Review

Gemini Wars Review (PC)

You know it’s funny; you can play a game for so many hours and still not be able to make anything of it. This happens sometimes when you play as many videogames as I have, but I never expected it to happen with Gemini Wars. It’s not that it’s a bad game, but there are things about it that dampen the experience and it’s hard to really make a judgement call on how good this game really ‘is’. A bit of a debut title for developer Camel 101 (they’ve only really worked on social gaming before that), there’s bound to be a lot of implied pressure on this game to do well, and in a way that shows through in the game.

It’s a risky strategy for any studio, AAA or indie, to only release part of a game – if you remember from our preview, Camel and Iceberg Interactive’s plan is to just release the single-player portion of the game at launch, with a skirmish/comp-stomp mode and multiplayer to follow as free downloads sometime later. On the flip-side of that coin, the single-player experience is nothing to be sniffed at either – nothing really happens quickly in this game. Missions can easily take thirty minutes or more to complete, and since the game slowly unlocks gameplay features for you as you go along, there’s more to do and things in general get increasingly more engaging and interesting. This is a bit of a double edge sword though – on the one hand, there’s a good chance you’ll get good value for money, but on the other hand… nothing happens quickly in this game.

Friendly piece of advice – don’t try travelling through those gas clouds

Ship movement within the various zones is actually pretty cumbersome, especially on the larger ships. Naturally, being a game centred around resources, you have to also wait to build up your forces, and depending on the mission that may require you to fend off enemy attacks at the same time... that’s not to say we think it should change – it’s a challenge and a fairly good one at that, but if you spend half-an hour preparing an attack that then fails, it kind of spoils the mood somewhat. Despite this, much of what we said during the preview phase still holds true – the technology is actually really good, and the rendering engine brings the planets, stars and other celestial bodies to life as well as anything you could see in this genre. Some of the ship models leave a little to be desired, but the larger classes look very cool, especially at the higher resolutions.

The core gameplay has a mixture of elements from the likes of Homeworld, Sins of a Solar Empire, and others. You typically play on ‘maps’ that encompass part or all of a single system which is then divided into various zones. Planets, moons and large asteroid zones can be colonised and have bases built around them, and asteroid zones can have mining stations built for resources. Some maps in the single player game allow you to travel between whole systems, which requires special zones and special buildings on both sides for the transit to work – when the skirmish feature is implemented you’ll be able to scale maps how you like them, much like in Solar Empire. Travelling between zones requires the use of a jump drive, which all ships have to start with (although the range, speed etc... can be improved via research). Since travelling between zones can only be done along set paths, it’s easier to defend zones provided you place down enough turrets or leave enough ships behind.

The campaign itself actually does a good job of throwing a lot of different scenarios at you though; they don’t all involve building up and stomping anyone who’s not your friend. Some missions require you to defend something; the mission that involves gate travel is pretty good, as it brings more of a sense of exploration, and so on… the plot isn’t anything spectacular, but it gets the job done – two warring human factions suddenly discover that they’re not alone in the universe, and band together to repel this common enemy. It does the job, and as the game gets larger in scale and more complex, it does get more fun – the last mission especially is pretty good.

Internet spaceships are serious business

Sadly, Gemini Wars is not quite as technically proficient as we’d like, especially considering the delaying of the other parts of the game were meant to grant them enough time to polish this off. We cringed at every bug, every oddity that hampered the gameplay experience, not because we were upset ourselves, but because we can guess how the community at large will react. We noticed a bug where ships being built would get stuck during the ‘deployment’ animation, which would then stop you building anything else; we also noticed a bug where things you researched wouldn’t give you the promised effect, and a few others niggles as well. It’s one of those weird ones where we’ve seen far worse, but we’ve also had a lot better. A quick side note – Gemini Wars does have some light DRM – when you first get the game you have to go online to register the product with their servers, but then that’s about it.

As we’ve said elsewhere, with Ironclad bidding farewell to Sins of a Solar Empire for the moment, and with Sword of the Stars II still very much a work in progress, games like Gemini Wars are a welcome sight. Even here though, there’s still a bit of extra polish needed, not to mention, well, the rest of the game. If you like story and want to take yourself through the tale of the Gemini sector, then by all means give this game a go. If multiplayer or a less strict gameplay experience is your thing, then probably best hold off until they’ve finished up those sections. Still, not a bad start, and we hope to see more from these guys in the future.

Top Game Moment: Building your first Battleship or Carrier and sending into action. Now it’s ON.

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Comments

By herodotus (SI Herodotus) on May 30, 2012
herodotus
Disappointing, but not unexpected. Good review Joe,...I almost preordered it. But with "SoaSE: Rebellion" and "endless Space" on the way I think I'll save my cash.
By JustCommunication (SI Core) on Jun 01, 2012
JustCommunication
Yeah, with only half the game here I'd personally hold off from buying it. All indications point though to this being a worthy contender for the crown given a little bit more polish and the full MP/Skirmish features.

I mean it *looks* really good... they've got some really impressive rendering and effects going on for the environments... combat is more Sins-like in the sense that it's a bit slow and unexciting, but yeah, a good start, just needs a little bit more work.