Review by SirSpiff

"This game shall never get the respect it deserves."

Geneforge 4 is the latest installment in Spiderweb Software's Geneforge series, continuing years after the last game left off (with allowances for the previous game's multiple endings).

For those who haven't played the previous games, the game is set in a world where magic is heavily regulated by a group known as the Shapers, who reserve the worlds highest form of magic, Shaping, for themselves. Shaping is the art of creating life, from sturdier crops, to acid-spitting canines, to a (usually) completely submissive slave race.

In the Geneforge series, morality isn't cut and dry. On the one hand, Shapers believe Shaping must be restricted to prevent some mad mage from creating hordes of feral monsters (which never seem to be in short supply anyways), or some super disease. They bring order and prosperity to the world... more or less... usually. On the other hand, Shapers rule all, almost with an iron fist, destroying all who oppose them and oppressing creations absolutely, even intelligent ones.

Story- 9/10- As you've probably gathered, this is a strong point. By the time we reach Geneforge 4, the Shapers' reign has been shaken by the rebellion. The plot is not highly character-driven, however, and your PC is fairly generic. Instead, the plot is politically driven with the Rebels and the Shapers being opposed, morally ambiguous, and highly developed groups.

You start off as a Rebel initiate. You can continue fighting for them against the oppressive Shaper regime. Or you can aid the Shapers as they try to stop those mad, dangerous rebels. Or you can play both sides to get better loot.

The choices you make affect the ending, and, avoiding spoilers, I found the nuances in the various endings quite satisfying.

Gameplay- 8/10- Gameplay is also strong. The interface is fairly simple. Walk around, talk to people, intuitive item management, etc. Battle is easy to understand, with plenty of nuance so you don't get bored. The battle system is turn based, with everyone acting every round (or not in the case of a couple status ailments).

In general, there are three ways to fight. You can use weapons for the tried and true "Stab the nasties 'til they stop moving" school of thought. There's magic for buffing, debuffing, status ailments, and, of course, good 'ol blasting. Finally, there's shaping. It's part of the major premise of the game, so it'd better be there. Shaping allows you to make creatures to fight with/for you, biting, bludgeoning, spitting upon, or otherwise making things unpleasant for your foes.

Corresponding to the three major methods of battle, you start the game by picking a class. Each class has a strength and a weakness. Warriors have strong weapon skills, but poor magic. Lifecrafters are good with shaping, but poor with weapons. The strengths aren't overpowered, and the weaknesses aren't crippling. You can still get your warrior to cast some powerful buffs, but you aren't going to get him to cast everything well.

Stats become the end all, be all of your character's ability to advance in the game. As you level up, you gain skill points, which you use to buy stats. Also, stats become more expensive as you advance them. While your first two points of luck only cost one point each, the next two are two points each, and the two after are three points each, etc. The stats you buy determine the strongest spells you can cast (and the strength of those spells), the nastiest critter you can make, melee damage, HP, Hit%, etc. Virtually everything about your character is determined by stats you choose. This gives you the freedom to neglect stats you don't like or don't use.

Graphics/Sound- 6/10- Graphics are simple, clean, functional, and understandable. They don't impede gameplay at all. I'd say they look pretty good. However, by today's standards for PC games, these graphics are obsolete.

Sound is... not stellar. Not horrible, but not stellar. Sound effects can get annoying. Music is so-so. You wouldn't be missing much if you turned sound off and played something in the background.

Play Time/Replayability- 9/10 The game is not an epic, but it will take quite a while to get through, especially on your first run through, and even more so if you try exploring the sizable world, and doing some of the very difficult optional quests. Replay value's where it's at. With multiple endings, paths, and play styles, plus the Torment difficulty level, you can easily get four or five play-throughs out of it.

Final Recommendation - Buy this game. It's an excellent game from an excellent small gaming company.

Reviewer's Rating:   4.5 - Outstanding

Originally Posted: 03/30/07

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