Starpoint Gemini is a laborious space simulation for the PC. There's some benefit to sticking with it despite the numerous slow moments, but you have to be in the right state of mind to want to play the game. Coming off of a "Star Trek" marathon might not be a bad idea, as the game certainly evokes the classic TV show a few times. However, I'm hard-pressed to suggest this game to anyone outside of a very specific group of individuals who might enjoy this very niche genre of role-playing games.
Starpoint Gemini puts you in control of a starship and her captain fresh out of a stasis field that you've unwittingly been trapped in for over two decades. Being plucked from stasis reveals a world that isn't the one you remember. Various warring factions have changed and made way for new governments and new conflicts. The entire state of the known galaxy has undergone some serious renovations, and your previously powerful little vessel isn't up to par with even the lowliest of space scum. That's just the start of your worries.
You'll group up with a number of NPCs over hours and hours of galaxy traversal, using your mouse to point out the direction you'd like to go. This isn't entirely a free-roaming space sim; you can only move along a 2-D plane in a 3-D space, so there are no up and down movements here. The space you get to explore is pretty vast, and it's filled with random stuff to check out and enemies to fight.
One of the bigger and best components of the game is the exploration. There are a lot of optional things to see and do, like exploring abandoned derelict spacecrafts for possible materials or modules to outfit your ship. If you're a little short on funds, you can mine local asteroid fields for various materials and sell your cargo at large space stations for profit. While there, you might take on a few new crew members, which will provide various stat bonuses to your ship's performance. You might pick up a few new modules, which are devices that can enhance your ship and add abilities like an all-too-useful cloaking device.
Starpoint Gemini isn't all exploration and peace, though; you'll spend a fair amount of time hunkered down in space combat. The combat takes on a naval approach in that you're constantly trying to position your shields against enemy firepower. The shields for your vessel are divided into four sections: back, front, left and right. There are a number of visible layers that peel away with every shot, and once your shields are dropped completely, it's not long before you'll explode and restart at your previous save.
Combat is challenging, perhaps a little more so than I'd like. It's borderline punishing at the onset of the game, so you're forced to pick your battles wisely. It involves a bit of trial and error to see how tough some opponents actually are. The game puts some emphasis on potential diplomacy by giving you the option to hail opposing ships, but more often than not, they'll just shoot at you. The controls can get a little aggravating since you're restricted to 2-D space; the way your ship turns isn't always the way you intended, whether you opt for mouse control or the WASD keys.
Combat is also very involved, and the user interface doesn't do a great job of streamlining your options. You'll be able to redirect power to a variety of systems, like shields and weapons, but the gains you receive don't seem to be very noticeable. Also, you can opt to initiate repairs on various systems, but again, those repairs are slow and often not as quick as just hightailing it back to a space station and spending cash for a quick heal.
Then there are the issues I have with the story — or voice acting, to be more precise. Every male character, and most of the female characters, has a very strong, European accent that sounds odd and borderline comical in its delivery, even though it's clearly meant to be taken seriously. The male characters all sound identical, which isn't helped by the limited portraits so they all look like the same guy, except with a mustache or a pair of glasses. There's a lot left to be desired in the sound design, and I think it would have been better to ax the voice acting completely.
Thankfully, the soundtrack isn't half-bad, but it gets a little repetitive. There's a certain Angelus feel to the music that seems a little like "Blade Runner," which I love, and it certainly fits the game's space vibe.
Graphically, Starpoint Gemini won't light the PC world on fire, but the open-world galaxy looks pretty good. The ships are a little generic and don't stand out well next to one another, although the game sports 50 or more designs. Also, adding modules does little to affect the visual style of your ships, and since your ship is the primary representation of your character for most of the game, a little more visual customization would have been nice. The asteroid, lighting, planets and space station all look pretty good. It feels very sim-like when you start to advance into some of the more secluded sectors, only to make your way toward another space station and see the ship traffic start to pick up. It handles the overall galaxy design pretty well.
However, it's not particularly fun to play. There are a ton of different systems to learn, all of which get revealed through an extremely lengthy — but helpful — tutorial. I tried skipping over the tutorial when I failed it, but after a few minutes in the main game, I was scratching my head, so I jumped back into the tutorial and toughed it out. The tutorial featured a floating head that babbled incredibly long and boring sentences about the different game mechanics. It's enough to be off-putting right out of the gate, and it didn't bode well for the rest of my experience.
When you finally take off the training wheels, the game rarely picks up speed. There's not much urgency to anything you do in the game, even when it pertains to the main plot. Characters speak with little to no emotion, quest text is as bland as it is informative, and the battles hardly feel exciting or dynamic even when you're participating in them. You spend a lot of time poring over various stats that are poorly explained in game, and you wonder if you made a mistake spending points on a skill when you're not entirely clear what it actually does.
Starpoint Gemini has some great ideas and concepts, but it lacks the budget and vision to really drive home those ideas. There's a lot of polish that needed to be heaped upon a game of this scope, and it clearly wasn't done. Even if you find yourself enjoying a more laid-back space simulator or RPG, I think you'll have a hard time keeping your eyes open for this game. There are better space-themed titles on the PC that are more worthy of your time and attention, so I'd urge you to look elsewhere for your space RPG fix.
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