Starpoint Gemini – Review

Title   Starpoint Gemini
Developer  Little Green Men Games
Publisher  Gamers Gate (digital distribution), Iceberg Interactive (retail)
Platform  PC
Genre  Real-time Tactical RPG, Space Trading & Combat Sim
Release Date  15th December 2010 (digital), 25th March 2011 (retail)

Space exploration, trading and combat sims used to be a common and popular genre between the end of the 1980s and the turn of the century, but these games have been in decline in recent years with fewer examples being released. Those that have come out have met little fanfare outside of online communities focused on the genre, tend to have been developed in Eastern European countries (then translated, with varying results, into English), and are generally aimed at the budget priced games market; the most notable of these being games like Darkstar One (which Richie reviewed last year when it was re-released on the Xbox 360) and StarWolves, which have a distinct whiff of citrus about them.   It’s been a spectacular fall from grace for the entire genre.

Back in the day, these games ranked very highly amongst my favourites, with thousands of hours sunk into titles such as Freelancer, Elite, X2 and X3, and those based on the Star Trek franchise, namely Starfleet Command and Bridge Commander. I still have a great fondness for Freelancer and X2, when nostalgia for wandering the expanse of space with just a ship and a sense of wonder takes over and inspires me to replay them.  I had missed the digital download release of Starpoint Gemini at the end of last year, due to the limited exposure it received, but was recently offered the opportunity to give it a look,  due to its recent retail release courtesy of Iceberg Interactive.

When you first select new game, the player is asked to name and customise the appearance of the main character, and is then given a choice of three scenarios: the tutorial, the main story campaign, and an epilogue campaign that follows on from the events of the main story. Character customisation has a comprehensive range of features, allowing you to change just about anything about the way your character looks, but it feels somewhat superfluous as, throughout the game, you only control your ship, with your character appearing as a small non-animated portrait image during conversations with other captains, enemies and starbases. Also, anyone wishing to play as a female character is going to be disappointed, as you can only create a male captain. The main advantage to customising your character rather than simply using the default is in changing the initial character perk, which offers bonuses to different aspects of the gameplay such as combat or trading.

New players will want to start with the tutorial, as the controls for some of the specialised functions of your ship aren’t very intuitive (the V key as the default for docking with stations, for example). Once you’ve been familiarised with the control scheme and more or less memorised which keys do what, it’s not that difficult, though you might still find yourself pausing the game and going into options to look up certain little-used functions from time to time as the need for them arises later in the campaign.

Flying your ship seems very limited in comparison to the majority of these games; as Spock remarked to Kirk whilst battling the USS Reliant during Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, the thinking here is very two dimensional. You’re restricted to a level plane, with no control over your ship’s pitch or elevation, robbing the space setting of its inherent 3D nature and the player of a lot of freedom, especially during battles. Navigation is basic in other ways too, with the WASD keys controlling forward and reverse velocity and yaw control, and left clicking the mouse over an object of interest or an empty patch of space serving as a clumsy way of telling your ship which heading to take. Despite this, there is a lot of other stuff you need to do, micro-managing other systems such as shields and weapons and sensors and so on, so that the overall feeling, whilst flying your ship, is one of barely constrained chaos and frustration. It’s all too easy to get confused and press the wrong key, as the game wants you to play it as the captain rather than the helmsman of a starship, but still forces you to do the flying. It’s a bit like trying to play two completely different songs on the same piano at the same time.

The last time I played one of these games that was so limited in terms of control over your ship was, ironically, the original Star Trek Starfleet Command. Actually, much of Starpoint Gemini’s game design seems to be lifted wholesale from that title, especially the in-flight HUD, right down to identical representation of ship shields as a disjointed double hexagon around your vessel that changes from green to red as enemy vessels damage them. Considering Starfleet Command was released in 1999, 11 years before this game, and was considered to be flawed even then by some critics, that’s not good.

