Game Review – Starpoint Gemini 2

Standard

Game review – Starpoint Gemini 2
Platform – PC (exclusive)
Developer – Little Green Men Games
Publisher – Iceberg Interactive

Release date – 26 Sept, 2014

Rating – 8/10

42islife

Because no space-related article is complete without a Douglas Adams quote.

Starpoint Gemini 2 is the first real *complete* space title to come along since the abysmal launch of X: Rebirth. Having left a considerable gap in the market for the hardcore space-sim crowd, we’ve seen the rise of titles like Star Citizen, Elite: Dangerous among a few botched attempts like Transverse. Since the closest to completion at this point (yet still quite aways off) is Elite: Dangerous, but has a rather steep point of entry to the beta, your best bet for spacey goodness in a released package at a relatively inexpensive price is Starpoint Gemini 2.

starpointgeminigunsgunsguns

Expecting a vast, open void of quiet trade routes and peaceful sailing? This is not that game.

One of the first things you’ll notice about Starpoint Gemini 2 is its unabashed density. Space is not wide open and quiet. You will encounter many anomalies, wrecks, asteroid belts, wormholes, ruins and countless hostiles trying to drill you a new asshole — and that’s just while flying from A to B. There’s no dull moment in this universe. Yet, amid the nearly staggering depth and complexity, there is an apparent simplicity to the control scheme. You won’t be doing a lot of dog fighting and navigating, rather you will be angling your ship for better weapon and shield coverage while giving commands for boarding procedures and defense protocols. You are made to feel more like a ship captain than a pilot. This perhaps takes a bit of the “sim” out of the game from the perspective of flying the ship, but adds a lot in terms of commanding one.

This is actually one of the things the game really has going for it. Rather than relying on pure skill and fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants speed, the game plays out a little more like an action RPG. You have skills and powerups based on your class, giving you tactical advantages for say, commanding fleets and using boarding parties, rather than just blasting your way in and out of any given situation.

2014-10-24_00001

It's a spacesimactionRPG.

True to the space-sim genre, the title has a fairly steep learning curve in the early game. There’s not a lot of reward for your time spent, and sometimes you just feel vastly under-powered. However, stick with it long enough, and the ratio flips. Suddenly, you are building a fleet around you, commanding a rather devastating ship of your own, and you begin to feel like a force of destruction within the universe. Due to the contentious nature of the many NPC factions, there’s no shortage of wars to be waged or space to conquer even outside of the main story-line.

2014-10-24_00005

The rather detailed and expansive map requires manual exploration, too.

This brings me to the title’s biggest flaw: the campaign. It’s both boring and poorly written. It tries too hard to be compelling with the most cliche revenge-but-deeper-than-you-think-wink-wink played out archetypes imaginable, with long, uninspired speeches from every damn character, which are all horribly voiced. I don’t just mean the acting is bad, either. The audio quality and volume levels vary between EVERY character, and it sounds like there was no direction at all. No one even tried to put a little effect on the voices to sound spacey. As a guy who is actively trying to work in the audio side of the game industry, I am almost offended by how bad the voice work is in this title. If anyone from LGMG reads this: please drop me a line and I will gladly run your vocals through a compressor or something at the very least. It’s seriously bad enough to make me want to give up on the campaign altogether.

2014-10-24_00002

TL;DR, never mind the yawn-worthy VO. The ability to skip has never been more welcome.

Despite the glaringly awful campaign, the game has more than enough to do to keep you interested. You can elect to forego the story altogether and just freeplay your way around its colourful universe. Its ARPG inspiration means menus and contextual system management, while still as complex as you would expect from a space sim, are easily managed and controlled via its well-designed user interface. While it can sometimes feel a little candy-coated, I mean it with the highest compliment that everything just “makes sense.” It’s refreshing to play a space sim with such a simple UI that manages to retain the depth of control I demand. While there is a bit of a learning curve compared to broader reaching titles, it’s not nearly as steep as some of its predecessors.

While it’s hard to compare Starpoint Gemini 2 to some if its competitors (namely Star Citizen and Elite: Dangerous) as a space-sim, it manages to set itself apart with its RPG elements and clever UI. It will never match up to the hardcore realism of other titles, nor does it try to. It’s a great entry on its own, and should be a valuable little gem in any space-sim enthusiast’s collection. Here’s to hoping the main campaign and voice work get some attention, because it could be the difference between a great space game, and one of the best to come along in a while.

