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Starpoint Gemini 2 Review (PC, Xbox One)
~by tankMage (June 2019)
-Three playable classes with unique skill sets.
-Large map to explore.
-A variety of upgrades to purchase and unlock.
-Customizable skill tree.
-Free DLC remake of the first Starpoint Gemini.
-Controls are good.
-Poor dialogue and localisation.
-Uninspired mission design.
-User Interface is poorly explained in the game.
Spaceships Shooting at Each other? Sign Me Up!
I’ve played a few Space SIMs over the years and I have to say, Starpoint Gemini 2 hit the mark as far as I’m concerned. Many Space SIMs force players to trade and/or build up reputation with factions for hours or weeks before they can jump into the big ships. Starpoint Gemini 2 only requires players to be a certain level, have enough money, and have a positive relationship with a faction to purchase even the largest ships. In fact, you can outright capture a dreadnought or carrier and level up very quickly if you know what you’re doing. Players will also notice that this title is more focused on combat, rather than mining asteroids or playing space courier, though the devs still included the latter types of gameplay. There are even special weapons that can be acquired by collecting blueprints or through looting destroyed vessels if you are really lucky. Plus, it features three classes that have their own special powers, which really add to the game’s replay value.
Even though I liked Starpoint’s shoot-and-loot philosophy, I have to admit that it has a few too many flaws to be considered a really great Space SIM. First off, the main mission fails to provide players with creative and challenging combat scenarios. I also encountered a lot of bugs, though none of them were game breaking. Then there’s the translation, which was a mess that really hurt immersion, because every character in the game had the same awful grammar… well it’s not like my grammar is all that good, so maybe I shouldn’t judge. Finally, this game is not very compatible with old school HDDs and would often lag horribly when loading areas until I moved it to my computer’s SSD. While this wasn’t a big deal for me, someone who doesn’t have an SSD is going to be shit out of luck and will have to deal with the game hanging for a few seconds every time they enter a new chunk of the map.
Graphics are really important in this genre as far as I’m concerned. Devs don’t have to worry about designing the sort of complex environments present in other games when making a Space SIM, so the ships, planets, and backdrops better look damn good. Starpoint looks pretty for the most part, but having been released back in 2014 it shows its age at times. That’s fine, since this site is all about retro games, but players should keep in mind that the graphics won’t be as crisp as those of more recent Space SIMs. In fact, even with the settings cranked up to the max, the graphics are going to be a bit sketchy on modern monitors.
Spaceships are the main draw of these games and the devs did a great job of designing the starships. Little Green Men (the developers) copied a lot of ideas from other games and popular sci-fi, but they did so in a way that reimagined familiar sights like the Enterprise and Imperial Destroyers. As a result, it’s fun collecting ships since they are new twists on old designs; I ended buying and flying a few of them just because I thought they looked cool. Players can even choose an emblem to place on their ship and change the paint tint. In addition, the name you give your ship will also be visibly emblazoned on its hull, which was an awesome detail that made every ship feel more unique.
The environments are beautiful and I found some breathtaking places that I didn’t expect to stumble upon. Fields of molten asteroids, massive space stations, nebulae, and alien worlds all serve to make Gemini an exotic realm that the player is compelled to explore. The entire system is dominated by two massive stars that serve as a reminder that we are not in Kansas anymore, making the game feel even more intriguing. That said, the planets could have used some work. Many of them had little detail and I don’t recall seeing a single moon. The planets were also rather generic looking and it was hard to tell them apart in some cases, though there are plot related reasons at play in this case.
The effects in this title are so-so. Some of the plasma weapons and lasers look cool, but other weapons are basically stock science fiction stuff. Railguns look nice the first time you see them, but you’ll soon realize the devs just recolored the bullets they fire to represent different guns, though this is still better than just having the same effect for all of them, I suppose. All of the laser type weapons looked the same as far as I can tell, but I have to admit I didn’t use these weapons much. Then there’s the various missiles and torpedoes, which all looked the same. Explosion effects ranged from being really awesome looking to disappointing. In fact, some of the explosions looked like relics from the days of the PlayStation 2 and not something from a PC game made in 2014.
Finally, there are a few short movies that play at the beginning and end of the game. The intro movie looked really nice and did a good job of setting the tone, but the movie for the ending was garbage. I’ve seen games that are ten years older than Starpoint Gemini 2 that had better resolution than the final clip. It looked like the devs just slapped it together as quickly as possible, leaving some of the ships half rendered. I’m not sure what went wrong here, but it was not a good way to end the main mission.
