There is something about games that make you feel like master and commander, and not only of your immediate troops, but of nations, races, entire civilizations. 4X space strategy games (eXplore, eXPand, eXploit and eXterminate for the less initiated) are the perfect venue for everyone with the “Gamer Deity” complex; it enables you to have an entire galaxy as your playground.
Recently we trained our attention to Gemini Wars, a promising title from Camel 101, a small indie development team on the rise, striving to deliver us some of that excitement of galactic proportions. Be aware, this is only a preview, and the build we got to play with had only several mission from the campaign available; the full game will be arriving at 8th June and then we will stage a full scale assault, erm, a full review. But we certainly got more than enough “meat” to sink our teeth in!
First of all, Gemini Wars is a 4X game, but not necessarily a full 4X game; the part with the galactic expansion is missing, and all the 4X of the game take place in tactical part of the game. In short, Gemini Wars is a kind of 4X RTS, focused on tactical engagements across a single or even several star systems. There is a campaign that will guide you through the game, with some dozen or more missions that one will be required to finish in a linear order. Now, while this is somewhat unusual for the 4X games, this is by no means something that should be viewed as negative. Gemini Wars is a game that has set tactical engagements at the very heart of the gameplay, and it has done so very good.
You start off in a star system with more or less ships, depending on your game progress, with the goals of completing the said mission and often also assuring survival some of your key actors of the campaign. The entire 4X elements are condensed in the tactical mission; you explore the system, expand your bases, build starships, conduct research and, eventually, engage your enemies and fight it out for the ultimate dominance. One of the most important vessels you will be commanding are construction ships that will build your starbases, mining and research facilities, starports and defenses. Basically, every system consists from several important stellar objects, planets and asteroid belts. You move between them with some sort of a FTL (faster than light) drive, where within the orbit of a planet or within an asteroid field your ships maneuver with conventional drives. The Construction ships can build starbases only near planets, whereas they build mining facilities only in asteroid belts. These then continue to automatically harvest the surrounding asteroids and refine them for minerals, without your supervision. Research facilities, once created, will be adding research points to your pool on a steady rate; more facilities you got, more RP’s will be flowing in. These are important for R&D part of the game, since you get to upgrade your ships and other constructions on the go.
At the very beginning you are limited to basic destroyers and other essential, smallest ships from the fleet, whereas you can, after amassing enough wealth and conducting the appropriate research, build deadly battleships and huge carriers. Next to the minerals and research points, you will only have to worry about population cap limit. But first, you will have to get into research. Sadly, RP’s are slower to gain than minerals, so you will have to be more careful with investing them. Personally, I love research in games like this, and would preferably have each and every possible invention. Sadly, that won’t be possible, not unless you want to see yourself overrun with enemy fleets with massive amounts of low level units while you are out there developing some fancy tech that will be rendered useless merely because the enemy’s superiority based sheer numbers. You will be required to, accordingly, pursue primarily those technologies that will improve your situation in the most decisive manner. There are several areas of research: hulls, engines, armor, shields, weapons, structures and special, and each one has a specific levels and benefits of the technologies being researched. Exploring new levels of hulls will give you access to bigger ships, but then again, neglecting to improve the shields will reduce the longevity of your fleet. Maybe you want to have a faster income? In that case, make sure you upgrade your mining structures. The research system is simple, easy to comprehend and logical, and once you acquire enough RP’s to conduct the research, it will be a matter of some 20 seconds.
Fights are relatively simple and put the emphasis on having a better equipped, more deadly and numerically superior fleet at the right place and the right time. The ships, even the smaller ones, are quite sluggish, so don’t expect too much kiting and micromanagement; even though you will be called upon to rotate your ships in the fleet, move them to rear lines as their shields and hull threaten to collapse, and use special weapons of some crafts to gain advantage. The key to victory is to time your fleet movement so that you will always be at the right place. Sometimes you will want to avoid enemy fleet and attack their mining facilities while they are en route to another asteroid belt or planet.
Overall, we liked what we saw in Gemini Wars so far, a good, sound tactical game, seamless transition from system to fleet view. The game is also quite stable, but could use a bit of graphical overhaul. Also, as a sidenote, the campaign, mission briefings and “the talking heads” very much reminded me of the old Starcraft, more in spirit and sensation than an attempt to copy that old title. We are definitely looking forward to the complete, functional game and testing of the multiplayer.