I’m in space…again.
Don’t get me wrong, space is a wonderful place with many mysteries, wonders and aliens. But this year I have reviewed so many spaceship games it feels pretty normal to be back in a ship, blasting my way around. It’s like I’m commuting. I even started to take a book with me on those long space journeys between worlds. So how does Starpoint Gemini 2 tackle space in a way different from the other contenders? Does it innovate and bring in a new audience to the space sim market?
Well the answer is…it does at least have a go.
The big problem I have with the developers Little Green Men’s new venture on the Xbox One is that it’s been released relatively closely to Elite Dangerous. These games basically have the same values and aims; huge open universes, trading, exploring and dogfighting. It’s therefore very hard to not to compare the two together.
Gameplay wise, Starpoint Gemini 2 gives you a choice between free roam or a standard campaign. In free roam you can just set off in your little underpowered spaceship and explore the galaxy at your leisure, like a tourist, or someone having a mid life crisis. The ship controls are standard to what you’d expect in a space sim, and if you’re like me, this sometimes takes a bit of getting used to. But when you’ve cracked it, it becomes second nature. You thrust, flip and fly through space like a little bird, but you have weapons and rockets, which can be upgraded with credits.
In the Campaign mode, you get given a story which helps guide you through interplanetary space travel. Here, you follow a sci-fi plot of intrigue, war mongering, assassinations, science gathering and smuggling. I found the main plot quite dull and very confusing. It felt a bit like reading a 90p piece of Star Trek fan fiction on a Kindle. The voice acting feels like it’s from another decade and not in a nice retro way, while the missions are neither exciting nor new. However, there are loads of things to do here, with side missions and exploration a plenty. If you are a space RPG fan it delivers all the goods.
I wasn’t joking about bringing that book with you while playing the game. As you travel, the journeys between destinations can be like really long haul flights. You set the course, keep the ship straight and relax with a good read and a brandy. Occasionally broken up by a dogfight with a warring faction, or something pretty like a sun or a nebula. You can use a T-gate to access fast instant travel, but that costs money and you won’t be able to afford this early on. The key to whether you will enjoy this Starpoint lies in the above description. Some will find this method pointless and slow; others will enjoy the immersive nature of this space sim, slowly exploring the huge vastness of the galaxy. I’m somewhere in the middle ground.
The space battles you find yourself involved in are solid, without being remarkable. You have to find a balance between tactical decision making, quick reflexes and managing your shield power. These are tight and sometimes long events which provide a welcome break from the slog of space travel. You can team up with a faction or group in the campaign and it’s normally the enemy of the faction attacking you.
Each mission or area has a recommended level, to stop you running in there and getting killed outright. You grind away like any RPG to get better perks, skills and upgrades for your ship. The nub of this game is how long you’re prepared to invest into it – if you want to travel through space developing your skills over hundreds of hours, this is the experience for you.
Graphically, the game swings from the good to the bad. Some parts of the universe look beautiful, with iconic vistas and deep colours. Other parts of it look like an old PS1 game. The ships themselves are detailed enough and handsome on the eye, but the internal HUD’s are boring and not immersive enough from my recent experiences in space. There is also some lag in the framerate that annoys, rather than ruins the experience.
Sound wise, Gemini 2 is bland. The music and score is good, without being stunning and that again goes for the sound effects with the ship movement and battles. As I said at the start of the review the voice acting is terrible, with a script that doesn’t help them. Accents are strange and mixed up. Maybe the reason for this is that they’ve been in space so long, the different races have formed new accents. I doubt this is the case though. We live in a world of high quality acting in our games now, so when some low par work appears it really does stand out.
It’s about now that I really do have to address the elephant in the room. It’s a big one with pink spots on. One that I can’t avoid any more. Elite Dangerous is a very similar type of game to this, and whilst I know there are loads of FPS’s and racers out in the market, isn’t it good to have a choice in this genre too?
Recently my colleagues and I where discussing the fact that there were two farming sim games on the market. We questioned whether there was a demand for two in this highly niche market. The same question applies to the space sim market. I don’t know the answer, but if you do want to have two, you’ve got to make pretty damn sure that your game is better then the other one.
The main problem with Starpoint Gemini 2 is that it isn’t better than the other. The game isn’t bad, it’s pretty solid, but for around the same price as its counterpart, I know which game I would choose if I wanted to read a book on that great space commute in the sky.