Gemini Wars – Review
I like space as much as the next guy, but space travel scares the hell out of me. If science fiction is to be believed, all that’s out there is uninhabitable planets, gigantic wormholes and, worst of all, hostile aliens that want to kill us with their superior technology, just for kicks. Be they big or small, purple or green, those pesky extra-terrestrials always seem to have a thing for kill and/or enslaving the human race, and frankly, I’m willing to stick to looking up at the stars rather than getting involved in an intergalactic war that we’ll probably lose.
Gemini Wars, on the other hand, is the tale of an Earth in the near future that did want to go flying out there in the great beyond and found themselves in a whole heap of trouble because of it. There’s a whole heap of back story to be found in the manual, but I’ll give you the brief version – humanity went to outer space, private military contractors became the most powerful human force in the known universe, an entire sector took up arms against the Earth government and formed the Alliance of Free Worlds, and now there’s a war going on between the independents and the United Space Federation.
You play as Cole, a commander in the USF who finds himself wrapped up in troubles that I won’t delve too much into, but let’s just say you’ll encounter betrayal, insubordination and some pretty terrifying alien forces in your time as the commander. The story’s perfectly serviceable, but it’s pretty much your standard sci-fi fare, and you may find yourself skipping the cutscenes to get straight to the action.
And let me say, the action is great. Gemini Wars is a pretty straightforward RTS, and because of this is very easy to pick up and play. As you might expect, you select troops with the left mouse button and move/give attack orders with the right, while there are plenty of easy-to-use menus to help get your base and resources up and running. The UI is simple and well designed, so you’re not bombarded with information every five seconds, and it’s quite easy to get a fully functioning base up and running without more than a few clicks of the mouse. There are only a few structures that you can build, which again aids the simplicity of the game, but may disappoint fans of building huge sprawling bases.
Each star system is segregated into smaller fields, above planets, where you can build military stations and thus build up your army, and asteroid fields, which allow you to mine for more resources. Your ships can only move across the map by traversing these fields, and each time you jump to the next field you have to wait for your hyperdrive engines to recharge, so you’re not likely to be zipping across the entire star system in minutes.
Actually, this brings me to my biggest complaint about Gemini Wars: it’s really, really slow. The hyperdrive recharging makes sense, and obviously with a RTS you’re going to have to wait a while to build up your resources, but because you can only have one mining station per asteroid field, the speed that you generate resources is slowed even more, especially when you’re playing on a map where you’ve only got a couple of asteroid fields freely available to you from the start. You can destroy your enemy’s mining stations and take control of the field, but your initial army is usually nowhere near powerful enough to take on the enemy’s forces straight off the bat, so you need to build up your resources before even attempting an assault.
And even then, the ships themselves move almost painfully slowly across the fields. Flying through hyperspace is fine; you can get between fields in about thirty seconds with any number of ships, but if there’s an enemy force lying in wait, you’ll have to slowly make your way from one side of the field to the other to engage them. The fights themselves aren’t exactly fast-paced either, particularly if you have an evenly matched army, and the speed of the ships is such that you can’t exactly try flying around the enemy for a sneak attack, so most of your battles will be two armies of ships facing each other and firing until one of them dies.
If you’re willing to be patient, however, Gemini Wars is actually pretty fun. You might want to grab a book while stockpiling resources and amassing an army, but when you’ve finally got a large enough force, flying across the star system while destroying enemy ships is fairly enjoyable. You can research bigger and better ships, weapons, armour and shields as well, although a lot of research is locked until later levels in the campaign, and requires even more waiting, so it’s possible you might not get to experience all the goodies on show if you grow impatient.
There isn’t a whole lot of variety in the ships you can use, which is both a blessing for beginners and a curse for those who enjoy tactical battles. Each ship, from the small, cheap assault frigates to the gigantic battleships, differs from each other enough to allow you to make a nice mix of ships to tailor your own strategy of assault, but I found that amassing a bunch of powerful ships with a huge number of slightly faster missile frigates always did the trick. The problem is that the other races don’t appear to have much in the way of different units. Both the human armies have almost identical ships, differing only in paint jobs, so your initial fights against the Alliance will be purely based on who has the biggest collection of ships. And even when the Gark, the hostile alien force of the game, shows up, you’ll find that they’re essentially the same as everyone else’s ships, but they have the more powerful vessels in abundance. This is especially annoying the first time you meet them, since your army consists of about five crappy ships and the Gark are more than happy to steamroll through the galaxy and crush you in minutes.
Still, at least while you’re getting obliterated you can admire Gemini Wars’ beautiful graphics, made even prettier by a wonderful lighting engine that coats everything in brilliant light from the giant sun that sits at the edge of each star system. The asteroid fields and planets look gorgeous, and the ships themselves are really well designed and also look great. If you zoom in really close and look at the textures then the graphical quality declines slightly, but you’ll spend too much time managing the fleets from far away to worry about that. The explosions are the only real letdown in the graphics department, but they don’t exactly drag the game down by much. The cutscenes are also pretty well animated, particularly given the size of the team working on them. Even the voice acting is pretty decent, with convincing performances given by the entire cast, although it would seem that every ship in your army is being commanded by the same guy, so you may grow tired of hearing the same voice over and over as you move your armies across the galaxy.
The music is quite nice too, aside from one track in the tutorial level that featured some kind of scraping metal noise that drove me insane. Outside of battle you hear a tension building score that fits in well with the calm but tense atmosphere, but the music really shines in battle, when you’re met with a loud orchestral score that gets you excited and pumped up, even if the battle itself isn’t exactly the most dynamic thing you’ll ever experience. All in all the music works really well in the context of the game and helps add an extra layer of polish to a great product.
And yet… there are a couple of annoying things that crop up every now and then. The game cursor lags slightly, but you can choose to use the hardware cursor instead, so that’s okay, but even between missions, the game forgets that you’re using the hardware cursor and switches back to default. There are other issues too – selecting ships will occasionally fail for no reason, your build queue will halt without warning, and when exiting battle cam you’ll sometimes be thrown back to your first base, which may well be on the opposite side of the map. They’re only minor complaints, sure, but they happen so consistently that it starts to detract from the experience.
On top of that, the game is unfinished. There’s a sixteen mission campaign that’ll take up plenty of your time, but after that, there’s no skirmish mode, nor is there the multiplayer that the box speaks of so excitedly. Developers Camel 101 are working on these features and they’ll be released as free DLC in the near future, but you might want to hold off until then if you’re the type of person who likes diving in for a quick skirmish with the computer.
Yet, despite these detractions, Gemini Wars is still a damn fine game. It’s not going to win awards for originality, but it looks great and plays well, even if you need buckets of patience to get the most out of it.Pros
- Simple to pick up and play
- Stunning environments and lighting
- Genuinely good fun…
- ...But you have to wait a while for it to get going
- Doesn’t look like there’s much difference between factions
- Desperately lacks skirmish and multiplayer modes (but they’re on their way)
Gemini Wars is a superb effort from the small team at Camel 101, and they should be proud of what they’ve made. It’s a gorgeous, easy to pick up game that rewards patience with a good sci-fi story and fun battles. It’s still got some issues, and you really need patience, but stick with it and you’ll find a very enjoyable RTS. And when the skirmish and multiplayer modes get released, it’ll probably be even better.
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