Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Starpoint Gemini 2 Review (XONE)

The nice thing about the ID@Xbox program is that it gives niche games and genres that everyone says won’t work on consoles an opportunity to at least make an attempt instead of not trying at all.  Sure, it has meant we’ve had a lot of awful mobile games no one really wanted show up on Xbox One, but we’ve also had some real unexpected gems like Starpoint Gemini 2 make the jump as well.  PC gamers have been saying for years that space simulation games are too complex or demanding or whatever for consoles, but Starpoint Gemini 2 (and others) keep proving them wrong.  Check out all the details on Starpoint Gemini 2 on Xbox One here in our full review.

Game Details

  • Publisher: Little Green Men Games
  • Developer: Little Green Men Games
  • ESRB Rating: “T” for Teen
  • Genre: Space Sim
  • Pros: Looks gorgeous; accessible core gameplay; lots to do
  • Cons: Awful menus; framerate totally dying every couple minutes
  • MSRP: $35

Starpoint Gemini 2 offers both a story mode that as well as a free roam mode.  The story is nonsensical, but it does introduce the characters and factions that make this little slice of the galaxy tick, so it is a good idea to get your feet wet there for a while to learn how the game works before switching to free roam.  I prefer free roam because you can just do whatever the heck you want without getting nagged all the time, and in a game like Starpoint Gemini 2 that offers so many options and choices as to what to do next, being free to do what you want is definitely the way to go.

Starpoint Gemini 2 is an open world (galaxy) sandbox where you’re free to go wherever you want.  The galaxy isn’t exactly huge as it takes around 25 minutes to fly straight from one side to the other, but it is very densely packed with planets and stars and space stations and nebulas and all sorts of other stuff to keep you busy.  That means it obviously isn’t realistic whatsoever, but it also means that you’re never more than 30-seconds away from seeing / doing something awesome, which makes for a much better videogame.  Activities out in the galaxy include rescuing other ships, mining, assassinating specific enemy ships, taking on bounty hunting missions, and simply exploring and goofing off among other things. 

The gameplay in Starpoint Gemini 2, at least while you’re out in space, is a sort of arcade-style third-person combat with surprisingly accessible controls.  You control your ship’s speed with the triggers and fire your weapons with the bumpers.  Navigation is as simple as picking a point on the map and letting the autopilot fly you there, but you can also manually fly if you want.  And, of course, you manually fly around during combat.  During combat the game shifts to a “combat mode” where visual overlays appear around your ship that shows your shield strength on each quadrant.  The idea is to maneuver around so you can fire your weapons while keeping shields between you and your enemies. 

The core flight / combat controls are fairly simple, but doing other things gets a little more complicated.  All of the other controls are accessed via radial menus opened with the “X” and menu buttons on the Xbox One controller.  These menus let you target specific parts of enemy ships, turn on a grapple beam, activate sensors, access fleet commands (because, oh yeah by the way, you actually end up controlling a whole fleet of ships by the end) and more.  It can be somewhat confusing to have to press multiple buttons and go through radial menus to do stuff, but once you learn how everything works it isn’t too bad.  Not optimal, but not too bad.

What doesn’t work quite as well are the menus when you dock with a space station.  Docking at a station allows you hire crewmembers, buy new parts, upgrade your ship, and more, but the menus are just absolutely awful.  The upgrading and customization feature is very, very complicated compared to the rest of the game, and it just throws whole pages of numbers and stats at you with no context as to what any of it means.  You do eventually figure it out, but it is crazy how everything else is so streamlined and console-friendly while the upgrade system is so convoluted. 

Our only other major complaint is that the game’s performance regularly falters every time you enter a new region of space.  The map is split into 360 hexagonal-shaped areas and every time you cross from one area to another, the framerate grinds to a halt for a few seconds as the game is, apparently, loading the new area.  As we mentioned above, the map isn’t exactly huge, so you can cross these boundaries surprisingly often.  During normal flight it is an annoyance, but when it happens in the middle of combat it is absolutely infuriating. 

That performance issue aside, Starpoint Gemini 2’s presentation is pretty stunning overall.  This game’s version of space is bright and colorful and dense instead of having long stretches of realistic bleak and black nothingness and we totally dig it.  The game is gorgeous.  You have full control of the camera to pan around and zoom in and out so you can soak it all in, too, which is awesome.  The sound is pretty spectacular as well with great sound effects and a soundtrack that will instantly remind you of Mass Effect (one of the best sci-fi soundtracks around). 

Starpoint Gemini 2’s closest competition on Xbox One is RebelGalaxy, so if you’re choosing between the two here’s a quick comparison.  Starpoint Gemini 2 is more sim-like and has much, much better visuals while Rebel Galaxy is a little faster and more immediately accessible with more of a focus on combat.  Rebel Galaxy also costs less.  I might prefer Rebel Galaxy a touch, personally (that rocking soundtrack), but both games are very good. 

Starpoint Gemini 2 has a couple of issues, but nothing so major it should stop anyone interested in it from taking a look.  It is gorgeous looking, which makes exploration very satisfying, and the thrill of commanding a fleet of ships is something other space sims on Xbox One can’t offer.  At $35 it is a little on the expensive side, but there are dozens of hours of gameplay here if you get hooked.  If you’re interested in space sims on Xbox One, Starpoint Gemini 2 is worth a look.

Disclosure: A review code was provided by the publisher.