There are many different variations and subgenres in the realms of space games. Dogfighting, Bridge Combat, 4X, Simulation, MMO, Real Time Strategy, RPG the list goes on. Starpoint Gemini Warlords, the 3rd title in the franchise, is a sci-fi sanbox that tries to combine most of these subgenres in to one title. For the most part it does this successfully, but the issue with any iteration of this kind of scenario is that the product runs the risk of becoming a Jack-of-all-trades, rather than the master of one.
Developed by the Croatian studio Little Green Men, Starpoint Gemini Warlords succeeds its predecessors Starpoint Gemini and Starpoint Gemini 2. These space simulation games generated a lot of positive feed back on initial release and Starpoint Gemini Warlords does look to continue that tradition. However, I am a critic and we all know that critics are harsh ass holes that make a living off poking holes in games that the general community would deem a solid experience.
I hate to do it. But I love it all the same.
So I have to begin with some positives of course. Number one being that the title is absolutely gorgeous. But it is set in space, and space is generally beautful in its self. What SGW does really well though can be found in the grand vistas and great ship design. Inspirations from all over the science fiction archives can be found, from Star Trek to Star Wars, from Battlestar to even Farscape. Each ship not only look fantastic but they are also extensively varied. Some ships are blocky freighter type vessels, where others are sleek Normandy-esque beauties that I feel would be known as the Ferraris of the Starpoint Gemini universe.
But, even though I do rate this as a positive, I always had a sense of familiarity towards many of the ships as even though varied, are not necessarily unique to other franchises. It’s a bit of double edged sword, on one hand I loved a majority of the ships, but mostly because they reminded me of other franchises and science fiction masterpieces.
Starpoint Gemini Warlords takes a different approach to combat one might be used to with space simulators. While these type of games we usually see the dogfighter, adrenaline pumped and ultra speedy small ships, instead SGW opts for more of a bridge combat type of game play, big ships with a lot of guns. Back when the initial games were released this type of gameplay was highly praised, however it sucks that we don’t get the option to fly around in small fighters if we really wanted to. I felt that the combat, although strategic, was rather unsatisfying. The capability to turn on auto-fire really kills the combat too.
That being said when things really start to heat up with dozens of ships all going at it in deep space, it does provide a satisfying spectacle to watch. But you mostly bumble about circling enemies aimlessly until they’re dead. It loses a lot of interactivity I look for in video games and although the different classes SGW do offer a different playstyle, the gameplay itself didn’t feel as different as I initially thought. The saving grace however is the boarding system that adds an extra layer to the combat that many other titles don’t include.
>Not only is Starpoint Gemini a combat simulator but also a trading simulator. Collect cargo across the galaxy and sell them to vendors. Build the best ships and live your life as an arms dealer. Resources, weapons, technology, almost anything you can think of can be traded. The system itself seems like it could be rewarding if you’re in to that kind of thing. But I generally don’t find the experience engaging so we wont go in to too much detail about it. It’s just not my thing, I’m more of a shooty-stabby kind of guy.
However, this is one of the points that SGW try to sell to you the player quite a bit. Although the game does include a short campaign mode, in it’s essence the title is all about the free roam sandbox experience. It essentially lets you live out your life in space in anyway you want, almost like a single player EVE Online.
This is great stuff and some of the best games are already doing this. But that’s quite a big problem there, its already been done. Not once did I see something that struck me as unique or genuinely breathtaking. I mean the massive structures and space objects you get to witness are great, but there was never that one moment for me where I said outloud “wow, this is fantastic.” The detail on a lot of the objects are spectacular don’t get me wrong and some are just outright massive. But it’s nothing I’ve already seen before in games like Everspace, EVE, Elite Dangerous, etc.
The game is often slated as a 4X game, however it’s not the standard 4X you are used to. The thing is 4X stands for Expand (grow the area in which you control), Exploit (gather the resources available), Explore (lots of that here) and Exterminate. This game isn’t dealt with in turns and isn’t all about the massive strategy you find in games like Stellaris and Endless Space 2. I mean it’s there, but as stated before, jack-of-all-trades, master of none. It is unique it’s presentation and there is nothing like it in a sense. It’s a conflicting emotion you’re not wrong, but it’s more that the game is a lot like different games in it’s various aspects, but no game is exactly the same as SGW.
Audiowise it’s about what you’d expect from a Sci-Fi game set in a massive universe to explore. Ambient synths and grand climaxes. For the most part I actually really enjoyed the score. It also has a good balance of knowing when to stop and when to start again. No one enjoys a game with exploration music constantly droning in your ears. It was also interesting in the way that, although I probably heard the same track twice, I never really noticed it. It was just solid background noise to accompany great visuals. The ships are okay, but I just can’t bring myself to really give the game points on it’s audio as once again, it’s just nothing new. Don’t get me wrong it’s really well done, thought out and expertly paced, but never memorable.
Finally the game is topped off with a UI that needs a little work, in my opinion anyway. There was some weird cut offs from the bottom of a lot of the text that gets a little off putting and the sheer amount of information the game throws at you from the get go is incredibly overwhelming. Once you get used to it, it does get easier to understand. But it’s also incredibly confusing in a lot of places.
The Starpoint Gemini series had one of the most innovative game concepts to date in its first iteration. However too little has been innovated on top of that to really push the game in to the boundaries of unique. I loved the graphical presentation, art work and sound design, but I always had a feeling of, been here done that. It’s also a game with very little soul. I never really felt connected with my character or faction like usually do with Sci-Fi games and for me that’s a big problem. In summary, all of it’s multiple aspects are expertly created and the sheer amount of content is endless. But with none of those aspects being truly unique to the genre or even better than any other of it’s competitors, it gets stuck in the mud with the same phrase I keep coming back to: Jack-of-all-trades, a master of none.