Does anyone expect a Space SIM to have a good story? I don’t, but it would be nice if the genre were to evolve a bit. The usual interstellar war and intrigue make up the plot of this game, but it’s not too bad. In fact, I kind of liked the story even though it included clichès like Macguffin devices, evil empires, and revenge. There were even a few unexpected twists and turns that surprised me a bit. And for the most part the story was coherent. However, this game starts in an established universe and a lot of the lore was lost on me, since I have yet to play the original.
While the game has the player flying from one talking head to another in order to further the story like so many other titles, I liked a lot of the characters. Rather than being a lineup of clean cut space officers who think debating on issues of morality is a fun pastime, the cast consists of tough guys, grizzled veterans, deranged sociopaths, and glory obsessed admirals. Needless to say, these colorful characters pushed the story forward with a bit of flare and style that was much needed. Unfortunately, the main character lacked personality and came off as petulant at times. There also wasn’t any character development aside from the hero becoming rather jaded as the story progressed.
The English in this game is pretty bad. I respect the fact that whoever did the script took the time to learn the language, but they should have had someone go over it to iron out the kinks. Lines like “Empire is attacking.” and strangely worded ingame instructions really harm the presentation of the story as well as make it difficult for new players to figure things out. What’s worse, many of the voice actors seem to be native English speakers that simply read the script verbatim, which makes the dialogue even more bizarre. Ironically, the strange grammar would have made sense in the game world, since Gemini is its own star system and would presumably have its own dialects, if the actors had come up with accents to go along with the awkward script.
Compared to some of the absolutely dreadful user interfaces I’ve encountered in games like X3: Reunion, Starpoint features a decent interface that only suffers from a few minor hiccups. Most of the menus are streamlined and piloting a ship feels fairly natural once you’re used to it. There’s also a variety of ways the player can customize the control scheme, but the process is a bit opaque and it takes a bit of trial and error to find a comfortable configuration. A nifty context menu makes playing with a mouse or controller easier. Controlling a fleet is also easy, since all your allies are prefab AI units that can be hired or fighters launched from a carrier.
Some of the game’s features are buried in sub-menus, which can be confusing for new players. It’s also hard to figure certain things out thanks to the poor instructions. For example, players have to purchase hardpoints so they can mount more guns on their ship’s turrets, but it is difficult to figure out the system at first and players may assume they need more copies of a weapon to increase the number of guns per turret. The convenient fleet system also has its own quirks, because the player cannot customize or direct their mercenaries. In most battles my mercs would just fly around, shooting anything that got within their range, which was only marginally helpful.
Music and Sound
Space SIMs traditionally have good music and sound effects. Starpoint Gemini 2 carries on this tradition, though it’s soundtrack is a bit sparse. The main theme is a fairly catchy cinematic piece and most of the ingame music is the sort of electronic stuff you would expect from a science fiction themed title. However, a larger selection of songs would have been nice, because even my favorite tracks in the game started to wear thin after the first 15 hours. The battle theme was particularly repetitive, since there was only one and it would play every time an enemy attacked.
Most of the sound effects were standard pew-pew type deals, but they were well done. I especially liked the hum of the spaceship’s engines as it flew through space and the plasma weapon effects. It’s a shame the same can’t be said for the voice acting, which was all over the place. Some of the voice actors did a good job and seemed to have fun with their roles, while others were just phoning in their performances. Sad to say, the main character’s voice actor often sounded a bit board, though it’s possible this was just how he envisioned the character, who could be a bit snarky at times. The accents were also rather haphazard and didn’t really seem to fit the setting, but being unfamiliar with the lore, I have to concede that this may be by design.
Gemini 2 has most of the bells and whistles that are expected of this genre. There’s a wide variety of spaceships to pilot that range from tiny gunships to massive dreadnoughts. Players are free to explore and run random missions as well as a main campaign. There are space stations that buy and sell goods, asteroids that can be mined for resources, and even fields of space junk that can be salvaged. With this in mind, Starpoint focuses on combat more than anything else, which can be good or bad depending on what you look for in a Space SIM. If you like using your skills and reflexes to fend off hordes of red markers, you’ll find that this game has a lot to offer. On the other hand, players who like building stations, conducting trade, and producing things like weapons may find this title lacking or completely disappointing.
The most interesting aspect of this title is the class system, which has three classes that have 4 combat skills each. Players can customize the skills of their current class by spending points that are awarded upon level up in any way they desire. A generic perk tree further adds to your character’s customizability, making thousands of different builds possible. Though most class abilities are not flashy, they drastically alter the performance of the player’s ship or negatively impact enemy vessels. Commanders can strengthen their entire fleet, reflect damage back to the enemy, strengthen shields, and even increase their ship’s ability to passively evade damage. Engineers can cripple a hostile target with the Hacking skill, deal direct damage with Rift, power up their shields, and dramatically increase their weapon performance. Finally, the Gunner can directly enhance the capabilities of their light and heavy turrets. Managing skills in combat makes the game much more interesting and it’s a mechanic that I have not encountered in other Space SIMs. That said, the classes aren’t balanced very well and some skills are so powerful they can make the game boring. Of course, since Starpoint is a single player game this doesn’t matter so much and playing an overpowered hero can be fun if that’s what suits your fancy.
