- Developer/Publisher: Little Green Men Games/Iceberg Interactive
- Platform: Xbox One ($/€ 34.99), PC (Steam, $/€ 31.99)
- Xbox One version reviewed. Review code provided by the publisher.
“Han Solo” is the best possible job description, and it’s something I think we all aspire to. Being a cocky space smuggler is way better than pushing trolleys around a car park on a wet Sunday afternoon, although I suppose everybody has to have a hobby. I specifically mention that scenario because Starpoint Gemini 2 feels a lot like that particular task, only without the glamour. It’s not very accessible, it’s not exactly what you’d call fun, but as a space strategy RPG simulator there’s nothing better on Xbox One.
The awful thing about writing reviews like this is that the long list of negatives is almost certainly a long list of positives for the people who fall in love with it. I could write for hours on the stupidly long periods of nothingness as you fly through seemingly endless space with nothing to see, or I could point out the fact that the only real available method of learning is an almost equally endless instruction manual that snaps to the side of the screen.
But for the right person, that endless space is the game. For the right person, that digital War and Peace is far better than a hand-holding tutorial, especially with a game as deep as Starpoint Gemini where references could frequently come in handy.
But just because these flaws are there by design, it doesn’t make them any less flaws. Setting up an autopilot to take you to your next objective can be boring and long-winded, but it saves you the time of having to actually pay attention to the endless nothing. I’ve never played a game where I’ve spent as much time not actually playing a game, but reading or sitting on my phone.
Perhaps this could have been avoided with some little distraction, something to organize or play with or listen to for each five to 10 minute section of flight – if not longer.
And it’s true that getting into Starpoint Gemini is going to be a ridiculously difficult task for anybody not already 100 per cent in love with the idea. The tutorial segment isn’t especially helpful and there’s so much to see and do that it can feel overwhelming.
It doesn’t help that the game’s story mode feels like something out of a failed TV pilot. The plot is dull and the acting is so bad that you’ll be thankful when voices glitch and you don’t have to hear them. If there was an engaging space opera to take part in, there might have a bigger inclination to take part, but it just never comes.
The initial loading time is quite a while, although this is softened by there being no loading points once you’re into the game. Instead there’s just endless stuttering. Go into a new location, the whole universe comes to a standstill while it catches up. Fight scenes are frequently jumpy as well. At best it’s frustrating.
Talking about the battles, the less said the better. They just work, it’s not exactly a negative (in fact, it’s one of the more enjoyable points of Starpoint Gemini) but it’s not really mind blowing either. I wasn’t even expecting Rogue Squadron and I was still disappointed. The controls aren’t especially easy to utilize – rolling is attached to the d-pad – and there’s just nothing epic about it.
Overall, the controls are mixed. There seem to be too many menus, and not enough buttons to account for the things you’ll regularly have to do. Occasionally you’ll stumble upon a shortcut, but it’s by no means a perfect solution to not having a mouse and keyboard at your disposal. The developers definitely haven’t perfected the transition to console.
If you’re on the fence about Starpoint Gemini, don’t buy it. In light of the second half of this review, I hate to say it, but most people are just not going to have the patience or interest to get anything of value here. The positives are almost certainly going to be outweighed by the negatives, and you’ll be disappointed in your purchase.
But that’s only half the story, albeit the slightly uneven half. Behind all the problems, deep below the annoyances and glitches, there’s an excellent title just ready to poke its little alien head out of the bloody chest of mediocrity.
If you have the inclination to really give this game its fair shot – and that’s more difficult than it sounds – then you’ll find countless hours of enjoyable missions, interesting locations and beautiful planets. Whether that’s sneaking a smuggled item past enemies or just the occasional joy of making a massive profit, there’s enough there to make those who like Starship Gemini love Starship Gemini.
The graphics are pretty enough, although special mention has to be made of the general backgrounds and planets. Ships are less interesting, but there are some breathtaking vistas out there.
Your ability to command and upgrade your ship offers a near unlimited amount of freedom, and a variety of different playstyles. In fact, from the very beginning you’re given options that could completely alter your style of tackling the game.
For those reasons, if you ignore the story and play it as a straight, open world RPG/strategy title AND you enjoy it enough to put in any amount of time, you have here a bona fide attempt on your personal Game of the Year. Few titles offer so much variety in such a big area. Dozens of hours will fly by as you correct your flight course, upgrade your abilities and fleet and overcome bigger challenges.
Of course, that means loving the idea and implementation enough that the issues stop niggling at you. That is the bet you have to take.
Starpoint Gemini has some of the strangest achievements I’ve ever seen. A handful of 100 point prizes are handed out for doing practically nothing – one is available for crashing into a planet, for instance. Then there are a couple of grindy ones that the sort of people who will put 30+ hours in will get with no problem at all. Finally, there is a selection of 0 point achievements, many of which will take you quite an amount of time. This is obviously neither a positive or negative for many people, but it’s a little surprising.
Over the years I’ve noticed one key truth about writing reviews: there’s always people out there that will love a bad game. They’ll jump into a comment section or complain in some distant forum about how, actually, they really, really loved that game, and any negatives anybody bothers mentioning is just nitpicking.
In a world of 1s and 10s, an 8 is an insult and a 3 is too high.
Starpoint Gemini is not a bad game. It’s not even really an average game, so long as you’re part of the small group that will get the most of it. But it is difficult to enjoy, difficult to learn; in short, it’s a niche title and there are glitches and boredom aplenty. This isn’t a great title by any metric except maybe the most important one: those that love it will be utterly engrossed.