Using this option therefore effectively means giving up on the whole puzzle rather than a single connection you just can’t locate.
I really wanted to like Genesis of the Gods more than I did, since clearly a lot of care and effort went into this game. The philosophical discourses really made me think, and the detail of the Greek mythology is deep and involved. Yet this is not meant to be a study book but a game, and on that level it does not really succeed. There is some interest to be had from the subject matter, but the relative obscurity of the original text is likely to limit its audience in that respect, since its anonymity makes it harder to feel part of the story than would be the case in a more familiar tale. That alone wouldn’t be an issue, but regrettably there is not enough else to make up for it. Your apparent mastery of the universe turns out to be slavery to a story written long ago, and there is little variety of puzzling to maintain interest.
Of course, Genesis of the Gods was never intended as a standalone title, bundled as it is with Les Misérables and The Divine Comedy as a combined trilogy, giving players triple the value for their purchase. Even so, given some of the titles slated for future instalments, I am surprised at the choice for the initial trilogy. Though certainly classics, the first two stories are hardly required reading for most people anymore, and few will likely even have heard of this final instalment. Better-known stories might have been more appealing in their own right, and player familiarity would have made gameplay issues less of a problem. Still, Enter the Story is an ambitious concept, and there is no doubt potential here. The art style, while unconventional, is stylishly effective and the attention to the source material is strong. For those with an interest in these particular tomes, there is plenty of material here to make a purchase worth considering. At the end of the day, though, these are still meant to be games, and in Genesis of the Gods that aspect just doesn’t come off as well as it should. I hope future instalments are able to address this shortcoming, and I’m intrigued enough to see if they do so.
Though Genesis of the Gods provides some intellectual challenges, the fact that they come more from abstract philosophy than gameplay will limit its appeal.