The original Starpoint Gemini was a wonderful discovery I made during one of last years Steam Sales that was honestly one of the best gaming experiences I had all year. It very much reminded me of my all time favorite space action/sim freelancer. Plus it had excellent graphics, a compelling story, good gameplay mechanics, and was just outright fun to play. When I heard the developers, Little Green Men Games, were developing a sequel I immediately started trying to get a copy for review.
First of all, allow me to preface the following review with this statement. This game is still in the Alpha Stage. There will be some, if not many changes, by the full release. As such, please take everything in this review a bit more critically than usual.
I have to say that I was very surprised by what I saw when I started playing, and the sequel didn’t match my expectations for it. It surpassed them by a quite a lot. Improved graphics, ship controls, more missions, stations, ships, better designs, a full 3D plane to explore, and more. I was blown away by how much better this game presented itself than the previous one. On top of that, for an Alpha it is extremely stable. It’s more stable than some full retail games I’ve played. I actually resorted to trying to break the game by flying into stars, planets, and messing with lots of graphics options in game. After 20 hours I have only had 1 crash on my gaming computer, and I actually crashed my budget computer trying to force the game to crash. So good job there Little Green Men Games. I’m very impressed already, and I haven’t even really talked about the game yet. First I’ll focus on what’s in the game now, and then move on to what I’d like to see.
Expanded Content: There are new ships now in every class, plus they have added the carrier class (my new favorite!). All of which now reflect further specialization through the new weapons system (more on that later). They have added a ton of new space stations and planets, most of which can be docked at. They have added new factions, corporations, and pirate groups. They have added new missions, mission types, and a faster generation of these missions that is independant from the main story. They have also added a new bounty board with high level contracts you can complete for very large sums of money. So overall, massive amounts of content has been added to this game.
Universe Size: The first SPG used jump gates to transport you from sector to sector, with each being a separate map. Now, it’s all one giant map. You can still use jump gates for fast travel to the various sectors, or you can just plot a course and fly across the entire system. It takes some time to do that, but is well worth it just to see the huge and beautiful scope of the universe that has been created. Plus exploring like that has other rewards as well. You can find many more anomalies, derelicts, freelance missions, and lucrative mining locations by doing this rather than sticking to trade lanes or jump gates. The only problem with it, this may be an Alpha issue, is that each time you enter a new sector the game pauses to load what’s around you. This isn’t a big problem unless you get stuck in a combat between sectors which can occasionally lead to very laggy battles as the game loads 2 or even 3 sectors over and over again.
Streamlining: Perhaps my biggest problem with the original game was that you spent so much time docking and undocking with stations and waiting in line to use jump gates. The process, while realistic, was very slow and very quickly became tedious. That is no longer a problem though. As you pull up to a jumpgate, station, or planet you pull up the contextual menu and click anchor. Then it is like you are “weighing anchor” outside of a port in a naval vessel. You can then interact with the station through several menu’s depending on what you need from it. On planets you do get a screen that looks like you landed on them, but you cut to it rather than watching a long landing procedure.
New User Interface: While old UI wasn’t broken by any means, it was a bit clunky at times. The map was sometimes difficult to maneuver around in, and the station menu’s needed some work. It also took a bit of time to understand how to outfit and manage your ship’s repair systems and weapons. The new system is brilliant though. The menu’s are much easier to understand and navigate through. Ship and captain managment are a breeze to understand, and the station menu’s have been tweaked to perfection as well. Plus, I love the contextual menu. By default, if you click your middle mouse button it pulls up a radial menu with contextual options based on what you do or don’t have selected. It appears wherever you click on screen, looks wonderful, and makes it much easier to interact with everything.
Weapon System: Previously you had specific weapon slots on your ship that could each be outfitted with different weapons. Each slot had specific level and type requirements, and each had very specific firing arcs. Now however you have banks of weapons. You buy one type of weapon, put it in the weapons bank, and several turret positions are filled on the ship with that weapon. In some ways it limits your combinations, but it does two things incredibly well. It streamlines the weapon selection process, and makes your ship look much more awesome in space. It all matches and looks like a real military vessel. There also is a new weapon upgrade system, meaning that you no longer have to ditch older weapons for newer ones. You can simply upgrade its damage, rate of fire, range, and more. these upgrades apply to the entire bank of weapons, and carry over from ship to ship.
Combat: Combat in the previous game was good but difficult to handle in large scale. For example if you are in a cruiser and are swarmed by gunships you could be killed because you couldn’t kill them all fast enough. Targeting multiple enemies with specific weapons was a nightmare. It was always easier to attack one at a time, and using the ability that auto targeted multiple enemies took up one of your precious ability slots. On top of that you could not free fire. You had to target enemies to engage them, and sometimes it was very hard to target gunships and fighters. Now however, auto targeting is available at all times simply by pressing J. All ships weapons will fire on their nearest target at will. This is not an instant win by any means, but it does help you in situations where you are ganged up on. Furthermore, you now can attack enemies without targeting them. You aim with the mouse cursor, and fire at will. This can be helpful for quickly targeting enemies on the fly, or for hammering home consecutive shots in specific areas to destroy weapons, subsystems, or focus on downed shields.
