Space. The final frontier. Or so they say. We’ve seen the release of the legend that is Frontier: Dangerous in the last few months. Could Starpoint Gemini 2 hope to achieve what Braben’s space behemoth has already?
Little Green Men Games’ first foray onto the Xbox One is a space-exploring, trading battler with an engaging mission-based campaign. You start out, as most of this type of game starts, by choosing between 3 classes for your character. Whether you pick Commander, Engineer of Gunner, you will also get the opportunity to forge a career for yourself, be it space pirate, trader, miner, scientist or any of the other various professions that are available.
Each class has a set of skills that they specialise in and there’s a levelling system for you to be able to increase those stats accordingly. These also affect the options you may have in the context menu, but I’ll come to that later on.
The campaign throws you in gently. You play Adrian Faulkner, son of the legendary Gabriel Faulkner, hero of the last Gemini Wars. As the story starts, you’re launching at your father’s side, until he asks you to perform a side-mission and you’re brought crashing to the reality that his flotilla has been attacked and destroyed, leaving only clues, intentionally scattered among other ships for you to find.
This initial scene-setting is also handy to allow you to get to know the ship’s controls. You’ll soon be diverting all power to engines in order to get to that distant Waypoint. The ship is fairly responsive for a mid-sized cruiser. There are little tweaks that I would make to the game, like a little more inertia on the ship when stopping. Currently, you power the engines down and you come to a dead stop, which is a little odd to begin with.
You have the usual primary and secondary weapons fire, along with some nifty extra accessed by the Y and A buttons. These are customisable and allow you to repair the ship if damaged, boost shield or firepower and a few other surprises besides. The left stick gives your ship direction while the right pans around 360 degrees, allowing you to look at the incredible space-view. This pan option allows you to travel in one direction but still be able to take out those bad guys that are trying to make you space-dust. The fire at will command comes in very handy at this point, taking out pirates while you continue on your way. Oh, and that view.
The graphics are stunning. The nebulae and stars are a joy to behold. Space isn’t as big and empty as you’d think either. It’s crammed full of asteroid fields, junk fields, space stations, mining platforms, wormholes and plasma ribbons. Some will help you, some will hinder, but all are lovingly created and look amazing. The asteroid fields and floating space junk aren’t just there for show either. You can blast them into their component bits and collect the loot to sell on at a space station or trading post later.
There are lots of trading posts too. Each sector has at least one to dock at and they’ve taken the stress of docking out of Starpoint Gemini 2, as to dock, all you need to do is get within a certain distance of the station or planet and press A when prompted. No lining up with the docking bay and trying desperately to match the rotation of the station so you don’t ditch it into the side-plating. This is also helped by the clear and uncluttered HUD. You’ve got a radar scope in the bottom left corner and when you’re within inner radar range of any hostile forces, your shields will automatically raise. This gives you a visible ring around your ship, representing the relative shield strength of each section. If you need to boost your shields manually for a short period, you can activate a manual power routing section that can provide you with that protective boost or can add extra offensive power to your ship’s weapons.
So, onto the main bit I guess. How easy is it to dogfight in Starpoint? The answer is surprisingly easy, thanks to that pan system. In fact, it’s so easy that you might find yourself suckered into taking on a bit more than you can handle and you’ll have to use the power to engines (PTE) function to skidaddle pretty sharpish. There is a nice touch with this though, and that’s the ship’s computer telling you that it’s ‘re-routing all available power to engines’.
The audio in-game is your standard ship’s sounds. Engines and weapons all sound good and there’s some irritatingly spacey music that runs constantly in the background. Thankfully you can turn this down or off if you’re of a mind to do so. The main issue I have with the sounds is the voice acting. It’s not Oscar nomination-worthy, I think is the best way I can describe it. In space, no one can hear you scream, which in some of the character’s cases, might not have been a bad thing. There was one welcome moment when one of the ship captains I was supposed to interact with as part of the main campaign lost his vocals altogether. Not a bad thing at the time.
The campaign itself is engaging and there are many side-quests to attempt as well, which will earn you credits and experience. The credits will allow you to re-arm your secondary weapons and repair your or upgrade your ship, the experience allows you to level up and increase your stats or reputation.
The Free-roam game mode basically allows you to wander around in space with the freedom to do pretty much anything you want. There are no quests at all to speak of and you can simply cruise around, taking in the sights of the many sectors and avoiding or annihilating hostile ships. You can also increase your ship’s chances of a successful fight by hiring crew at the various trading posts. These will cost you wages on a regular basis though, so be wary of your bank balance or you might have a mutiny on your hands.
Travelling from sector to sector takes some time and although your PTE does speed things up a little more, you can choose to use the various Starpoints to get to another sector in a short time. This will cost you credits though. Personally, I liked the idea of powering through space at a rate of knots although as you travel from sector to sector there is a slight pause in the game, which is annoying.
So, how do you sum up a game as vast as Starpoint Gemini 2? Well, the graphics are stunning. A lot of care and attention has been taken to make this game a visual feast and the game has depth but not to the point where you’re not sure what to do next. You’re pretty much free to run the missions you want to in the campaign and the freeroam mode allows you to simply drift through life as a space-bum as you see fit. The controls are simple yet not so simple as to make the game boring. There’s a lot to do or you can do nothing. It’s totally up to you. A couple of points like the voice acting and the sector transfer lag let it down slightly, but you should be thinking of Starpoint Gemini 2 as a serious contender to Frontier and it should be in your collection.
Thanks to Xbox and Little Green MEn Games for their support
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