Gemini Wars Preview

by on 6th Jun 2012

Leaving the Earth and visiting the stars has been a dream Man has harboured for a long time. In the meantime, though, we seem to be perfectly content with just throwing stuff into orbit.

Yet, one day, once spaceship production is massified (remember Ford Model T?), we will have made space travel fairly ordinary and will set out to colonize new worlds. Conditions will be harsh at first, of course, but once a certain plateau is reached that won't be a deterrent factor.

Power struggles will very likely ensue, in what is bound to be a rather lawless and hard to control new frontier. Rich tribute to good ol' Earth and its authority will be tolerated less and less, and, you know what that leads to - rebellion. Tea, anyone?

This is pretty much the state of affairs in Gemini Wars, in the year 2178.

One Small Step For Man...

In this real-time strategy game Earth's United Space Federation and the coalition named Alliance of Free Worlds have been slugging it out for a while, and a few million dead later, things have come to a boring stalemate.

Fortunately, to stir things up, and get on with the killing again already, entering stage left, with the cool trunks... er, gnarly spaceship designs, come your friendly neighbourhood kill-crazed aliens to the rescue - the Gark.

As for yourself, you are Captain Cole of the USF, just returned from chilling out for three years in exile, and now assigned to the relatively peaceful Gemini sector.

Time to bury the hatchet among ourselves, fast, and greet the newcomers with some hot fudge. You see, the aliens aren't feeling particularly chatty - the only good human is a dead human. They sure catch on quick don't they?

The single-player campaign is the meat of the game and it takes you through the story arc in 16 missions where, as you'd expect, things grow continually more challenging.

Though a manual was not at hand for this preview, a pair of tutorials (basic and advanced) were there to give a good enough foundation to take command. Each mission has its own cinematic briefing and when the actual thing starts you can also usually count on some aid in the form of initial banter of some kind to have you on your way, feigning urgency, distress, and all that.

Things are pretty streamlined and well abstracted in terms of both interface and mechanics so you'll get familiar with everything there is to get familiar with rather promptly.

The only variables to watch in lieu of resources are crystals (your currency), research points and the unit cap.

To get crystals you need to send a construction ship to an asteroid field, of which there are usually several on a map, then order a mining station built. Naturally, you can't fight a war without having resources, but you also can't fight it without ships to defend your property either.

To construct ships and other defences you need a military station, that can only be built in orbit of planets or large asteroids, and one per planet alone. Once you have that you'll need a research station in the vicinity because if you fall behind on the technology race you won't likely last very long when facing advanced alien threats.

You now have some funds, research going and access to modest ships like assault frigates and the like. But for more powerful ships to be within your grasp, such as battleships, you'll need to have a shipyard and a planetary base.

Establishing colony bases on planets or gas giants will, in due time and given the necessary technological prerequisites are met, permit you to field big capital ships.

Colony bases grow by themselves over time, forming an expanding ringed structure on the surface.

They house a civilian population as well as a military contingent and will serve to replenish ship crews in case of casualties when ships come back to orbit after battle.

A number of maps have them already built, but to colonise other unoccupied worlds all you have to do is get yourself a colony ship and dispatch it to the desired planet. Upon reaching the destination the ship will then be cannibalized for materials in order to construct the base.

Such bases can be hard nuts to crack if upgraded with planetary defences such as shields, turrets and big guns, as some of those have to be put out of commission before a ground invasion can take place. Heavy bombardments soften things up and kill the garrisoned troops but the greater the damage you inflict the more time it will take to repair infrastructures afterwards.

With bases, stations and ships, it's time to look into getting around some.

There are basically three means of travel: impulse engines, reserved mostly for local and in-orbit transit, the faster hyperdrive that allows quicker movement among so-called hyperspace jump points, but which is limited in range, and lastly, for interstellar voyages, there are the massive stargates which connect two star systems via wormhole, take considerable time to build and need to be protected (or destroyed) due to their strategic importance.

Will travel? Have battle.

Battle Stations

You'll spend a significant part of your time in the game with the camera zoomed out in what one would call a strategic view of the map (there's a button for that but it's basically just a custom view with the camera placed in a certain way). It's useful to stay on top of things as ships become represented by small icons and you'll easily see enemy movements whenever they happen to be within range of locations where your forces are stationed.

Mission objectives vary from defensive to offensive, sometimes with timed events, with planetary defence, escort details and invasions included, but things are reasonably linear given you have a starting point, a pre-determined layout and situational constraints to deal with which will inevitably condition your responses somewhat and drive you towards an optimal trajectory and course of action.

