Starpoint Gemini 2 Review (XONE)

Starpoint Gemini 2 screen
Starpoint Gemini 2 screen. LGM Games
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I love the ID@Xbox program.  Sure, it means we get lots and lots of awful 2D platformers, but we also get games in niche genres like space sims that PC gamers have always said won't work on consoles.  Well, we've played a fair few now and space sims seem to be right at home on Xbox One so far.  The latest is Starpoint Gemini 2, a surprisingly accessible entry that has you amassing a fleet of ships to take on the galaxy.

  The game world is incredibly dense (no long expanses of nothingness here) with lots to do, the controls are easy to grasp, and the visuals and sound are stunning.  If you're looking for a less hardcore entry to get your first taste of space sims on consoles, Starpoint Gemini 2 is well worth a look.

Game Details

  • Publisher:  Little Green Men Games
  • Developer: Little Green Men Games
  • ESRB Rating: “T" For Teen
  • Genre: Space Sim
  • Pros:  Awesome visuals and sound; accessible gameplay; lots to do
  • Cons:  Ship upgrade menus; framerate dying every time you enter new area

Modes

Starpoint Gemini 2 has two modes - a story mode that eases you into the universe and introduces characters and the various factions and teaches you how to play the game, and also a free roam mode where you just jump in and do whatever the heck you want.  You can also free roam between missions in the story mode and do what you want there as well.

  The story isn't particularly good, but it is a good idea to learn the gameplay basics there before you jump into free roam.

Gameplay

Starpoint Gemini 2 is an open world sandbox where you're free to travel pretty much wherever you want.  The galaxy you're in isn't exactly huge - it takes less than 25-minutes to travel from one side to the other - but it is incredibly dense.

  There are planets and stars and nebulas and space stations and asteroid fields and worm holes and warp gates and tons of factions and ships flying everywhere.  You're never more than 30-seconds away in any direction from something interesting, which is just awesome.  There are lots of distinct areas of the map as well, despite it not being very big, so the thrill of discovery never fades.  There's always something new to see and do.  Granted, the way this is all set up is way too close together and isn't remotely realistic, but having a casual space sim option to go along with the "It takes hours to do anything"-style of Elite Dangerous is very much appreciated.     

The gameplay is a far cry from the hardcore sim-style of Elite Dangerous as well.  Instead, Starpoint Gemini 2 is a more arcade-style third-person game where the controls are surprisingly accessible.  You control your ship's speed with the triggers and fire your weapons with the bumpers.  You can manually maneuver your ship, or you can pick a point on the map and let autopilot do all the work.  Most of your time is spent exploring and doing missions, but when enemy ships approach the game shifts into combat mode.  In combat mode a ring appears around your ship showing your shields in each quadrant.

  Fighting enemies involves getting into the proper position to actually fire your weapons at them (weapon loadout and layout varies from ship to ship and how you choose to customize things) while keeping intact shields between you and your enemies.  There are also special abilities and consumable items you can use to boost your shields and do other things.

It seems somewhat complicated, but all of the controls are handled by radial menus accessed with the X button or the menu button on the Xbox One controller.  These radial menus let you tell your gunners specific areas of enemy ships to attack (systems, guns, anywhere), they let you activate your gapple beam to tow enemy ships (or keep them from escaping), access sensors to get info on targets, let you access fleet commands (because you do ultimately control a fleet of ships), and much more.

  Everything is surprisingly intuitive and the radial menus do a great job of transferring complicated controls from PC to consoles.

While the radial in-flight menus are wonderful, the standard menus when you dock with a space station are much less user friendly.  They're hard to use and very confusing, but this is how you buy new ships, buy new parts and weapons to upgrade ships, hire mercenaries and crew members, and more.  This aspect of the game - ship upgrades and customization - is surprisingly complicated and the game just throwing a million options and numbers at you with no context can get confusing.  You do learn what everything means eventually, but while the rest of the game is thoroughly streamlined and accessible, this aspect of ship management is there to remind you that this is still a space sim after all. 

Activities out in the galaxy are mostly aimed at making money.  You can take on a number of missions including rescuing other ships, assassinating specific enemy ships, transporting goods and people, and patrolling areas of the map.  You can also use your lasers to mine asteroids or derelict ships and sell the materials you collect.  There is also a bounty board with the galaxy's most wanted that you can try to hunt down as well, though they're all pretty high level so you can't tackle them for a while.  Everything you do, big or small, earns you XP that allows you to level up and apply new skill bonuses and perks. 

One major issue with the game is that every time you enter a new area on the map - which is split into 360 hexagonal-shaped areas - the framerate grinds to a halt for a couple of seconds.

  The map isn't huge, so traveling long distances across multiple boundaries like this result in the game pausing for a few seconds disappointingly often.  During normal flight it is an annoyance, but when it happens during combat and everything freezes for a second or two it is unbearable.  We can only assume that it is loading in the next area, but there has to be a better way to mask it than just grinding the gameplay to a halt every minute or so.  Hopefully an update is on the way to remedy this (and maybe tidy up the starport menus ...).

See other ID@Xbox sci-fi game reviews - Lifeless Planet, The Swapper, Strike Suit Zero, Rebel Galaxy

Graphics & Sound

Visually, Starpoint Gemini 2 is a really great looking game.  Little Green Men Games' version of space is bright and colorful fantasy instead of bleak and black reality, and we love it.  There are colorful nebulas all over the place that look spectacular and all of the planets and space ships and everything else glow nice and bright.  You can manually adjust the camera to zoom in and out on your ship and pan around in 360 degrees to get a better view of battles and it is very impressive.  The game just looks awesome.

The sound is very well done as well.  The weapon sound effects are tried and true "sci-fi", but little details like the hum of your ships engines outside of combat and the atmospheric dynamic soundtrack is really wonderful.  The music reminds me of Mass Effect, which is definitely a good thing.

Bottom Line

All in all, Starpoint Gemini 2 is a fine space sim in spite of a couple of annoying issues.

  It is a very accessible game with mostly intuitive controls that is easy to get into and start making progress right away, so if Elite Dangerous is too overwhelming for you then Starpoint Gemini 2 is a great option.  It looks totally gorgeous and the incredibly dense world means you're never too far away from something worthwhile.  It does cost a somewhat hefty $35, but there is a lot of content here that will keep you busy for a long, long time.  If you're interested in space sims or just want to play something different from the norm on your Xbox One, we highly recommend it for a purchase.