/gameon

spg2space2

P.S. Space is pretty.

Game Review – Gauntlet™

Standard

Game review – Gauntlet™
Platform – PC (exclusive, for now)
Developer – Arrowhead Game Studios
Publisher – WB Games

Release date – 23 Sept, 2014

Rating – 8/10

youthoughtwrong

Because fuck making things easier on you.

Gauntlet is one of those legacy franchises that never fades away. Before there was Diablo, there was Gauntlet in all of its 8-bit glory. The premise is simple: Pick from a Wizard, Warrior, Elf or Valkyrie and stomp around in dungeons to find gold and kill monsters. There have been many incarnations of Gauntlet over the years, but the original arcade machine still stands out the most to me. I will say, however, the N64 release of Gauntlet: Legends was fantastic.

Nearly 30 years later, we have what can effectively be called a “reboot” of the franchise. No fancy title, no new characters. Pick your class and lets go dungeon diving.

gauntletgameplay

Get ready for a frantic romp with a classic level of difficulty. I.E. Expect to die a lot.

Gauntlet is definitely a back-to-basics title. The graphics aren’t amazing, but get the point across. There’s no complicated story, although there is a surprising amount of voice work and banter among the few characters in the game, which does a lot to enhance the atmosphere. There isn’t a vast plethora of items to collect, and instead they have rather steep prerequisites and prices to unlock. Personally, this adds a more rewarding level of satisfaction when finally gearing out your character with the best items, rather than constantly finding duplicates in massive piles of loot. Not that I’m opposed to massive loot piles, it’s just a nice change of pace from what has become a standard in modern dungeon crawlers and ARPGs.

2014-09-28_00002

Want this tome? All you have to do is beat the game on the hardest mode.

Each character has an array of abilities with a unique style of play suited for its class. There may only be 4 classes to choose from, but none play at all alike. The Elf is a ranger with mostly ranged abilities and is well designed for speed and accuracy. The Valkyrie is probably the best balanced between melee and ranged attacks, with a rather Captain America style shield throw. The Wizard is the most interesting, as he has a spell combination system not unlike Magicka (makes sense, Arrowhead originally developed Magicka). You press two elements (Ice then Fire, for example) and it arms a particular spell to use, ranging from lightning bolts, and fireballs, to shields and freeze beams. As expected, he’s pretty handy for crowd control. The Warrior is unfortunately, the weakest character because he has only rather basic melee attacks, and this is a game where you do not want to be caught in the middle of a crowd. I honestly hope they decide to tweak him later on, as he is both somewhat boring and difficult to use compared to the others which seem far more thought out.

2014-09-28_00001

A PC exclusive designed to play best with a controller? Blasphemy!* *Sarcasm

A strange and immediately noticed feature is this title’s dedication to being played with a controller. As the developer currently has no plans™ to port to console, it does seem odd that such a game would lean heavily into controller support. However, with its co-op features implemented so well, it starts to make a lot of sense. It is indeed a rare game on PC which allows for simultaneous local and online co-op play. This would really only make sense by plugging a controller (or 4) into the same machine. Since most of the PC gamers I know have at least a Logitech F310 (the 510 and 710 are pretty great, as well) or something similar, it’s actually quite a welcome feature for quick and easy multiplayer Gauntlet.

The only snag is that you cannot drop into an already created game. All joining must be in the lobby. It’s something that could receive some attention in the future, but it’s certainly not a deal breaker at this point. Especially not with how fun co-op play is, which even throws in a few extra competitive elements, and compares your scores to others via leaderboards.

evolvingintoapenis

Some clever chaps even have names with "penis" in them.

Gauntlet is a return to classic dungeon crawling with just enough modern flare to bring it into the 21st century. It has that arcade machine appeal which is often lost on the PC audience. In an age where multiplayer gaming has become rather impersonal, it’s great to see co-op games which encourage you to play with friends rather than sit in sterile lobbies.

With a little bit of character balance tweaking (seriously, fix the warrior), and what would be an extremely welcome ability to drop-in to co-op play, this game nearly has the potential to bring back Gauntlet as a franchise. It’s tons of fun for a $20 game.

/gameon

2014-09-26_00001

P.S. Did you know that tips are shown during the loading screen?