Starpoint Gemini 2 makes a wonderful first impression. From the beautiful lens flare effects on the tile screen to the ship textures and planets spinning below in the inky darkness of oblivion. Space is usually rendered as an empty void, but developer Little Green Men Games has embellished their world with nebulous clouds, space debris, asteroids, and streams of colored lights, like an aurora borealis in space that takes your ship on an unexpected journey. The visuals, while pretty can be taxing on a lower-end system and if you aren't careful, you can easily lock up your system just by fiddling with the graphics options. This game is certainly aggressive when it comes to image quality for high end systems.
The game's tutorial starts out pretty well, but halfway through it forgets that some people are using game pads and does not let you know what corresponding keys do what. That leads to a great deal of trial and error and even that can be confusing. I played using the X-Box controller and I found that sometimes the X button allowed me to use abilities and sometimes it changed my target. Instead of Start or Back being my way to the map or menu, I still have to press escape on the keyboard for the menu and as for the map, I have to navigate a mini-menu with the D-pad and then select the map. Player skills are not explained when you level up. Menu items are icons instead of words and there are no tool-tips available.
"Player skills are not explained when you level up. Menu items are icons instead of words and there are no tool-tips available."
That translates to a lot of people pushing a lot of random things to see what happens. I failed a mission because I couldn't take an outlaw alive (shot his ship so full of holes that cheese exporters started calling me for tips). I still don't know how to capture enemies alive because there doesn't seem to be an option for it, and if I stay still long enough to open the context menu and try to find the correct icon, I am just a sitting duck or they move out of range. The keyboard controls are really no different. It feels more natural to use a stick to fly the ship than a mouse. When using the controller, the mouse cursor is either stuck on the screen, obscuring your view, or down just above the bottom menu. There really is no need for a mouse cursor since the mouse is inactive during the game.
"Only, there was no challenge. There weren't very many pirates that posed even the slightest threat to my ship and it all became routine."
Playing freelance I moved from system to picking up cheap items and selling them at inflated prices. Sounds like fun, right? Only, there was no challenge. There weren't very many pirates that posed even the slightest threat to my ship and it all became routine. Then I decided to try the freelance missions. They mostly involved killing things. The occasional "take object X to location Y" or a repair mission did help liven the game up a bit. The freelance missions were few and far between, however. The only ways I could get more missions was to dock with a space station or just randomly pick an unexplored spot in space and plot a course. Then I'd either get missions that were twenty levels above me or simply empty space or sometimes no missions at all.
The game feels dead because there's no activity around the player. There's no casual interaction with other ships and in fact you rarely see other ships flitting around. There is the occasional battle near a space station from stupid under armed pirates, but nothing substantial. You can read what's going on in the world around you in the news feeds, but nothing in the news directly affects the player. There's no com chatter, no hailing between ships; it’s just a static nothingness. Nothing happens unless you initiate it.
"The game feels dead because there's no activity around the player. There's no casual interaction with other ships and in fact you rarely see other ships flitting around."
The combat system is actually well done, but a little on the confusing side. The readouts around your ship (which you actually have to enable my clicking the right stick) don't really tell you much because you can't be sure what graphics mean something and which graphic is just window dressing eye candy. My ship did take a few hits and the shields and hull took damage, but apparently the ship self-heals and never requires repairs. The collision detection is spot on, which I found out when I smacked my ship into a fast moving cruiser that appeared out of nowhere on my right (I wasn't paying attention to the mini-map). I just bounced off. Now, these ships are supposed to be going so fast that they can circle an entire planet in minutes, but if they hit anything, they just bounce off of it. While I am grateful that my mistake didn't cost me my life, it takes the player out of the moment and reduces the suspension of disbelief.
You can carry a limited amount of cargo and to upgrade that, you have to purchase a new ship, which is often in the millions of credits range. There are upgrades and new weapons you can place on your ship, but there aren’t any readouts comparing what you have to the new item, or even what the item does. Your best bet is to save the game, buy and install the item, and then see what happens. For every item!
Trading is my favorite part of these kinds of games, but there isn’t a system of supply and demand in place. You can walk out of a space station, shoot a few asteroids two kicks away, load up your cargo bay, and then go back to the space station and unload. You can get some easy credits doing this, but why would they bother paying for this at all? The asteroids are practically at their front door and should have all been picked clean long before you come along.
"Trading has its own ups and downs but nothing beats the feeling of buying low and selling high and watching your credit balance slowly rise."
When the game is taken as a whole you can see the potential of what the developers were trying to do. The graphics are simply amazing and the ship's movement is natural. Combat can be easily resolved through auto-aiming and firing your weapons (trying to aim your weapons manually is a nightmare). Trading has its own ups and downs but nothing beats the feeling of buying low and selling high and watching your credit balance slowly rise. The game plays well despite the confusing and unexplained controls and in general I found myself liking this game. The auto save feature is a lifesaver because you'll be loading a lot. Not from pirates or black holes shredding your ship, but from crashes.
Leaving a space station can crash the game. Going into the menu can crash the game. Putting an item on your ship can crash the game. You end up playing with kid gloves because you aren't sure which of your actions might cause the next crash. I was hoping for a patch before I wrote this article and I was lucky enough to receive one just a day prior to this writing. While I haven’t been able to find all the differences and additions to the game, there were numerous bug fixes and crash resolutions. The tutorial, while an annoying information dump right when you start the game, is now spread out a little more evenly. There are still options that haven't been finished in the game such as certain upgrades or the ability to customize your ship, so you should expect regular updates with new content. The game is fun, but incomplete and frustrating at times. At the current price of $35.00 for an unfinished game, it’s hard to give Starpoint Gemini 2 anything higher than a five.
Review by: Mark Brenner | Reviewed on: PC