Two different categories of weapons, light and heavy turrets, make combat even more interesting. Most ships can use both weapon types and will have turrets mounted on various portions of their hulls, which is something to consider when purchasing a ship. Light weapons consist of rail guns, plasma cannons, and beams. Rail guns have excellent range and damage hulls more than shields. Then there’s beams, which have the shortest range, but drain the target’s shield reserves rapidly. Last, but not least, plasma guns are a mixture of the former weapons. Heavy weapons are mainly missile and torpedo armaments that deal massive damage. They also require quite a bit of time to reload.
Starpoint Gemini 2’s weapon mechanics are well thought out as far as light turrets go, but the heavy weapons are really lacking. I found myself merely choosing the highest damage heavy weapon available, because there wasn’t a huge difference between missiles, shockwaves, and torpedoes. Luckily, the games nuanced enhancement system came to the rescue. Players can purchase enhancements for nearly every aspect of their starship at space stations. These enhancements can boost shield power, weapon damage, accuracy, and engine speed to name a few. Most of the enhancements are useful, so the choice often comes down to which ones work best with the player’s class. Needless to say, this really helped the game along.
Unlike many Space SIMs where ship systems are often generic products that can simply be purchased, this one has a number of special ship’s systems that have to be unlocked by collecting blueprint pieces. Blueprints can unlock anything from super weapons to enhancements and often take time, effort, and luck to collect. They’re also very rewarding, since most of the upgrades provided by blueprints are very powerful. However, most players will probably only collect a few complete blueprints over the course of a normal game, so they are more for completionists and hardcore fans.
Combat in this title is fairly rewarding and battles often escalate quickly. There’s a lot of strategy that goes into battle, since players will have to position there ship to hit enemies with as many turrets as possible, manage their power output, and use items like repair drones effectively. It’s also possible to manually target enemies or allow the AI to control the turrets. In general, battles are exciting and there’s plenty of loot to snag from wrecks. Players can even send troops to capture enemy ships, which requires a bit of planning to pull off. Skills also add another dimension to combat in this game as players will have to manage them carefully. That said, the difficulty on normal mode was somewhat lacking and felt too easy; fortunately the higher difficulty settings more than made up for this and players of all skill levels will find a difficulty setting that suits them.
There’s also an excellent selection of ships that are sorted into categories by size. Players can pilot relatively tiny gunships or gigantic carriers if they like and every starship has its own unique feel. Some ships are more suited to direct combat and others are designed for stealth. Stealth ships can cloak, which makes it possible to slip past or ambush enemies. Of course there’s always a trade-off between strength, speed, and stealth, so players will likely enjoy experimenting with the different ships.
The main and side missions for this game were pretty bland. Everyone who has played a Space SIM or sandbox RPG before will recognize the fetch and escort missions Starpoint throws at players. Admittedly, there are only so many types of missions that can be conjured up, so I can’t be too hard on the devs. Still, they could have been more imaginative with enemy placement and tactics, especially if you consider the fact that space combat would certainly have military doctrines that would be widely used. Ironically, the game points out its own flawed missions by setting up some enemy battle groups in a logical manner.
Players who like mining and/or building factories will probably be somewhat disappointed by this game. It is possible to mine asteroids for ore that can sell for a high price (if you know where to look) but that’s essentially where it stops. There’s no real ingame economy and stations simply have pre-generated lists of items to purchase, rather than production lines that require a steady stream of resources. Players can trade items, however, and many stations sell certain items cheaply, while other stations will pay premiums for the same items. There are also a few industrial ships in the game, so players can be space truckers if they so choose, just don’t expect to be able to build a business empire.
Starpoint Gemini 2 doesn’t exactly reinvent the Space SIM genre and it has a few embarrassing issues, but it’s a lot of fun, especially if you like shooting and looting. This game also tested my abilities as a critic, because I really liked it aside from its shallow economy and crappy script. I also went out of my way to explain what kind of Space SIM Starpoint is, since this is a niche genre that has certain concepts firmly rooted into it and fans of games like EVE may be dismayed that they can’t build a ship from scratch. I should also mention that this game is currently selling for $35 on Steam, which is a bit steep for a title that came out years ago. To be fair, it includes a free DLC that is a recreation of the original Starpoint Gemini and I heard it was very good.
Starpoint Gemini 2 is a good choice if you like blowing things up and flying around in cool starships. Avoid this title if you are looking for a deep story or a complex economy to interact with and play something else instead.