The story during the main campaign similarly smacks of a watered down and recycled Star Trek plot. Your character and his ship were trapped in a spatial anomaly and held in suspended animation outside of the flow of time at the height of a massive war between the Gemini League and the oppressive Colonial Directorate. 20 years later he’s released by a science vessel, convinced that only minutes have passed and unaware that the war has ended and that his previously state-of-the-art ship is now a piece of junk that stands about as much hope in a fight with modern ships as a tin can does in a shooting alley. Immediately after being informed of this last unsavoury nugget of information (in a lengthy and hackneyed conversation with the captain of the science ship), you are ambushed by an enemy attack, which, anachronistically, isn’t remotely taxing or difficult to survive. I can understand why, since being blown up by a single shot would put most players off right away, but it’s still a glaring contradiction minutes into the game, and one which is repeated straight away as, after the fight, you’re directed to travel to a starbase to receive tech upgrades, but arrive just in time to be attacked again in another easy battle against piss weak opponents. When you finally manage to dock with the station, your character is brought up to speed with all that’s changed in the last two decades, including the destruction of the Gemini League despite their winning the war and, by the way, would you mind awfully saving mankind because you’re the only person who can bring about a lasting peace?

There’s never really any sense of urgency, or drama, and it all feels like you’ve seen it before a hundred times. The difficulty comes from the obstreperous control scheme, and the simplest way to get through battles is to park your ship in one spot, and rotate on its centre axis to shoot at enemies.

What this game does do very well however is the RPG character progression and ship customisation. There are some 50 classes of ship that can be purchased throughout the campaign, and each of those is entirely customisable, with pretty much every system open to upgrading and replacement. There are countless components available throughout the game, with a near infinite combination of configurations at your disposal in the later stages. In addition to your character gaining new abilities as you go along, you can also manage your crew, hiring new officers with special skills and aptitudes that contribute towards your ability to handle certain missions.

Adding to the feeling of this game as being very dated and cheaply made is the presentation. The graphics are on a par with Starfleet Command and other games in the genre made in the late 90s and, whilst Starpoint Gemini does support modern high resolutions, the textures pixellate and the models are blocky and occasionally show their splines at the joins and seams. Even the static character portraits are pixellated and actually wouldn’t be out of place in an original Playstation game from the mid 90s.

Despite the sub-standard graphics and relatively small level designs, there are also a lot of lengthy load screen interruptions. It’s been some time since I’ve played a game where the logo comes on screen and a bar slowly crawls across the bottom of my monitor every time I change to a new area.  Whilst the first couple of times I could laugh at it as an amusing throwback to a bygone era, it quickly gets old and irritating, especially as it’s so inexplicable with a modern PC or laptop for a game this basic in terms of graphics to take so long to load.

The sound design of the game is a pretty mixed bag too. The voice acting is immediately and consistently terrible, and there’s a lot of it, as conversations between your character and others involved in the story are fully voiced. The campaign starts with a brief expository cutscene with a narrator telling you the basics about the back-story, and it sounds for all the world like a teenager trying to impersonate James Earl Jones, with the forced baritone faltering several times. It doesn’t get any better from there on out. All of the characters sound unconvincing. Occasionally the voice actor even says the wrong word entirely, such as staying “status” when it should be “stasis”, made obvious by the subtitles and the context of what’s being talked about. It’s frankly painful at times to listen to, or at best, extraordinarily tedious.

In stark contrast to the acting however, the games musical score is surprisingly good. The main theme is especially pleasant on the ears, nothing spectacular, but eminently listenable, with a good mix of orchestral, vocal, and subtle synthesizer. I wouldn’t mind having it on CD, and it’s probably the easiest part of the game to recommend.

  • Caters to fans of a genre that’s largely been forgotten.
  • The RPG style character progression and abilities is an interesting idea.
  • Customising your ship is virtually an entire game in itself.
  • The game soundtrack is pretty good.
  • No DRM at all means no DRM problems during installation. Also no disc required to play.
  • Looks like a bad Starfleet Command clone from 12 years ago.
  • The controls are awkward, clumsy and damn right froward at times.
  • Being asked to micro-manage a dozen things at once in battle whilst struggling with those clumsy controls is a form of hell.
  • The plot is contrived, and feels like a badly conceived rehash of every science fiction story to come before it.
  • Load screens. All the time. And which take forever. It really kills any pace or momentum.
  • The voice acting is just terrible, and there’s a lot of it.
  • It gets very boring very quickly, and you won’t be motivated to continue playing.

