The Gene Machine

Developer:  Divide by Zero
Publisher:  Vic Tokai
Year Released:  1996

Review by Rosemary Young (July, 2001)
The Gene MachineThis review is in response to a steady trickle of e-mails received over the last year or so asking us why The Gene Machine didn't feature in our review index. Now the reason we haven't reviewed it before now is because it slipped by so quickly that we missed it. At the time of its release we did scout around to buy it but to no avail. So The Gene Machine, like lots of other adventures, proved to be very elusive and what a shame. Although the game is dated now this review is for everyone who requested it and also for anyone who is looking out for a bit of adventuring fun without the grand graphics of today.

Remember when?
The Gene Machine dates from 1996, it is a DOS based game but also has a Windows install that made installation a breeze though you will need to configure your sound card from a menu. It's a 2D point and click game with excellent dialogue and voices to match, very good sound, and very respectable graphics considering its age. There is an option to enable subtitles throughout the game and it is possible to adjust the length of time they are displayed. Other options allow you to tweak the music, sound effects and game speed. If you play it on a fast machine, however, I'd be careful with modifying the speed. I managed to get the characters on the run but then there was no time to do anything when they stopped because the action choices didn't stay around long enough for me to blink! Saving and loading is easy, and simply by dropping your cursor to the bottom of the screen you can access a pop up task bar that contains your inventory and all options. Sometimes this bar can interfere with navigation so if it bothers you too much you can move it to the top of the screen and solve the problem.

Who's who!
You play along with Piers Featherstonehaugh, pronounced Fanshawe if you please J. You meet this well travelled gentleman as he arrives home in Victorian London, the cornerstone of civilisation, after a sojourn in not so civilised America. Mossop, Fanshawe's manservant also accompanies you, but he's not important and he's overpaid anyway ... what, with a bed and TWO chairs in his basement digs!

The Gene MachineWhat a character is Fanshawe, he had me smiling a lot right from the very beginning when Mossop lamented that America just wasn't the same as home. Fanshawe immediately spotted the problem ... poor Mossop missed mingling with people of his own station: the beggars, the urchins, the dregs of society. America had not yet accumulated enough poverty for these unsavoury denizens to flourish. Suffice it to say Fanshawe knows his place, and Mossop's as well, and the very clever dialogue, as well as the little touches like the way Fanshawe slams the door in Mossop's face at every opportunity, is carried off just so well.

A nice cup of tea
On arriving home all Fanshawe wants is a large cuppa, he's not all that eager to begin another adventure. Indeed he wouldn't have bothered had 73 not insinuated that he wasn't up to it and that there was a better man for the job. So who is 73? He's a half-human, half-cat creature, the 73rd fiendish experiment of the evil Dr Dinsey; hence his figurative name J. And the evil Doctor is busy with his Gene Machine concocting more numerical monsters in preparation for his plan to take over the world. Unless someone stops him all is lost, and Fanshawe's pride makes him easy pickings for 73 to set to the task.

Saving the world, it's not a new idea for a computer game and Dr Moreau might feel right at home here, but this didn't bother me at all. Originality isn't everything and I thought the characters made this game every bit as much as the puzzles and story. From the moment Fanshawe accepts the challenge and instructs 73 not to jump on the furniture, it's all go. Not only does he need to procure enough money to get started, he also has to find Dinsey Island which entails some aerial photography, and then catch up with the elusive Captain Nematode who is the key to finding Dinsey himself. All this means a lot of chasing around from the Palace to the docks to the Moon and, at least for the terrestrial travel, there's map of London accessible to move from location to location.

You have to search carefully, of course, and talk to everyone to pick up on clues. Each character will want something or other before divulging information or before handing over (sometimes reluctantly) whatever it is that you want. There are plenty of inventory items to gather up and as the game progresses those that are no longer necessary will conveniently disappear. The problems aren't all that difficult but they are entertaining and, believe me, Mossop won't be of much help; he doesn't have a lot of good ideas. This is one of those games where you will likely trip up occasionally, and when you do you'll need to think about your inventory items and deduce ways of using them to your advantage. Sometimes you might have to be ruthless but who cares about oversized abacuses anyway, such frivolous number crunching toys will never be of any use.

I'm sorry I missed The Gene Machine when it was first released because I like this kind of humorous adventure. Maybe it's not a classic, but it is very playable and has a lot of delightful moments when you won't be able to keep a smile from your face. By all means have a look if you want to slip into a time warp for a couple of days and reminisce.

Screenshots courtesy of Zoltan Ormandi of Adventure Gamers Hall of Fame rating:  

Copyright © Rosemary Young 2001. All rights reserved.

System Requirements:
486DX2/66 (Pentium 60 recommended), 8MB RAM (12 recommended), 15 MB hard drive space, CD ROM, Mouse/Joystick.