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Friday, June 14, 2024

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Review: Starpoint Gemini 2 (Steam)

This is a review I’ve been planning for months. Why? Simply because the Starpoint Gemini 2 key that came into my possession was part of a clever and generous marketing campaign which promoted Starpoint Gemini Warlords. In other words, developer Little Green Men Games offered their second Steam project, free of charge to anyone who wanted to added it to their collection, during a certain time frame. Thousands of Steam users linked the game and obviously, half of my own list of Steam friends. I appreciated the gesture and delayed or not, my review for Starpoint Gemini 2 is finally here. I will compare it to Warlords on some occasions but I fully intend to highlight the series’ strengths even before the 3rd and so far, latest iteration was released. One thing became clear from the start: LGM is a developer that takes user feedback and transforms it into gameplay features, fixes and additions.

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As a direct sequel to Starpoint Gemini, veteran players may already be familiar with Gabriel Faulkner. A former space station commander and agent of the Gemini League, Gabriel is briefly introduced in Starpoint Gemini 2, before his untimely death that would prove to be a catalyst to a mystery of epic proportions and deadly consequences across the Gemini star system. Players shall assume control of Adrian Faulkner, Gabriel’s son and heir to a modest trade fleet from which only a gunship survived the aforementioned assassination near Planet Trinity. Adrian begins his journey in the Trinity Free States, but he’ll soon be given a choice: either follow in his late father’s footsteps and also find his killers in the process during the Campaign Mode or abandon his past contacts and allegiances while attempting to make a name for himself in the Freeroam Mode.


I may even compare Starpoint Gemini 2 with Freelancer (space simulation masterpiece from 2003), since they prove similar from a gameplay perspective at least. But I really appreciate that players can access Freeroam within 15 minutes of starting the game, as opposed to Freelancer’s case where you had to see the entire storyline through before being offered a “clean slate” in regards to all in-game factions and sheer freedom of opportunities and choices. So you could essentially go straight for the space pirate/smuggler career and join the factions that are normally hostile during the Campaign missions. I’d still recommend you play through the story first, since it proves to be a comprehensive introduction onto a title that is very thorough. The map is huge so you’ll probably spend a dozen hours just exploring it while the multitude of side missions and freelancing (even smaller odd jobs) ensure that not a single dull moment shall be in sight.

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Starpoint Gemini 2 uses Whale Engine 2.0 which is proprietary to LGM. A developer who crafted and upgraded their own graphics engine over time, I’m certain that I don’t have to explain the kind of dedication that this tasks requires. Since it shares its “DNA” so close to Warlords, I guess that I shouldn’t have been surprised that 4K@60fps was not a feasible option. I didn’t wish to run the game close to 30 frames per second so I decided to accept playing in 2K resolution and thus I was spared of any further frame rate issues. The graphics themselves are gorgeous and the loading times (both textures and in general) were fast by SSD standards. It’s a 2014 release, not very old even by IT&C notions and the game can be also enjoyed on less powerful systems since it has a long list of graphical options which can be tweaked to accommodate anything from budget laptops to “beastly specced” workstations.

I would have liked to say that I never ran across a crash to desktop, but sadly one of these gaming banes occurred right during the process of saving the game. A nasty affair, but I was fortunate that the autosaves didn’t force me to backtrack too much. Save your game progress frequently and especially before starting either a main mission or secondary one. The freelancing errands seem to spawn randomly based on your in-game level and reputation. They disappear just as inexplicably as they pop on the map and vanish if you load a previous save file. Early game, they are your main source of income since even trading will require that you buy an initially expensive freighter. The ability to hide the entire HUD (which is feature and detail rich by the way) for screenshots, really pleased me. If only more games would integrate this option…

The soundtrack and the voice acting never gave me any issues. They aren’t repetitive or lacking in quality. Not all dialogue scenes feature recorded lines over the displayed subtitles but when they do, the actors sound convincing enough even if there are some funny situations, such a bald Caucasian man which speaks in a Jamaican accent of English. Rastafari or not, he offered me a good laugh. As for the OST, I was more busy running errands and earning credits than to sit back and listen closely.

As in the case of most space sims, the gameplay is the true highlight and not the narrative. When you’re given the option to ignore the story altogether and carve your own name however you see fit, you know that you’ll have a lot to see and do, even outside some scripted missions. If you played any similar games from this genre, you know that shooting down other ships is only a small part of the overall experience. Exploration and trading are also genre staples but the Starpoint Gemini series raised the stakes by throwing business and fleet management into the equation. You won’t become a manager of a space station or command several ships as soon as you could in Starpoint Gemini Warlords, but by taking things more slowly, Gemini 2 is more in tune to Freelancer. Is it a good thing though? I can’t say for certain, but I know that I’m not a big fan of grinding.

Earning credits in the first few hours of the Campaign, won’t be hard but rather dreary. If you think that you can save up just enough for a decent freighter and that you’ll soon be swimming in credits from trading, you’re wrong. Short routes don’t net much of a profit, not to mention that the commodity prices seem to both fluctuate and are not very intuitively displayed. You have to navigate through several menus most of the time, from price checking to setting up an itinerary which won’t end in your ship being blown up by pirates. As I mentioned already, you seem to have quite a large number of sworn enemies and faction, before you’ll even leave the tutorial phase. Fast travelling across the map, is costly since the series’ titular T-Gates place a hefty fee which would only strain your dwindling budget past an acceptable threshold.

On the upside, once you’re a highroller, the Gemini star system is your oyster. You’ll be able to choose between 70 ships of various design, shape or power and then proceed to customize them further by re-naming and adding a personalized symbol that might also double as your company logo. Can’t fully repaint the ships though, but perhaps it’s for the best. Pink dreadnoughts are the last thing you’d want to see in a serious simulation. It will take a lot until credits are no longer an issue. In the same amount of time I already managed my faction’s war efforts (fleets AND space station plus auxiliary platforms) in Gemini Warlords, I was barely able to afford my second ship in Starpoint Gemini 2. In Warlords I had already bought and switched five ships, each bigger than the previous one.

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Just be aware that it requires an extra effort and time invested in the game, before it blossoms to its full potential. I’m sure it’s worth it in the end, but I still have a lot to experience, before I’ll be able to say that the game has nothing new to offer. I dislike grinding and I feel like it’s totally unnecessary in a massive space simulation like Starpoint Gemini 2. At the same time, playing with money cheats or trainers, is beneath me and I have shunned that practice for many years already. Game progression must be as natural as the title allows it. I will get to the bottom of the storyline and even dabble in its DLCs. All in due time. As for the negative reviews it keeps receiving as of lately, I shall refrain from speaking my mind on the moral integrity of those which took LGM’s gift and then proceeded to nitpick and wholeheartedly complain about it, with or without reason. Gamers.

All the screenshots you see above, have been taken by me in-game through the Steam Overlay.

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