Adventure & RPG
Aside from the graphical enhancements, the other thing that grabbed me right away was the tutorial.
This is not my standard experience with Geneforge games. Normally, I slog through the tutorial and hope never to do it again; the action is somewhat slow, the game insists on telling me things about the interface that I already know, and the battles are anything but challenging.
Geneforge 4 is different, however. Sure, there's still the dialog screens describing how to open doors that I don't bother to read, but the game throws you straight into the fire. You start out standing next to a dock being instructed in how to move around, and before you know it you're running for your life past gigantic, lightning spitting lizards (never before seen in a Geneforge game), your fellow prospective rebels are dropping like mayflies, and you're suddenly being forced to use the Geneforge and transform your very body forever.
I spent who-knows-how-many hours fighting my way to a Geneforge in the first game, only to find a difficult ethical dilemma facing me over whether or not to use it. In Geneforge 4 I'm kneeling at the Geneforge poolside within the first fifteen minutes.
When I accidentally overwrote my saved game while installing an updated beta and had to start over at the beginning, I didn't mind at all.
The excitement of the tutorial was a welcome and unexpected entry into a game that continued to deliver in excellent story-telling and interesting quests. Part of this is thanks to the fact that for the first time you are starting the story as one of the rebels. In Geneforge 1-3 you were part of the established order from the get-go. Sure you got thrown into some pretty rough situations right away, but you weren't running for your life as the inexorable might of the Shapers steadily worked away at one of your two remaining strongholds.
Like the past games in the series, Geneforge 4 offers you a lot of choice, both in how you play and in terms of the story. Do you develop your mechanics skill, allowing you to sneak around enemies through minefields or get through seemingly unlockable doors? Or do you develop your leadership, enabling you to get out of sticky situations on pure charisma? Or perhaps you just work at getting crazily good at shaping, magic, or battle and hack and slash your way through.
As for the story, there are again factions to join or fight. The two obvious ones are of course Shapers and rebels, but even within the very early part of the game there are hints of more. Unfortunately I was not able in the short time I had to play Geneforge 4 to find a third faction.
In addition to the enhancements mentioned above, Geneforge 4 has also received some gameplay tweaks. Most notable of these for me was the change to the way action points in combat are used. In past games, your character defaulted to eight action points and couldn't perform an attack with less than five. In Geneforge 4, you still have eight points to start with, but you can perform an attack with any number of action points left. This means that with some careful planning you can do a lot more in a combat turn than previously possible. Thanks to the fact that both your character, creations, and allies and the enemies are able to move quite a ways and then attack, fighting moves a lot quicker.
Additionally, enemies now have an new AI that allows them to become suspicious before outright attacking, making sneaking by them a feasible possibility without having to rely on luck quite as much as in past games.
In point of fact, I'm pretty sure that the only area in Geneforge 4 that has remained mostly constant is the sound. I didn't notice any radical new sound effects; like past games Geneforge 4 seems to be using the sound library of the games preceding it, which works out just fine.
Overall, Geneforge 4 is shaping up to be a fantastic RPG (if you'll pardon the pun) that takes all of Spiderweb's trademark features and improves on them. Currently slated for a November or December release on the Mac, Spiderweb has stated that Geneforge 4 will cost $28, or $34 with the hint book.
Spiderweb may be charging slightly more for this game than for past ones, but from my experience with the beta I can say pretty definitively that it's going to be well worth it. This is definitely a game for any RPG addict to keep an eye on.