I love space sims. There’s something eternally zen about drifting through the stars, captaining your own ship, and potentially living out some Mal Reynolds Firefly fantasies while you’re at it (If a space-faring game doesn’t let you feel somewhat like a browncoat, it’s not doing it right).
I’ll be honest. At first, I was completely ready to trash Starpoint Gemini 2. The first few hours of the game’s campaign aren’t all that accessible. The tutorial tends you stick you with a lot of information all at once in huge, indigestible chunks rather than little, easy to process bits. I felt lost. I felt stupid. I get enough of that in my day to day life and as usual, I was going to rebel against it with bitter vitriol.
It is true that your first few hours drifting through the Gemini system are a massive slog. It’s like wading through wet sand with no shoes towards a cake on a table. And you’re not entirely sure if the cake is going to be top notch or Sainsbury’s Basics Victoria sponge. You pick a starting ship – from Commander, Gunner, and Engineer, all with their own perks – and set off into the nothingness.
If you start off with the campaign, you’re going to have a rough time. It immediately exposes the worst of the game – paper-thin plot that sees you plodding across the galaxy to collect a series of McGuffins, terrible voice acting, and repetition ad nauseum. You play as the son of some guy, tasked with collecting some stuff for some reason. It really hasn’t stuck with me. The sheer unbridled joy of fighting my way through space was completely (white) dwarfed by the muggy sub-average presentation surrounding it. I didn’t care about anything besides doing my own thing. My own thing being a painstaking frame-by-frame recreation of my favourite moments from Firefly.
I eventually gave up on the campaign altogether and was almost ready to call time with the whole game, but rather than writing it off much as I would with a decent candy coated in questionable pig-field mud, I took my chances with the freeroam mode. It seems like the developers were at least a little aware of the campaign’s shortfallings after release because they go as far as suggesting the more independent freeroam option when you clear the first part of the story – “We’re aware that this is a little bit shit. You should definitely play this mode instead” – in not so many words.
Freeroam strips a lot of the immediate flaws right out of the game. You don’t have any of the stuff that mires the campaign – the crappy plot, the staggered voice acting – just the power to float through space doing whatever the hell you want. If policing the galaxy is your thing, you can go and do it, defending the weak, completing bounties to maintain peace. If, like me, you want to reave and pillage, you can raid other ships and sell stolen/illegal cargo on the black market.
A lot of SPG2’s gameplay comes down to the market and the economy, which is why just taking to the stars and exploring, tackling the objectives it throws at you, is such a welcome reprieve. Most of us have space-based fantasies and dreams. Unfortunately, most of us aren’t highly-trained astronauts or people with ridiculous sums of money, so games like this are the closest we’re going to get. It’s not hyper-realistic, and it’s not as deep and minutely detailed as some might like. But it plays on the romanticism, on that brave new frontier dream, of carving out your own path to wealth or notoriety your own way. It’s the same dream that powers games like Minecraft and Rust. You’re simply dropped into an environment and you make your own way or perish. Whether you want to be a lawful bounty hunter or just a genuine arsehole, SPG2’s immense star chart (It’s huge. Getting from one corner of the system to another takes hours) caters to that as much as it can.
The customisation options reflect those choices just as well. You can spend hours looking at the different options available when you level up, and tweak your character into a paragon of goodness or Emperor Palpatine himself. There are a few aesthetic gripes – your character is only represented by a 2D portrait, and docking in stations or planets is just represented by similar art. It’s a little bit jarring and breaks immersion, but ultimately it’s a small gripe for a surprisingly decent title.
There’s a lot of good stuff in Starpoint Gemini 2, but there’s a lot of dross, too. If you’re happy to float around space doing your own thing, you’ll have a lot of fun here – but it’s missing something vital that keeps you coming back after a few weeks. The galaxy and its planets don’t seem to have any significant personality, and while it’s fun exploring, there’s not much of a hook. By all means, buy it – but don’t be surprised if it doesn’t have much of a shelf life.
Disclaimer:All scores given within our reviews are based on the artist’s personal opinion; this should in no way impede your decision to purchase the game.