Some Thoughts On Starpoint Gemini

Little Green Men Games’ tactical space RPG Starpoint Gemini has been out for a few weeks now, and it’s been high on my list of priorities for examination. I don’t feel like I’ve played anything like enough of this (just a few hours) to warrant a full on verdict, but I still wanted to get some impressions down, because it’s a fairly interesting game. Read on for some thoughts on this space oddity.

What I should point out, before you get too excited by the screenshots, is that this is not an Elite style space game in the sense that you pilot your own ship freely in space. The world is essentially 3D on a flat 2D plane, and the ships are controlled externally, in a manner similar to Eve Online. You click in the direction you want to go, set the speed, and so on. It’s all in real-time, and it is a big, open, living world, but it is very definitely abstract, and certainly more like an RPG than your traditional fly-about-in-space game. If it’s an Elite-style game at all, then it’s in the capacity to upgrade ships, and to get up to your own devices along Starpoint Gemini’s many space lanes.

Your capacities in the world are a mixture of the nature of the ship you are in, and the character you play, and the range of possibilities for that combination is enormous. There are fifty ships in total, and each of these can fitted out with a huge range of modules – sensors, shields, grapples, blasters, railguns, torpedos, mining equipment, and on and on. A host of menus provide you with the capacity to fiddle with all kinds of variables and aspects of your craft. This variety should give you a hint of the kind of game Starpoint Gemini is trying to be: a real-time space captain RPG, essentially. Combat reflects this level of complexity by being a tactical game of naval-style positional engagement. Getting the enemies on the optimal side of your shields, and avoiding being blasted to bits because you were outflanked, is at the heart of the fighting part of the game. There’s a strong whiff of Star Trek in the options here – having to send power to shields, or engines, and so on. This is very much a game about you being at the helm of a complex starship, and that theme is reflected throughout the possible activities that the game presents you with. For example, you can occasionally scan, board, and loot a derelict spacecraft. This all happens with you watching your starship, but a little video of your crew exploring the ship and find the cargo plays out in the corner of the screen. You are not alone.

You can also interact with pretty much any entity in the game world. While some ships will simply attack you, others can hailed and conversed with, or – as mentioned – explored and salvaged.

And there’s plenty of salvage going about. Starpoint Gemini is set within a story of galactic calamity. The region of space you are in has been at war with the Earth-based overlords, and was finally cut off, with apocalyptic consequences. The closing of the connecting wormhole ended up throwing many ships into “stasis” for decades, and you are one of those suspended pilots, returning to a world of European accents and drastic changes. From there you face thirty scripted missions through a story of political intrigue and power-mongering, with plenty of room for developing your character along a number of lines, and for general messing about in the margins of space. You can even choose to start off playing with an entirely open scenario, rather than the main, scripted campaign, allow you to simply pootle about in the “living” world that the game provides. Of course this kind of “become a pirate, or a trader” sort of options are pretty par for the course of space sims, but from what I have played so far I suspect that there is far more RPG-like depth to to SPG than you might otherwise expect. There seem to be so many skills, and so many ship-native abilities, that you’re going to discover some pleasing depth to all the non-curricular activities you get up to in the game, and craft tactics quite unique to yourself. Aside from everything else, there’s a rich space to explore and play around in, and that’s the kind of game design I can agree with.

It’s not exactly going to be sliding smoothly into a game of the year spot, however. There are some rough edges in terms of accessibility – the tutorial is long and laborious and, amazingly, can actually be failed, kicking you back to the menu screen. Some of the battles rapidly become too difficult, as the tactical combat is not entirely straightforward, particularly against multiple opponents. Don’t forget to save, as there’s no quick or auto-save function to lean on, either. You will find yourself replaying missions unless you are punctual with the saves. There are also some little annoyances like the length of the docking sequence – which happens in world, in-engine – and the fact that you can be attacked while control is our of your hands.

Nor is this the most visually stylish game. It’s all shiny and pretty, but really the presentation, in both the world and the UI, is fairly old fashioned and unremarkable. The lighting and palette is undramatic, and the ship designs could have emerged from any space game in the past 15 years. The music, too, was best replaced with some Tim Hecker for improved atmospherics. All that said, I can see why Starpoint Gemini has impressed a few people who persisted with it over the Christmas break. There’s a lot there, and the appeal of just living out the life of a roaming spaceman never really loses its lustre. Worth a look, then, just don’t be expecting a masterpiece. I’ll be interested to hear what some of you guys will make of this. (Although I’d certainly suggest buying Precursors before this!)

UPDATE: Done some more spacing about. It’s rather slow, and I am already tiring of the combat. Not enough drama here.


  1. Javier-de-Ass says:

    second paragraph explanation, aka it’s somewhat like the star wolves series. spaceship rpgs!

    • Rich says:

      Lets hope the dialogue is better though. Starwolves 2 sounds like they just got some people in off the street, thrust the script in their hands and asked them start reading.

      Is the story actually any good Jim? I’m in need of a single-player EVE, and was rather hoping this would to the trick.

    • Jim Rossignol says:

      The story seems… weak.

