Starpoint Gemini Warlords suffers a bit of an identity crisis. It wants to be a 4X strategy game and a space combat/trading sim at the same time. When it commits to one, or when you choose to commit to one yourself, it can prove a compelling experience built on the adventure of emergent gameplay, however, switching between the two presents some difficulties.
Largely these difficulties stem from a lack of understanding about what you’re supposed to do and how to go about it. With some patience you can overcome this and enjoy what’s on offer. New comers to the series, however, are unlikely to invest the time needed. A lack of an engaging storyline as well as the confusing clashes in mechanics makes this an initially off-putting experience, as you decide between controlling your ships personally or commanding them remotely. Indeed, it’s a tricky sell when both styles of play are catered to in this fashion; where both are adequate in order to achieve the objectives but neither feel special or entirely appropriate. It’s an unfortunate side effect of its design, where developer Little Green Men Games took community feedback from Starpoint Gemini 2 and created this spinoff.
As such, fans of the series are likely going to enjoy this unique adventure in the universe they’re already acquainted with, with a new story about a splintered faction of humanity looking to survive and dominate the Gemini system. Your task of direct control of ships, options to trade, explore and fight within the open structure of the scenario-based sandbox mode is similar enough to the previous, numbered, titles for fans to feel comfortable with, meanwhile, building up a fleet of ships and a powerful home base to conquer the system offers some new experiences.
Unfortunately, the story’s lacklustre tale and use of copious, dull fetch quests makes a terrible first impression. However, this largely acts as the tutorial rather than the primary experience. Once things open up, Starpoint Gemini Warlord’s Elite-esque freedom to trade, fight and explore, along with the real-time strategy elements of commanding a fleet and upgrading your home base, is compelling enough to keep you engaged for countless hours. We did, however, encounter some technical issues, with framerate dips frequently breaking immersion, but overall the presentation was strong, with some excellent looking ships, weapons fire and explosion making combat a pleasant spectacle and exploring the Gemini system’s many different regions a treat.
The combination of 4X strategy and space sim means Starpoint Gemini Warlords is full of content to sink your teeth into, and offers a huge variety of different tasks to engage in. Meanwhile, RPG elements allows you to choose a class of ship and abilities to suit your playstyle. However, it’s complex, and with a tutorial marred by a boring story and set of initial quests, it fails to teach you enough early on to keep you engaged. Stick with it and focus on the free-roaming mode, however, and you’ll be in for a deep and satisfying experience, one you’ll enjoy even more if you’re already invested in the series.
Thanks to Xbox and Iceberg Interactive for supporting TiX
Rebel Galaxy has a lot of personality. There’s character behind its art style; an aesthetic that’s visually pleasing, impressive, vibrant, and not at all based on reality. And indeed it’s this character that’s present throughout this open-world space exploration title that makes it so engaging and unique, allowing it to stand toe to toe with the likes of Elite Dangerous because it offers something different within the same space.
Rebel Galaxy is an arcade version of the open-world space genre. You start with a basic ship and set out doing practically whatever you want: mining, pirating, mercenary work, trading, whatever takes your fancy. But in addition to this open-world universe you can explore and exploit, is a story that sees you hunt down a lost relative before being hunted down yourself for the artefact you harbour. Switching between the story and the many choices of side-professions on offer gives you an experience that’s never dull or static, with plenty to do and intriguing things to discover.
It’s a terrific mix of linear storytelling and open-world choices that allows you to play at your own pace. Certain mechanics are kept back until you progress further in the story, so eventually you have to progress within it, but you can typically do a story mission or two and then return to your altruistic or nefarious space business.
Whatever you decide to do you’ll be doing it within a brightly coloured and vibrant version of space. Nebulas are bountiful, and stars and planets glow a myriad of different colours; there’s hardly any black to be seen and it’s a wondrous visual treat. Meanwhile, as you hail fellow pilots or converse with aliens and humans alike in bars on space stations, you’ll witness exaggerated and unique individuals with a similar aesthetic to Star Craft that’s sure to impress and occasionally put a smile on your face as you accept jobs from them, make trades, or threaten to steal their entire cargo.
