Starpoint Gemini is a hybrid RPG/tactical sim developed by Little Green Men and published by Iceberg Interactive, it does the tactical sim part alot better than the rpg bit, but more on that later. For a small developer the task of creating a space RPG is likely pretty daunting but in my experience Starpoint seems to manage the things that you might expect to be a challenge, while falling short on a few things you might expect a smaller developer to deliver.
There’s just one mode available to you, which in itself isn’t an issue but does cut any foreseeable replay value down a whole lot. The story mode starts with a well thought out though slightly slow paced tutorial. The tutorial is well done though, all things considered; it takes you through the basics of your ship, the interface and combat in a concise manner. I did have a couple of seemingly random failures of the tutorial where I was ‘dishonourably discharged’ — I’m not quite sure why this happened but this aside the tutorial does what you need in preparing you to get into the story itself.
Starpoint Gemini centres on you, captain Jared Hunt, and your ship the Amargosa (you can customise your character if you wish but I chose to stick with the original). The story has a slightly complicated start but basically you’ve been extracted from a stasis rift in the game’s present day. Your captain still believes that you’re 20 years in the past and fighting a now resolved war, however a new war has sprung up in the Gemini system. I must say I was pleasantly surprised by the quality of the storyline overall, though this starting point does raise an issue for me if you’re viewing Starpoint as an RPG. You’re meant to be Jared Hunt, who is at first bewildered by his new surroundings but as a player you have much more information about the present day and little about Jared’s past war. This isn’t a big problem for the story as a whole but when you want to connect with the character you’re playing in an RPG setting you’re left with very little ground to stand on. This small issue with the intro is symptomatic of a real issue when trying to play the game as an RPG, you’ll actually be playing the ship not the captain, but I managed just fine after getting my head around it, but in a way it doesn’t really live up to it’s billing as an RPG. Having said all that I did quite enjoy the story and the writing was enjoyable and moved the plot along nicely. Little Green Men are based in Croatia and one thing games designed in Eastern Europe are sometimes troubled by is a lack of any decent voice acting. However, Starpoint’s voice acting is pretty good. The characters are heavily accented but they really dont feel out of place in the space setting, I guess Eastern European accents in Space is a pretty standard sci-fi fare. Like I say, I enjoyed the story of Starpoint and the characters you encounter have a nice diversity of attitude toward you, being brought 20 years into the future you’d assume you’d be well received, but the ‘revenants’ (people extracted from stasis rifts) are often mistrusted or straight out hated.
The story is roughly 30 missions long but will probably get a bit tedious if you simply hammer through these missions one after another as there’s a lot of travel time. I think Starpoint Gemini can be best enjoyed if you punctuate the missions with what the game really does best — customising and adventuring with your ship. Starpoint Gemini offers a fantastic array of perks, upgrades and additions for you to check out on your ship. For example, as the captain, you level up and unlock different combat manoeuvres and stat upgrades, you can hire crew who each come with their own plus points, you can upgrade all the features of your ship (weapons, sensors, grappling beams etc) or you can trade in your old ship for a shiny new one ( I believe there’s in excess of fifty different ships available). Another nice thing about adventuring with your ship is you can choose how you wish to earn your credits and afford the upgrades you’re after. There’s money to be made mining from asteroids, salvaging from debris, completing side quests from the space stations scattered about the galaxy or even engaging in a little inter-galactic piracy. All in all a lot of little things that you can try to figure out which suits you best.
Combat is a major part of this game and all in all it’s pretty good. The tactics are fairly basic but effective nonetheless. When you target an enemy you’re presented with a small top down diagram of their ship. You can target specific systems to disable them more quickly, while measuring the damage taken to your ship by a similar diagram on the other side of the screen. You’ll also notice 4 shields surrounding your ship when you enter combat mode, and a key tactic to get to grips with is positioning your strongest shield to take the brunt of incoming fire. I must mention that you don’t have to just blast your way through everything, though, you can opt for stealth upgrades or attempt to board enemy ships. It’s a pretty straightforward system overall, but satisfying all the same. Taking a ship down with your newly upgraded primary weapon with only one shield and a badly damaged hull remaining will definitely bring a smile to your face. The controls also function well while in combat, though personally I’d have liked to see an option to customise hotkeys or just a few more hotkeys available — clicking buttons on an RPG-esque interface always feels a little clumsy. The camera causes the odd problem when outside of combat as targeting an object focuses on it, all well and good in combat when you’re turning your ship to make best use of your ship’s shields, but when you’re simply floating around in space on your way to your next destination, focusing the camera on everything you want to target can be a little annoying. I also found myself having to stop and spin the whole ship round if I wanted to make sure a friendly ship I was escorting was still in close proximity, only to spin another 180 degrees to continue on. It’s a minor point but I did find the camera a cause of frustration throughout playing.
All said and done though, I enjoyed Starpoint Gemini and would recommend giving it a go. It does take a little while to get going and I’d certainly not blame you if you found the travel times a bit laboured, but once you’re into the swing of things you can happily while away the hours; saving up for a new ship or a perk you’ve had your eye on or following the game’s well written story.