Starpoint Gemini 2 is not an elegant game. Within 15 minutes of starting up the campaign, I had crashed into a planet and gotten dumped back onto the main menu. The first impression was not a good one, but I stuck with it–and I’m glad I did. With it’s expansive open-galaxy, large variety of ships and equipment, and lack of hand-holding, Starpoint Gemini 2 is a space exploration game ala Freelancer built with fans of the genre in mind.
When you first start up the game, you are given the option of either free roam or Campaign. The Campaign gives you a pre-set character and ship, and also gives you some story mission incentives. The free roam option allows customization, but then leaves it up to you to set your own goals as you fly around the galaxy.
If you start the Campaign, be warned that the voice-acting for the main character is pretty bad. Imagine if Jermain Clement from Flight of the Conchords was also a robot who didn’t understand emotions, and you’ll have a good understanding. It’s not the worst I’ve ever heard, but as a big fan of voice acting, it’s a bit disappointing.
I mentioned before that Starpoint Gemini 2 isn’t elegant, and it shows itself immediately with the tutorial dump. I’m not a fan of having my hand held for basic actions, but this game doesn’t even try to teach you during gameplay. You are presented with clumsy menus of text that tell you how to do things–most of which you won’t do for awhile, which means you’ll forget about it in a few minutes and have to go digging through the same tutorial menus again later. It requires a lot of effort to get started, but the payoff is worth it.
Gameplay in Starpoint Gemini 2 has a very nice ebb and flow. If you boil it down the to the basics, you fly across the galaxy buying and selling various goods, take bounties to kill pirates, and escort VIPs to destinations. Your goal is always to make more experience and money, to buy or upgrade new ships. Speaking of ships, there is a lot of variety. From your small starting craft, to dreadnaughts and carriers with fighter squadrons, you can basically pilot whatever type of ship you can imagine. All of these ships are also fully upgradable: every turret and system can be replaced and modified with a variety of options. Want to do more damage? Use heavy turrets, but then you have to expend ammo. Your light turrets are rechargeable, but they are much weaker.
Within hours you’ll have a ship that’s to your liking, and it feels good. The combat is all real-time, which can make things really tense. More than a few times enemy ships outside of my skill level would warp in, and I’d have to turn and run. You can re-route power between shields, weapons, and engines, and you can bet that I was switching power to full engines frequently while I made my escapes.
Along with money, your earned experience will level up your Captain. Your starting class will determine what skills you have available. They can range from the Commander’s fleet skills that increase the repair speed of ships in your fleet, to the Engineer that can hack into enemy ships and disable certain systems. As you level, you can increase the strength of these skills, which are very effective at turning the tide of battle.
One really neat aspect of the game is that every achievement you unlock gives a permanent bonus to every character you play. The few achievements I earned on my first attempt at the Campaign (before switching to free roam), were a big help, including one that gives a bonus 100% movement speed. It’s a nice touch, and gives an already feature-rich game some replayability.
The sound design is a bit of a mixed bag. The weapon and engine sounds sound like you’d imagine, but are a little loud and can sometimes crackle with static. As I said before, the voice acting for the main character isn’t good, but the rest of it is a bit better. With no radio, banter, or compelling music, the long stretches of space between waypoints can seem downright lonely and dull; I believe this is an intentional design choice to help you feel the oppressiveness of space travel. I actually found it to be quite useful in another way. Starpoint Gemini 2 is the perfect game to be enjoy while watching Netflix or listening to a podcast.
Some people might feel that’s a bad thing, but I think otherwise. It allows you to play the game in longer sittings; Cutting out unnecessary busy work during vast expanses of space allows you to stay interested for the parts of the game that are fun (which is everything else).
Starpoint Gemini 2 should be an amazing game. In fact, with the gameplay elements, customization, and graphics it is a very good game. Unfortunately, there are a lot of little things holding it back. For one, there is no animation for docking with space stations or landing on planets. It makes entering and exiting trade posts quicker, but personally it also makes them feel more like menus than actual locations that I’d traveled to. The difficulty is also wildly random. From one quadrant of space to the next, you could go from fighting pushover scout ships that you can kill on autopilot, to impossible dreadnaughts that will waste you in a handful of shots. Did I mention that the only way to save is to dock? Multiple times I zipped around the galaxy mining asteroids and capturing bounties before losing twenty-plus minutes of progress to an accidental impossible-level fight.
Luckily, Starpoint Gemini 2 has Steam Workshop support, and I’ve already found mods that fix a lot of my major griefs. For the purpose of this review, however, I played without add-ons. Starpoint Gemini 2 has a bit of a high bar to entry, but if you are a fan of space-sims or RPGs, I urge you to check out this game.