Whether you’re planning on peaceful trading or aggressive pirating you’ll inevitable have to fight off the odd reprobate, and combat is a delightful dance in the stars. Rebel Galaxy’s combat is naval based, with heavy broadside weapons and lighter point-defence turrets elsewhere. You’ll constantly need to manoeuvre to line up shots and dodge incoming fire and it’s a thrilling and entertaining experience. Larger ships move more slowly and pack a heavy punch forcing you to line up your broadside shots as accurately as possible to do as much damage as you can or even to target specific systems. Meanwhile shields will need tearing down, a perfect job for your smaller turrets, when you’re not using them with a lock-on reticule to shoot down the smaller crafts wiping through the wild black. And finally, a salvo of missiles can turn the tide of most battles, unless smart use of the limited deflector shield nullifies their damage. It’s spectacularly involved and action packed yet supremely easy to perform.
Dodging incoming fire and manoeuvring to line up shots is only half the challenge, however, often you’re surrounded by enemies and are better off fleeing or trying to separate the smaller ships from the large ones so you can pick them off more easily. Furthermore asteroid belts are numerous and popular battlegrounds, challenging you to dodge crashing into them as you fight. Using them as cover is particularly effective, and forcing enemies to engage you within these cluttered fields can often result in them bumping into a few. Wonderfully these asteroids can be destroyed as well, making the battlefield dynamic and interesting.
Space, however, is a big place, and your warp drive and sub-light engines, even when upgraded to ridiculous speeds, still must contend with large expanses of space to fly through. It’s how it’s supposed to be up there amongst the stars, but the travel time can put the brakes on the pacing a little too hard. Rebel Galaxy is otherwise exceptionally fun and varied. Missions may appear similar to each other on the surface but once you go about completing them they often take a few twists and turns. Moreover, even a simple combat engagement can play out in a myriad of different ways. Add to this a brilliant Southern rock soundtrack and your space cowboy, Firefly fantasies can be realised with Rebel Galaxy.
Thanks to Xbox and Double Damage Games Inc. for their support
Elite: Dangerous is a truly massive open-world game full to the brim with possibilities. It’s a staggering achievement in design and function that’s transitioned from PC to console spectacularly well, with only the most minor compromises. However, with such broad scope comes a lack of direction and drive, requiring the player to set their own objectives and make their own fun.
Indeed Elite: Dangerous achieves the lofty goal of realising the space exploration freedom of previous Elite titles with precisely the kind of refinements and features we all expect from modern titles, and it’s a remarkable feat to behold. Given a measly sum of credits and a small jack-of-all-trades ship, the galaxy is your playground; ready for you to explore, trade in, fight in, and enjoy however you like.
Space stations allow you to buy goods which you can then trade elsewhere, playing the market and making significant credits from identifying where those goods are most needed. Or perhaps combat is more your thing and you’re tempted into serving a faction in the ongoing conflict between The Federation, The Empire and The Alliance. Or if the war doesn’t concern you, then perhaps mercenary work accepting contracts from space stations to hunt certain individuals is more your style. Or you could look at less legal enterprises, such as pirating or the trade of illegal goods. Then there’s exploration. 400 billion star systems have been generated for you to explore with wondrous sights and secrets, and data gained from visiting systems can be traded at space stations for credits. The choice is completely up to you and this ability to do whatever you want within this huge galaxy is a tremendously exciting prospect but also an overwhelming one, and unfortunately Elite doesn’t do the best job in preparing you.
A set of tutorials are on offer to teach you all the basics but these are largely concerned with showing you the controls. Once you dive in to the real game you’re completely left to your own devices. Elite doesn’t hold your hand, instead it’s more of a simulation, one that’s highly immersive but daunting all the same. This includes the controls and interacting with your ship. Whilst the controls are well mapped to the Xbox One pad, with sub-menus popping up on screen when certain button are held as well as instant actions tied to single presses of the same buttons, there’s a lot of them to master. It may sound and initially seem complicated, but it’s pleasantly immersive once you get the hang of it, this even extends to a button that allows you to look around the cockpit of your ship and access additional menus through the on-board interfaces. It all fits so nicely into the fiction and avoids throwing you into game menus, allowing you to truly feel like the pilot of a sophisticated spaceship.
