Starpoint Gemini 2 is a direct sequel to Starpoint Gemini, which was released for PC back in 2010, developed by Little Green Men Games. It's described as a "space trading and combat simulator" which takes place in the Gemini system, a large area of various interlinked regions. There are upwards of 70 individual ships to pilot, which obviously become available as the player's rank increases throughout the missions. It is also possible to hire wingmen to increase your offensive and defensive capabilities, along with officers who bring various different perks with them.
The first choice the game poses on booting is whether to play Campaign or Freeroam mode. In Campaign mode, you're then tasked with choosing whether to be a Commander, a Gunner or an Engineer. Commander has perks that specialise in augmenting the fleet, Gunner upgrades your offense and Engineer is kind of a mix between the two, but with additional support skills. Being all about the fleet and for the greater good, we chose Commander for our first play. The story is presented via the medium of static pictures of a character, with a full voice over. It's a surprisingly retro presentation, but that doesn't detract from the story being told. The voice acting is a different matter, with deliveries on par with the original Resident Evil.
Taking on the role of Adrian Faulkner, son of Gabriel Faulkner, the story begins with your dad sending you off to fly to a nearby planet in your own little starship. While en route, all sorts of bad things happen to dear old dad, and you're are left alone with only a voice recording to tell you that you need to gather various bits of kit from Gabriel's old compatriots. After this, you have full control of our ship and your destiny as this game is, at heart, largely a sandbox experience. You're free to crack on with the campaign missions, or explore, or take on any of the various Freelance missions that dot the area of space that you're are in. These range from Assassination Contracts, to Smuggling, to Maintenance missions using the ship's built in "fix beam". These missions change over time, as they are deactivated and replaced with new random missions. We took on a few of these, flying to mining stations to mend them with the aforementioned "fix beam", shooting down bad guys and also attempting a couple of Ferry missions, which are essentially glorified delivery missions, where you pick up a VIP and take them where they wish to go. Sadly, here is where an issue with navigation in the game rears its head. As you fly from area to area, when you cross the threshold between zones, the game freezes. Not for very long, but just for long enough for you to ask "Has it frozen?" before control of the ship is restored. However, it does this also if you stray over a threshold during combat, which really kills the immersion.
Imagine trying to manoeuvre to get into position to hit the enemy with your heavy weapons, when the game just stops. If you're anything like us, you stop the directional input to see if the game responds... then the game starts to respond again while you're pressing in the wrong direction and you end up flying straight down the enemy's gun barrels. Many cheap-feeling deaths were had this way during our time with the game, and we couldn't help feeling that, in these particular cases, it really wasn't our fault. While we're on the subject of flying and fighting, there is a peculiar layout to the controls. The sticks control pitch and yaw, as you'd expect, but if you want to roll, you have to take one hand off a stick and use the D-pad instead. This leads to some interesting contortions as you try to stay on target, and will result in a dropped controller more than once in the middle of a hectic dogfight.
There is another fly in the ointment as well. When new missions become available or the story advances, it's not uncommon for the marker to be on the opposite side of the galaxy. So you set off, engage the auto pilot at full thrust, and are then left staring at the exhaust of your ship for an extended period as you get to where you're are meant to be. Quite often we had time to put the controller down, leave the room, answer the call of nature or make a brew, then stroll back into the room in time to pick up the controller and accept the mission. A book worked equally well for passing the time. As you work your way through the story and build up credits, you'll get the option of using T-Gates to jump to your destination's neighbourhood, but at a somewhat steep cost.
Another somewhat strange thing about the game comes when you look at the achievements list. Of the 26 achievements contained within, 14 of them reward you with zero Gamerscore. And not just the simple ones either. Things like shooting down 500 ships or causing 500,000 points of damage are rewarded with precisely 0G, whereas crashing into a planet (something that's fairly easy to avoid, even with fingers of butter and fists of ham) is rewarded with 100G. It doesn't cause an issue with the gameplay of course, but the setup just seems strange and overly quirky.
These (and other) issues can spoil the game to a degree, but if you push past them, the game opens up. The space vistas are nice to look at, while ranking your character up by doing missions enables perks to be unlocked which in turn makes you tougher, enabling you to take on harder missions for more XP and so on. Flying to space stations to make repairs to the ship also gives the opportunity to attach new and exciting weapons to the ship, or even buy a bigger, faster, tougher vessel altogether. As mentioned, you can hire officers to apply passive perks to the ship, or take on troops to be used in the boarding of other enemy ships. Add to this mining, looting derelicts and maintaining relationships with the other factions in the galaxy and you'll never be short of things to do. Of course, this is all without taking on the full sandbox experience of Freeroam Mode where you can just fly just where you want, when you want, and take on any persona you want. Space Pirate? Oh, go on then! In terms of content, the game is essentially good to go for months. That is, of course, if you can get past the freezes and other issues that turn up more often than they really should.
Starpoint Gemini 2 is a big game, with a lot to do and many missions to undertake. The somewhat unpolished nature of the grind won't be to a lot of people's taste. If you can look past the issues that we've raised in the review, can get past the somewhat steep £28 asking price and like space exploration, Starpoint Gemini 2 might be right up your space lane. It probably isn't going to drag many non-fans in, though.