The gameplay in GeneWars might be best described as SimLife meets Command & Conquer. Teams of experts – geneticists, engineers, botanists, and rangers (for creature husbandry) – are landed on each planet and given a goal; this goal may be to build up certain creature populations, collect a certain amount of GOOP (carbon-based substance you mine or get from harvesting plants, it’s used for buildings and to “grow” creatures), etc.

You’ll eventually encounter four basic creature types: mules, crabs, birds, and dinos, and with the right technology, you’ll be able to combine them into new creatures, like crabomules. Players used to the machine-like responses and characteristics of C&C or Warcraft may be thrown by the definite biological nature of these creatures, who need to mate and eat.

2While this is a fresh way of approaching the real-time strategy game, the actual implementation is vague. During play, it was often hard to discern mission goals or how to accomplish them. What did that flashing symbol on my building mean? Why wasn’t anything happening? Finally, I’d discovered I was out of GOOP, and had lost the means to mine/harvest more (all my mules were dead), but the game continued to drag on – rather like the Windows Solitaire; you aren’t told when you’ve already lost.

Control of your team members and the creatures is often frustrating as well. I found I always had to remember to deselect a unit after issuing an instruction, lest I give it unintentional orders later, something all too easy to do in the game. All this clicking can get pretty frenetic during combat, so it’s easy to make such mistakes.

While the whole bio-warfare theme is very intriguing and potentially genious, as a strategy game, Gene Wars just can’t seem to deliver with its quirky and incomplete gameplay mechanics. Some polishing up might have helped in delivering the right sort of experience for its original concept.

System Requirements: Pentium 90 MHz, 16 MB RAM, DOS

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