But with the complexity of controls and options comes hesitation and indecision, and these can severely effect the fun you glean from the experience. Without your own plan for where to go, what to do and how to do it, it’s hard to find the drive to experiment with and explore what Elite can offer. Furthermore, not fully understanding the navigation interfaces and flow of combat can lead to perceived unfair deaths and confusion. This truly is a simulator; dog fighting is slow and tense, exploration is over vast distances and dangerous in its own right, with fuel limiting the distance you can jump with hyperspace, and supercruise within star systems taking considerable amounts of time to reach specific destinations.
It all comes with practise, however, and when it does all click into place for you it’s powerfully compelling. Engaging NPC and fellow player ships in combat zones is a visual spectacle of deadly lasers and explosions with the promise of considerable credits for the skilled or lucky pilots. Meanwhile, detecting a signal within a star system and investigating it can offer opportunities to pick up some valuable goods left behind from a battle, introduce you to trader vessels less concerned with precisely how your found the goods you’re selling, or even pirate parties expecting to ambush you and not expecting a tough fight.
It’s an MMO with a bias towards singleplayer experiences. You can play in an offline mode of NPCs if you like, or join the online mode full of both Xbox One and PC players, all flying around the galaxy chasing their own objectives, and this adds a terrific element of emergent storytelling and gameplay. Other players are unpredictable enough to make things interesting, whether that’s the foolish players looking to pick fights with NPC authorities, providing a beautiful laser show for you to watch or even get involved with, or interacting with you more directly, friendly or otherwise. Yet it’s big enough for you to never meet another person, either because you’ve travelled to a star system no else has ever been to, or because the vastness is so well realised all you see of other players are lights darting across space. It’s a rare MMO experience that can surround you with other players yet leave you feeling utterly alone.
Once you figure out what you want to do in the galaxy and start making credits, you’ll be on the look out for newer ships, weapons, engines, shields, power generator, etc. to buy, and these can be purchased from the larger space stations. This truly allows you to customise your experience and build the ship you need for the job you want to do. Large hauling vessels may lack speed and weapons but have huge cargo space for transporting more goods at a time. Meanwhile, swapping your cargo bay for a fuel scoop allows you to fuel up from suns rather than purchase fuel at station, making that an ideal upgrade for explorers or mercenaries that aren’t welcome at certain stations. New parts to your ships take up internal or external slots as well as add mass and power consumption that you need to manage, frequently offering you expensive upgrades or new ships that require you to get back out there and earn more credits.
Elite: Dangerous is a tremendously immersive space simulator that can eat hours of your time with it’s endless possibilities, awesome scope and beautiful visuals. It doesn’t have the warmest welcome for newcomers to the genre, and the fluidity of a mouse on PC makes for better combat that the Xbox One pad, but it’s still a remarkable game that plays splendidly on the Xbox One. There simply isn’t anything else out there like Elite right now, and with new features on the horizon and long support promised, there may be no end to the enjoyment it offers if you’re patient enough to explore this frontier.
In the year 2299, an interstellar war rages on. In a bid to save Earth from destruction, you must take control of the Strike Suit – a revolutionary fighter craft with the ability to transform into a lethal suit of space armor. Immerse yourself in massive fleet battles where your dog-fighting skills will directly affect the fate of the cosmos.
Engage intelligent enemy fighters and take on colossal capital ships, exploiting weak points in their super-structure to blow them apart. Upgrade your ships and customize your weapon load-outs to tailor combat to your tastes.
Arriving digitally on Xbox One this March at £14.99, Strike Suit Zero: Director’s Cut drops players into furious space combat, battling at the helm of an awe-inspiring Strike Suit – a starfighter that can transform into a devastatingly agile mecha on command. Players will face colossal capital ships and swarms of enemy fighters in large-scale fleet battles to turn the tide of war and save the Earth.