Starpoint Gemini 2 is a space simulator that really wants the gameplay and complexity of Eve Online, but without the structure of an MMO. The developers describe the game as possessing the depth of an RPG in the way that a ship can be customized as well as the background canon of the universe. Certain things about this game do really work and are intriguing, especially the modding support that it’s going to have and the support that the developers have offered up to the fans of the game. That said, this is a very dry game that will only appeal to really committed fans of space sims, or people who love to make mods.
Starpoint Gemini takes place in a galaxy going through considerable turmoil. The game boasts dozens of different factions such as the Trinity Free States, the Empire, the Triad, the Anarchists, various corporations, bandit groups, and mercenaries. Some are aligned with each other, while others will attack just about anybody on sight. You play as Gabriel Faulkner, a young space captain. After your father is killed, you can start to piece together the reasons why he was killed and how it relates to the presence of the Earth Empire in the Gemini Sector.
All of the gameplay is spent in your ship, which you will eventually replace with a bigger and better ship as times goes on. Your ship comes with a basic light turret weapon as well as a heavier turret that you can control while piloting. You can use a tractor beam to grapple enemy ships, allowing your troopers to board the ship and take control of it. You can fly through space, mine asteroids for ores, travel using wormholes and gates (for a fee), collect alien artefacts, sell over a hundred different commodities to different stations and planets, and of course, build ships to fight. Your ship can be traded out for numerous different models, allowing you to include more turrets, heavy weapons, fighter wings, cloaking systems, and more troops. There are also a variety of missions to do for pay, including capturing or killing enemy ships, scanning space anomalies, taxiing cargo to stations, and so on.
All of this sounds very interesting, but the game ultimately just feels very dry. Combat and travel ends up being the most overwhelming part of the game, in spite of the pretty sections of space. Pretty much everything else is heavily abstracted. Boarding an enemy ship means sending your transporter capacity against his defenders, and it’s just an exercise in numbers that you can’t tweak or play with a whole lot. Trading is a real numbers exercise, and if you want to build a game off of it, prepare to fly on auto-pilot a lot.
The game does use some RPG elements. There’s the questing, which is everywhere in the game and is one of the big ways to make money. You gain experience points by doing stuff, and as you gain levels, you can spend them on skills to enhance your ship in various ways. You can also give your captain new skills to gain various bonuses. There’s the stat-building, which occurs as you tweak your captain’s abilities as well as the enhancements of your ship. And of course, you can pick a path to play in the game, focusing on combat, trading, or even a bit of mining.
But these are the mechanics of an RPG, not necessarily its core elements, and this makes Starpoint Gemini a game built on fetch quests and grinding. An RPG needs to have an element of role-playing and there is very little of that here. Gabriel Faulkner has the charisma and personality of a brick, and you really don’t spend any time in his shoes apart from some cutscenes. Other characters just show up for the main missions and speak a few sentences of dialogue before they disappear. You don’t pick his dialogue, and if you’re not playing the story missions, you don’t really speak with anybody. You interact with ships in this game, not people, and what emerges is a very impersonal universe. For this reason, the story feels very, very dull.
The backstory of the game’s universe is interesting, although you interact with it marginally because you never actually talk to anybody in the game. Planets and space stations are just places to buy equipment, sell goods, fix your ship, and read news which is mostly relevant in terms of commodity prices. All of your faction relationships are tracked by doing missions, which cause some people to like you and treat you as an ally, while others grow to hate you. There’s no diplomacy, no interaction, and no moral compass. Part of the problem may be having so many factions, because it would be a herculean effort to create distinct personalities and characters for all of them.
I also had a fair number of problems with the mechanics of the game, especially in combat. I should preface my criticisms by saying that I had trouble getting the game to work on my computer, despite all of my hardware meeting or exceeding the recommendations. I ended up reinstalling it several times, and I had consistently had my saved games freeze as they were loading. Most of the gameplay didn’t feel very glitchy, although there were large multi-ship duels in space where the game felt slower and laggier than in single-ship duels. In credit to the developers, they do seem astonishingly willing to address technical issues and give feedback on how to resolve them directly to players, which is appreciated.
Combat was never as interesting as I wanted it to be, partly because it was just too easy, and partly because things never worked as they should have. Aiming can sometimes be intuitive, and your shots seem to land exactly where you want them to. Other times, I would be firing on an enemy at almost point-blank range and my shots would seem to clip through his ship, only connecting if I hit in just the right place. There were some fights where I went in guns blazing and smoked the enemy ship in two or three hits, especially at lower levels, and others where it took forever just to hit the enemy ship. Eventually, I concluded the only way to reliably kill enemies was fly in extremely close, park my ship next to them, and just shoot them until they eventually died.
None of this was really ever a problem, though, because it always seemed like there was a swarm of friendly ships which would fly in and help me. I lost count of how many times I was on an assassination mission and had five or six other friendly ships shooting the enemy for me; there were even a few times where I flew away, let the friendlies kill my target, and still collected the reward. I don’t think I was ever in genuine danger at all during my playthrough. Unless you make the mistake of flying through an enemy sector, where every ship will be hostile, you should be fine.
I did mention earlier the modding aspect, which does look to be promising. The developers have stated that they want lots of modding to happen and that the game was designed to be mod-friendly. This aspect does look promising. Even a casual google search turned up a Mass Effect mod that’s being produced, and I’ve no doubt that there will be a score of mods for this game. Lively modding worked for Mount and Blade, and there’s no reason that can’t be the case here.