Starpoint Gemini isn’t an awful game;it’s not a very good one either. Unfortunately it stacks up with other recent efforts in this genre in being a lemon with occasional redeeming features, which still fail to save the overall game for more than a very brief period. It’s not exciting, it looks and feels seriously old, and there’s literally nothing here that hasn’t been done before in other games that do it just as well or better.

It doesn’t really try to pretend to be more than it is, it knows it’s a budget title, which is at least something, and some diehard fans of the Starfleet Command games might find this a compelling purchase insofar as it is preferable to playing the original Starfleet Command in some respects. If this game had come out in 2000, rather than 2010/2011, I’d be a lot more enthusiastic.

I can’t really recommend Starpoint Gemini, but I wouldn’t tell you to avoid it either if you really wanted to give it a chance. And that’s perhaps its biggest problem: I can’t find any way to be passionate about it, whether for bad or good. It has left me with an overall feeling of boredom and apathy, never rising above being simply average, and it’s not often I can honestly say that.

Last five articles by Samuel



  1. Richie rich says:

    No Freelancer-style mouse-driven dogfighting? No dice.

    Shame as I’d love a new space combat thing to play but not one that uses that awful Wing Commander/BSG (both on XBLA) control scheme.



  2. Ste says:

    Not my type of game I’m afraid. I have a question though. Haven’t these types of games been made more or less redundant thanks to Eve Online? Surely if someone was that bothered about playing a space combat trading sim then they would just play that?

    Anyway, good review Sam, its just a shame the game looks like it should have come out a decade ago.

  3. Lorna Lorna says:

    I was quite disappointed by this, since I fancied getting stuck into a good space management sim, where I could potter around and generally be a piratey space captain. I have Earth Universe (a massive German collector’s edition) and also X3, along with Dark Star One, but shamefully have never played any of them yet. I suspect I will now have serious issues trying to get them to run thanks to OS issues :(

    The visuals look pretty good to me, but then I have no yardstick to compare how far they have come. I like the idea of a lot of ship customisation.

  4. Samuel Samuel says:

    I can’t really fathom those screenshots out actually Lorna. I’ve looked at a lot of them about the place now, and I just cannot reconcile them with what I see when I play the game myself. I was running it on full settings, the game isn’t that demanding technically, and it did not look as good as those screenshots that they’ve been giving out to games journalists.

    Incidentally, don’t be at all afraid to give X3 a bash. I preferred X2, but X3 is still a really good game, and it works perfectly on Windows 7. So does Darkstar One, and also Freelancer, which I started replaying (again) last night. The resolutions they output aren’t spectacular, but they do run.

    I was disappointed too by this, but not enough to get angry about it. I kind of lost interest towards the end, it just couldn’t hold my attention. It was boring. I was actually bored. I spend hours resupplying and repairing tanks, and balancing the account books, or running lemonade stands in other games without getting bored (seriously, I have about 100 hours on my current Lemonade Tycoon playthrough), I have a lot of patience and a capacity for what other people tend to find dull, but this game really bored the arse off me. No drama. Only real challenge is poor controls.

    Ste, Eve Online is all well and good, but I don’t do MMOs. Ever. So yeah, there’s some small demand for these games still. This one just didn’t deliver, sadly.

    Rich, the controls were just terrible. I really just parked up and rotated to fire 9 times out of 10.

  5. Lee says:

    Sounds like a Sunday game to me – one you play for ages on a Sunday but don’t care about it either way. Tis a shame, we’re about due a game just like what this could of been.

  6. Adam says:

    Amazing how I went from :o to :D to :( with this. I’m desperate to get another Freelancer on my life, I loved that first game and it baffles me why Microsoft have benches the franchise for so long. To hear of another space flight sim is great and then to read it was so constricted (2D Space!!?) was a shame. But then you mention SFC and I remember ALL those years I was sunk right into that and I started to hope for a similar experience.

    Still I think it’s very much a game of it’s time and Gemini comes across as very oddly placed.

    Another honest review Sam, always love reading them :)

  7. Edward Edward says:

    Sounds like a bit of a dog, and while I won’t question your calling it a lemon, it seems like it’s a bit worse than it should be to be even a lemon.
    Great review, but shame the game can’t live up to it, eh? :)

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