Space Sims are back. As someone who used to call the wild black yonder his second virtual home, Sidewinder Freestyle Pro in hand, I couldn't be happier. Elite Dangerous is vast and tough and beautiful, Starlight Inception was a toxic puddle of leaking coolant but thankfully Star Citizen's evolving Arena Commander mode is on hand to calm me back down.
And yet I still find myself dipping back into Starpoint Gemini 2. This deeply impressive blend of RPG, space sim and fleet command launched in Early Access last year and hit v.1.0 in October, but silly season being what it is, I didn't have enough time to fully review it.
Let's rectify that right now. Launch fighters and fire at will!
If I ever get around to a 'most improved sequels' list, Starpoint Gemini 2 will be right up there. The basic setup remains the same as you strike out into an enormous 2D Sci-Fi sandbox universe in traditional space sim style, earning money and reputation by engaging in trade, exploration, assassination, smuggling and perhaps a little piracy on the side. Numerous factions demand different services and goods, meaning that a little tact and diplomacy will be necessary to keep on the right side of the right people, while the thrill of starting out in a humble second-hand vessel and eventually commanding a ruinous dreadnought is as addictive as ever.
However, though the universe is still 2D when you access the galaxy map, the action takes place in full three dimensions; a gorgeous and well-realised universe to pilot through. This makes navigation a breeze, but allows you to appreciate the crisp visuals and awe-inspiring vistas as you cruise through the cosmos.
Learning how to control your vessel takes time as you grapple with some nasty front-loaded tutorial screens, but eventually you'll get used to the unique blend of direct and hands-off options. After all, you're in command of a lumbering capital ship, not a fighter. You can directly manipulate your vessel in 3D space or fall back on a surprisingly excellent context-sensitive radial menu mapped to the middle mouse button, which orders your crew to automatically perform numerous actions such as full-speed travelling, docking, firing at will, targeting and more. Personally I use both, relying on my upgradeable crew to manage the big picture and manually stepping in when it matters.
Usually when battle is joined. Combat is a unique joy in Starpoint Gemini 2, somewhere between Stellar Impact, I-War, Freelancer and a more stand-off approach to warfare. When you encounter a pirate or enemy faction, you'll enter a deadly if slow dance of death as the two ships pound away at each other's shields and hull, rolling and rotating to keep the enemy in their firing arcs and presenting shielded sections towards the foe. As mentioned, you can directly control your ship and its guns, including devastating if limited secondary weapons, or delegate to your crew, with numerous options for boarding actions and fighter support waiting in the wings. You'll feel like a captain who's ready to take the helm at a moment's notice as opposed to a fighter jockey.
This being an RPG, you'll also have access to a range of powerful skills with cooldown timers depending on your class (captains excel at fleet combat - we'll get to that later - while Gunners supercharge their weapon systems and Engineers hack foes with their technical know-how) that can turn the tide in the heat of combat, while a range of consumable equipment is also on offer. The heady blend of systems and genres never quite gelled in the original Starpoint Gemini, but here, it's a cohesive package that feels like a single experience rather than disparate and bitty gameplay elements cobbled together.
As any space sim fan knows, though, the real draw comes from graduating to bigger and deadlier ships. Doing so takes a while, but there are plenty of ways to make money, while boarded ships can even be claimed as your own. You'll continually upgrade your weapons and systems too, hiring on new personnel, fighters, boarding troopers and equipment at the numerous space stations dotted around the cosmos (which also let you tap into the surprisingly well-realised lore via news broadcasts and flavour text).
Unlike many space sims, though, Starpoint Gemini 2 lets you assemble a fleet of mercenaries, all of whom have access to devastating firepower and fighter wings, and that make you feel more like Admiral Adama than Starbuck. There's a unique satisfaction from sitting back after ordering your crew to fire at will, your allies to engage and your fighters to deploy, then drinking in the ensuing carnage.
Starpoint Gemini 2 is not without its flaws. A binary sliding reputation scale doesn't give you the opportunity to fully flesh out your identity as a complex character on the intergalactic stage, while learning the ropes can be finicky and frustrating for a while. More variety of random phenomena and non-combat encounters might have been nice, and if I'm honest, there are times when the universe can feel a little empty after a several-hour stint.
And then we come to the campaign.
In fairness, Gabriel Faulkner's mission to avenge his father and save the galaxy is vaguely interesting and adds some welcome structure to the sandbox. Unfortunately the voice acting is utterly appalling and stops you from engaging with any of the characters, least of all the leading man. It may in fact be some of the worst voiceover work we've seen in a space sim since DarkStar One. A few difficulty spikes can also mar the fun from time to time, and again, it's annoying to see another simulation give us a face and a name rather than letting us put ourselves into the experience with a callsign.
But personally speaking, Starpoint Gemini 2 is at its best when you're just freely roaming the galaxy, whether between story missions or preferably in the freeroam sandbox mode. It's a genuinely satisfying experience, both deeply relaxing as the light years slide past, yet tense and desperate as battles unfold and you limp pack to a space station with your railgun between your legs. When you're your own boss, the galaxy is your oyster, and it's a joy to dip into. "What's next?"
- Thunderingly satisfying capital ship combat blends direct control with delegation
- Solid space sim fundamentals with enjoyable RPG elements
- Large galaxy to explore in campaign or sandbox freeroam
- Steam workshop support, numerous mods available
- Nasty non-interactive front loaded tutorials, limp linear reputation scale
- Horrible campaign voice acting - all is forgiven, DarkStar One
- Would benefit from a greater variety of encounters, galaxy can feel somewhat empty at times
The Short Version: Starpoint Gemini 2 is an impressive fusion of space sim, RPG and lumbering capital ship combat, resulting in a fiercely unique experience that's a joy to dip in to. Awful voice acting and difficulty spikes mar an otherwise serviceable campaign, but the real fun is to be found tooling around the galaxy in freeroam and graduating from garbage scow to fleet commander.
Just call me Adama. Please?
8 – GREAT: Great games typically provide competent production values with a degree of innovation, personality and soul that's sometimes absent in titles that score lower. Or even just exceptional raw value on top of competent execution. There'll usually be a little something to stop games like these from reaching the very top - innovative but slightly flawed, fun but not groundbreaking - however you can buy games that score 8/10 with confidence.
Platform: PC (reviewed, £26.99)
Developer: Little Green Men Games
Publisher: Iceberg Interactive