The Gene Machine

Review by Jen

I have had a copy of The Gene Machine for quite a while now and only just got around to playing it because it was our FFC "Never Mind the Bollocks" Game of the Month in November 2001.

The Gene Machine is a little-known game by now-defunct European publisher Vic Tokai. You play as an English gentlemen named Piers Fanshaw (he really spells his last name with a lot more letters, something like Featheringstoneroseofsharonseabiscuitinthefourth, in the inimitable English way, but I'll just leave it as Fanshaw for ease of typing), who is always accompanied by his trusty manservant Mossop (which is spelled M-o-s-s-o-p). It is 1880s London, and Fanshaw arrives home from America to find a talking cat on his doorstep. The cat tells a horrible tale of genetic mutations gone awry, of which he is but one result, and it becomes Fanshaw's goal to stop these dastardly goings-on. His journey takes him to the moon and Atlantis and various other places in between.

Gameplay is third-person, point-and-click, no dying, mainly inventory puzzles. There is lots of conversation, which mostly involves silly jokes, but if you get bored with the talking aspects, you can skip big chunks of conversation and not miss anything important as far as gameplay or story development goes. You cannot get stuck, i.e., there are no dead ends, although in the first half of the game, you get umpteen million inventory items and about 10 locations. More than once, I got stymied and had to cycle through every location and every inventory item until I hit on a combination that resulted in some progress. An exercise in tedium by anyone's standards, but it only happened a couple of times and only because I was reluctant to consult a walkthrough—this is not a difficult game and I would have lost all self-respect had I done so—fortunately, the second part started off with all no-longer-needed inventory items shucked, and there are minimal, or more specifically sequential, locations and item buildup for the remainder of the game.

The characters are utterly charming, all very well-articulated and true to form over the course of the game. Fanshaw is a snob and treats Mossop shabbily. Mossop knows his place and never gives Fanshaw any lip, or at least if he does he's properly contrite afterward. None of the auxiliary characters is in the least annoying—none of that "sidekick syndrome" that is one of my pet peeves. In fact, I think the characters are the highlight of the game. The drawings are not without charm, either. They appear to be done with pastels or colored pencils, and then the more cartoony characters and inventory items are sort of superimposed on these hand-drawn and -colored backgrounds. This makes for zero pixel-hunting because the items that can be interacted with stand out from the scenery.

I suffered a few technical problems while playing, and the other players on the Henhouse had similar problems too. One was the lack of save games—there is a game save feature but it malfunctioned. However, there is an auto-save that allows you to take up where you leave off, so it is possible to quit and restart at some later time. Another problem was occasional breakdown in audio quality, but this could be solved by quitting and restarting. And a third problem was a hangup at one particular point in the game—this happened to all three of us. You can read the forum threads for a discussion of the workaround if you're interested.

On the whole, The Gene Machine is a little jewel of a game. About 10 percent of it was tedious, but the rest was just plain old-fashioned adventure gaming fun. It's silly and irreverent and does not take itself seriously, it's good-looking, and it's not too taxing on the old gray matter. It only misses the coveted FFC Gold Star by virtue of the technical problems and those two or three try-every-item-on-everything-everywhere parts.

One final note: No way nohow, despite numerous attempts, could I get any of my screenshot-taking methods to work on The Gene Machine, so the screenshots with this review are digital photos of my computer screen. The game screens really don't have those horizontal lines that appear in some of these pictures, and they really are much crisper and more colorful in the flesh. I debated even including these at all, but they do give some idea of the style of the game so I opted to use them but with this here caveat. The End

The Verdict

The Lowdown

Developer: Divide by Zero
Publisher: Vic Tokai
Release Date: 1996

Available for: DOS Windows

Four Fat Chicks Links

Player Feedback

(see note at end of review text)

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System Requirements

MS-DOS 5.0 or greater (6.0 recommended)
486/66 MHz (Pentium 60 MHz recommended)
VESA compliant SVGA required
2X CD-ROM drive (4X recommended)
8 MB RAM (12 MB recommended)
15 MB free hard disk space
All major sound cards supported
Windows 95 compatible

Where to Find It

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