Mining System: In the original you could equip your ship with a mining laser and go mine asteroids. Most were small and only yielded small amounts of resources, but it was safe and easy to make credits with. Upon finding my first asteroid belt in SPG2 I was thrilled that there were giant asteroids that had to be filled with resources. Currently though you can only mine by blowing up the asteroids, and taking minerals that explode out from them. You can destroy large and small asteroids, and all give you roughly the same amount of materials. I hope that this is simply a feature that hasn’t been implemented in this stage of the alpha, and is included in subsequent updates. Some people get very bored with mining, but I’m actually quite excited to buy a merchant vessel and go mining in a 3D playing space.
As you can see from the length of this review I’m excited to be playing this game. I’m excited to see what’s going to happen to it through development, and what the final product will be. I recommend this game to anyone who loves 4x style space sims, action flight games, and/or science fiction. I also recommend that you buy it in early access for two reasons. One, the developers have stated the better it does in early access the more features they will put in the game, and two it will be less expensive now than when it comes out full release. If you don’t want to play it early access, then just leave it in your library and come back to it later this year when it is farther along.
This next section is mostly for the developers. They are asking for feedback on concepts for the game, and here is my opinion. Feel free to read on, but from here on out the review is finished.
What I’d like to see in final release ranked in order of importance:
1. Mining System: I’d love for this game to have a mining system similar to EVE’s. Where you park up next to an asteroid and let your mining equipment go to town. It doesn’t have to be a copy, or as in depth, but something better than just blowing up asteroids.
2. Player manufacturing: I would love to have the resources I collect mean something. Either to build ships, upgrades, or maybe even my own station. I know this get dangerously close to becoming a different game, but If you could just build one station in a sector that acts as your home base I’d be very happy.
3. More Vibrant Economy: Space for the most part feels empty. There are not a lot of ships flying around, and often times it gets lonely. I would love to see more trade convoys, military/police patrols, and just random ships flying around. You could increase pirate presence as well, but only in outlying sectors rather than near core worlds.
4. Missions Relating to Ground Combat: There are a lot of items that can be traded that are perfect for ground combat. Mechs, weapons, power armor, and ammo to name a few. I’m not talking about actually going to a planet and assisting ground forces (although that would be awesome). What I do mean is transporting troops to a battlefield or space station where they do ground combat, and you support them from space. Maybe by blockading the planet or station or destroying ground assault craft. Maybe even you could take it over yourself.
The good folks at Little Green Men Games have responded to my four suggestions. Here were their responses.
While we likely won’t go after EVE Online, it was suggested on several occasions to do some alterations to the whole mechanics. For now we’ve got those Borehole torpedoes that carry a nice punch in a blast radius. But something in the line of automated mining drones is on the wish-list for later implementation.
Mining drones would be excellent. I’d love to be able to deploy a swarm, or even a couple, to go mine asteroids out for me. I’d still like to see a mining laser implemented that can be mounted to your ship, or a specific ship for mining asteroids. However, drones would be enough.
Implementing a crafting system at this time would be hard for our little team, but it is also on the wish-list. We feel it will work best with owning and building up your own station, so it will likely go in that package. Post-release (of the final SG2 version) I’m afraid, but we’ll get there ;).
Building our own stations?! Yes please. I’ll gladly wait for a crafting system that comes with building my own station. I hope its sooner rather than later, but I’m a patient guy.
3)More vibrant economy
I couldn’t agree more. For the moment, we haven’t actually activated roaming traders, most of them anyway. Only a few go about their business for now. More will come. We also have tweaking and detailing to do on each region, to make them more unique, more “specific”, both in AI and traffic.
And although our economy/trading is similar to Freelancer (in the sense that commodities have fixed prices), we will implement a system of global events that will influence commodity prices (among other things like starting wars between factions for example). Global events will be triggered both at random, but also by the player. For example if the player enters a region and starts knocking out mining facilities, after several of those a global event will be triggered, pushing prices of the ore mined in the region upwards, since the supply will dwindle.
I definitely am looking forward to when they turn those guys on. Can’t wait to have a game where I’m a roving space pirate. The global events system sounds really cool as well. I like the idea of starting wars or monopolizing a commodity to affect something else in game.
Phew… Nope. Sorry, but I’m going to have to say “nay” to this one :(. Transporting/boarding/
Sad, but I understand. This probably goes outside the scope of the project, and I respect them for sticking to it. I’d still like to see it, but it doesn’t sound like it’s out of the realm of future possability.
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