Exploring the Final Frontier in Starpoint Gemini 2’s Alpha

Starpoint Gemini is a role playing space sim released back in 2010 to a mixed reception from critics. The sequel, Starpoint Gemini 2, is currently in alpha and is available for purchase as part of Steam Early Access. Like its predecessor, the game aims to blend tactical combat, role playing, and space exploration into one cohesive package. The game is definitely still in a very early stage of development, but there is certainly potential here for a great game.

Asteroids

The most appealing thing about Starpoint Gemini 2 at this moment is the great sense of freedom and exploration it offers. You are basically just given a ship and dropped in an open star system to explore and engage in activities as you see fit. The system is filled with planets, space stations, asteroid fields, friendly and hostile ships, plus plenty of opportunity to earn money. As you fly around, you’ll be met with opportunities to take missions, and this is where the early state the game is in starts to become apparent.

The mission variety, at least at this point, is a bit lacking. During our time with the game, we only encountered a handful of different types of missions, basically either amounting to delivering a person or cargo from place to another, defeating an enemy or group of enemies, or traveling to a location and scanning an anomaly. The lack of mission variety is certainly understandable at this stage in the game’s development, but one would hope this is something that is expanded upon as the game nears a full release. In addition the exploration elements, the game also has some fairly significant RPG mechanics. The most apparent one of these is the character leveling system, which works exactly how you’d expect. As you complete missions, defeat enemies, or perform a variety of smaller tasks (such as mining asteroids), you gain experience towards leveling up the captain of your ship. This grants access to combat abilities (which work on a cool-down) and perks (which grant a variety of bonuses).

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On the topic of combat, it’s interesting but lacking in depth. When you enter combat, the only real strategy appears to be to simply shoot all available weapons at the enemy and manage your positioning. Some weapons are mounted on specific sides of the ship and can only fire in a certain direction, but other than that the strategy that seems to win out most of the time basically amounts to using your abilities when available and just continue firing. The game does have a mechanic where you can divert power and manage distribution between shields, weapons, and propulsion, which adds a slight wrinkle, but doesn’t mix up things up all that much. The combat is perfectly serviceable, it just isn’t especially exciting.

In addition to missions and combat, you also have the opportunity to engage in some money making activities. The most obvious is mining asteroids, which is a simple process. The ores and materials you collect from asteroids can then be sold at planets or space stations for money. The materials you get from asteroids are especially valuable, but it’s 100% profit, so there no risk. If you want risk, you can try your hand at trading. Basically, various goods and commodities have different values in different locations, so you can buy low in one location and then travel to another to sell high. Until you’ve taken note of prices at various locations, it’s impossible to know where you should buy and where you should sell, so it takes careful planning and observation to make the most of this system. Again, it’s not a very deep or compelling game mechanic, but it’s presence give the game some substance and variety.

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So once you make money, what do you do with it? Well, you buy weapons, items, or even new ships. The ship you start with is fairly basic, and can only be upgraded to a certain degree. You can buy high end weapons or powerful one-time-use items, but you’ll only be able to expand the capabilities of your initial ship to a certain extent. If want a ship with a squadron of fighters or one with more than four slots for mounted weapons, you’re going to have to drop some money on a new ship. There are ships priced in a range you would be able to attain in few short hours, but if you want something worth investing in, you’re going to have to put some significant time in. It’s a shame that the ships you’d really want are so expensive, but it gives you a nice long term goal and can make the repetitive missions and money making tasks more meaningful.

Some aspects of Starpoint Gemini 2, like the visuals, seem like something you’d find in a final release, while others will  hopefully be expanded upon as the early access period moves forward. One aspect of the game that absolutely must be improved as soon as possible is the its performance. The game hitches up far too often, usually during what appear to be frequent loads, as its streams in new areas during gameplay. When you are traveling at maximum speed, you can expect these hitches multiple times a minute, and it can get more than a little frustrating. Even more concerning, during our time with the game it locked up several times, sometimes crashing completely and other times only recovering after an alt-tab to the desktop. Yes, this game is in alpha and these things are to be expected, but money is being charged for it right now, and it’s in a dubious state of playability due to these frequent crashes.

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There is a lot about Starpoint Gemini 2 that just screams potential, and it has the framework for an addicting and engaging space sim experience. In its current state, however, potential is really all it is. Luckily, the game is still in alpha, and there is every possibility that it could reach greatness by the time the game hits version 1.0. Still, as the game stands right now, it’s an interesting sandbox experience with not a whole of compelling things to actually do in it and some glaring technical issues. As with most early access games, be aware that this is not yet a full featured game, and only throw down your money if you’re interested in being a part of the development process.

  • DarthVater

    I played first Starpoint and it was very interesting game, but I never got to good terms with it. This one I purchased a month ago and there are two main observations:
    1. it is vastly different than first game
    2. it is vastly better in everything (and it is only alpha)
    In fact, I don’t remember many games in the last decade that made such a stunning jump in quality from sequel to sequel. And early access players accepted this and forged a very active and supportive community. Hell, there is a mass effect mod almost ready on moddb – even before final release of the game! Great work!