The Gene Machine is a point-and-click adventure from 1996 that deserves a lot more attention than it unfortunately received. It somehow slipped off the radar despite its excellent story and graphical style that can easily stand alongside the likes of such classics as Discworld and Simon the Sorcerer.
You play as Piers Featherstonehaugh (pronounced Fanshaw), an arrogant explorer from Victorian England who's desperate to make a name for himself. Always at his heels is his manservant Mossop, a simple man who's happy to take on any put-down Fanshaw wants to bestow on him. It's a symbiotic relationship that leads to some very amusing asides.
After returning home from a trip to the Americas, you are introduced to a talking cat named Seventy-Three. He is the result of an experiment by Doctor Dinsey who, in an homage to Island of Dr Moreau, is creating a man-beast army using his creation - the titular gene machine. This will not be the first reference to any literary classics of the era. The story is filled with references of H.G. Wells, Jules Verne, Sherlock Holmes and you even meet Jack the Ripper innocuously giving him the idea that the world should be cleansed from all sin.
The humour is excellently written throughout. Fanshaw may seem like an unlikable person on paper, but the script and voice acting talent gives him an affable charm that could easily not be there in lesser hands. One of the first tasks in the game requires you to find money to fund your expedition to Dinsey's uncharted island. To help with this, you volunteer yourself to help out a scientist by taking a trip to the moon in the hope to mine it for cheese. Needless to say there is no cheese on the moon foiling the scientist's ambitions but at least his rocket works. The imagery here harks to the work of the early french filmmaker Georges Méliès, with an inspired 1900s idea of futuristic technology.
Everything is beautifully drawn. The backgrounds are hand-painted with the odd pre-rendered animation used on some of the more complicated machinery and vehicles. The characters are also hand-drawn using cell animation to nice effect. Put together, it looks very handsome. Perhaps the only negative I can think about the visuals is that the animation can sometimes be lacking, recycling movements too often and having a jerky cheap feel, especially in the cut-scenes. This by no means distracts you from enjoying the game, but it does show the game's age in an otherwise timeless presentation.
Controlling the game is standard point-and-click fare; just click on what you want to interact with. If you can do more than just look, icons will appear to show you how you can interact. To get into your inventory and use the options, there is an invisible area on the bottom left of the screen that will access them once hovered over. It's not as intuitive as the best in the genre, but it is an adequate control scheme that doesn't hinder your play.
You will have a lot of fun playing this game. I laughed out loud several time during play which goes to show the quality of the writing. It's not particularly long or taxing so I wholeheartedly recommend this to any intrepid adventure gamer.
To download the game, follow the link below. This custom installer exclusive to The Collection Chamber uses DOSBox to bring the game to modern systems. Manual included. Tested on Windows 7.
Version 2 - Added manual
The Gene Machine is © Divide by Zero and Vic Tokai
Review, Cover Design and Installer created by me