    • Javier-de-Ass says:

      star wolves 3 civil war (or star wolves 2 civil war in russia) was a big improvement in this regard. I’ve been replaying it recently (last week) and it’s really really great. very hyped for star wolves 3 ashes of victory (the proper star wolves 3 in russia).

  2. RaytraceRat says:

    I really wanted to like that game. I was a huge fan of Elite:Frontier on the Amiga.
    But the tutorial… I mean… the HORROR. Its so boring. And this is not really a 3d game – everything is on a flat plane, and you can’t even move camera much. I bet there is a nice game somewhere inside that box, but it tries really hard to hide.

  3. daphne says:

    “What I should point out, before you get too excited by the screenshots, is that this is not an Elite style space game in the sense that you pilot your own ship freely in space.”


  4. Pew says:

    Surely all those pieces that get blasted off the ship when it gets hit would make up at least three full ships?

  5. Andy`` says:

    There’s a strong whiff of Star Trek in the options here – having to send power to shields, or engines, and so on. This is very much a game about you being at the helm of a complex starship, and that theme is reflected throughout the possible activities that the game presents you with.

    Funny that, because from the video it looks just like the Starfleet Command games, but since the SFC games were pretty much all combat I can see the appeal of taking a game like that and adding more RPG elements (or, making it more Star Trek).

    Whether or not that’s the intention, the idea interests me. But that flight model is over a decade old now and it was ropey to begin with. I can’t convince myself that it will be fun, just an interesting experience. Hmm

    • Urael says:

      I played Starfleet Command III for the first time last summer and loved it. That no-one else ‘borrowed’ the control scheme they designed is something of a shame as it worked very well in giving you all the options of a complicated starship, clearly presented and easily accessible.

      That SPG borrows these elements is A Good Thing, imo.

    • kirkbjerk says:

      Reminds me of a similar game from way back…. Independence War, and as I recall it was a well recieved game.

    • QuantaCat says:

      STO is rather similar in control scheme to SFC. Much more forgiving and MMO-y though.

  6. jon_hill987 says:

    I was hoping for a new Freespace type game…

  7. opel says:

    Looks too much like DarkStar One… Which was terrible.
    Not sure why anyone would assume a space game like this would be anything like Elite. There hasn’t been anything similar to Elite for the past 13 years or so.

  8. Sergey Galyonkin says:

    So, is it anything like Space Rangers?

    • roBurky says:

      This is the question I was asking throughout the article.
      The bit about scripted missions suggests not, but then Jim mentions a living world after that.

  9. Jimbo says:

    Nexus – The Jupiter Incident is worth a look if you want something similar (?) to this.

    • Zanchito says:

      Nexus – JEI is an awesome game. I’ve never played anything that made you feel more of a starship commander.

    • luckystriker says:

      Thanks for the heads up. Checking it out now.

    • Maykael says:

      I am appalled that I did not know this existed. Thanks for the heads up guys!

  10. Baggypants says:

    So it’s Asteroids the RPG.

  11. Urael says:

    To follow up on Jim’s comments, Little Green Men Games have been very very good at responding to the bugs reported by the SpaceSimCentral community (LGMG don’t maintain their own forums). There have been six pushed out since last December and many more are promised. They’re also apparently keeping an eye on feature requests…

    Also, when Gamersgate first released the game their own DRM implementation meant that no-one could get the game running, so within two days of release both LGMG and GG had decided to strip DRM completely from the title in order to get the game running. That’s a commendable attitude from both companies.

  12. Wulf says:

    Hm. The ships don’t have wings. +1 for ship design in that game, then. I always failed to understand why a spaceship should have wings unless they’re actually planning on entering planetary atmospheres with the same ships, but perhaps I’m just being an idiot. I will admit to the fact that I don’t exactly know a lot of how this works, but the spaceships in Star Trek always made more sense to me.

    Freelancer had good ships for some of the factions, too. And some of them were purposefully hilarious. I actually kind of miss games like Freelancer, space games that didn’t take themselves too seriously. I mean, it had ships that were fish. There were British fish ship shops. One of them was even this giant whale thing. Aside from the obvious pun, I’m not sure why Britain in the Freelancer Universe embraced ships that were fish, but it was wonderful, and entirely eccentric, I loved those ships and didn’t want to part with them.

    Of course, Freelancer was silly through and through, their space military even wore custodian helmets.

    I want more silly space games like Freelancer.

    Anyway, sorry for the random tangent.

    • Eplekongen says:

      Just a little bit on the wing thing. A spaceship don’t need aerodynamic wings. But it could very well need wings in general. It’s for agility, the further away the turn thrusters are from the center of gravity, the faster they will be able to turn the ship.

      I agree though, most sci-fi spaceship designs are just imitations of atmosphere designs with no real thought behind function.

  13. The Army of None says:

    Freelancer was SO GOOD. I want Freelancer and Star Control to mix together to form a brilliant hybrid.

    • Vinraith says:

      I recall finding Freelancer intriguing, but staggeringly difficult. I suppose I never got the proper hang of combat, as the game seemed to become unplayably hard before you even got out of “American” space for me.

  14. Zombat says:

    I wonder if there are any mods for X3 to make it more RPGish, extra ship customizations mainly