They are not without some substance though, and will both challenge you and take increasingly more time to overcome as you move forward.

Research too will serve your advancement, with better techs gradually unlocking, even if each mission will only allow you to go so far up the ladder, no matter how many research points you've accumulated. On the upside it's all handled transparently in a single window with separate tabs for Hulls, Engines, Armour, Shields, Weapons, Structures and Special items.

In the Structures tab, for example, you can research planetary shields to protect colonies or ways to greatly improve your mining or research outputs.

This mostly comes across as an upgrade path though, and you don't get to do any real branching or more elaborate things like putting together your very own modular ship designs from your choices.

Ships, large or small, all have their own relative strengths and weaknesses and have a set of simple, easy to grasp stats that show up when you select them, represented by bars and also numerically.

To name a few: Hull and Shields, Speed, Weapon type, power and range, Crew, XP and HyperDrive.

The larger ships such as battleships also have the possibility of being fitted with a special battle module with upgrade of your choice, and given the selection is irreversible you should pick wisely. Some of the available modules add to your ship's defensive capabilities and others to the offensive, including some ethically questionable ones that exterminate enemy ships' crews by means of lethal radiation. Fortunately these measures can only be used sparingly as there's a considerable time interval to be observed between uses.

As per the usual standards shields take damage until they are depleted and then punishment is dealt directly to the hull until structural integrity is compromised and the ship blows up.

In case you're curious about the XP, it's basically the crew's experience and going past certain thresholds gives appreciable advantages. The XP gain is proportional to the challenge that was faced and so a Destroyer will gain much more XP for taking on a battleship than a few measly assault frigates.

As for the Hyperdrive, it serves in practice as a cool-down mechanism, to keep you from doing two jumps in a row immediately. You go from one jump point to another and then have to wait for the drive to recover. It's still quick enough not to be felt as restrictive but is not irrelevant tactically either.

Like pieces on a board you know that if you want to go to Y position you need to forcefully go through X or, eventually, you can go through Z as well but it will expose you to another point that is dangerously close to an enemy colony. So, where to jump to and when you do it can turn the tide for or against you.

We're not talking about any great complexity here; a little monitoring and overall visual appraisal will suffice.

The enemy is sometimes sneaky, mind, and I've seen them making jumps my ships don't seem to be able to match, so placing enemy units behind my back in a way I didn't know was possible beforehand.

Battling happens when ships meet at the same location, either by your initiative or the enemy's.

It's good to have a mix of forces, but plainly massing heavy hitters will work too for the most part.

You can assign numeric keys to groups of ships but that only worked for me in the tutorial and it's not a life or death requirement as you can lasso ships in real-time more or less satisfactorily.

Ships will engage each other with the appropriate weaponry when they get within range and things working on a horizontal plane you don't have to think about up or down. It's even possible to take direct advantage of ranged attacks by toggling on a dedicated button to that effect.

Also, the only time a theoretical notion of formations is involved is with offensive or defensive stances, and not really much of a factor. If you choose to go on the offensive, formation will not be held, but if you opt for the defensive ships will maintain formation while better shielded in place.

There are little elements you can't entirely control, for instance, with large forces, when you make a hyperspace jump and come out the other side in a big line, either nicely facing the enemy or ending up with part of your units on one flank and the rest uncomfortably on the other and divided in uncertain measure.

Since you're then only able to resort to slow impulse engines, with great ships being really slow, there's not much chance you can manoeuvre or reorganize yourself before being shot to pieces.

Finesse is not abundant in these clashes either and focusing fire is about the most relevant part of your intervention, but you can at times perform interesting boarding actions if you manage to disable a big ship the right way and so takeĀ  it over.

It's possible to be mischievous too at times, by, for example, baiting enemy forces at a location with a disposable construction ship. You make the ship jump to where the enemy is conglomerated and, then, just as the ship is exiting hyperspace and registers as a target, immediately order the ship to go away to the middle of nowhere (at impulse speed).

Compared to combat vessels a construction ship is light and fast, so let the "sheep" follow it, for they won't likely catch it, and move in for the kill on that lesser fraction of foes left that stayed put.

Cheap trick? Maybe, but it saves lives. Divide and conquer, Captain!

Set Sensors To Wide Sweep

We all know space is not devoid of beauty and there's surely enough of it on show here.

Radiant stars with soft, blooming or piercing glows that create lens flare effects, planets gently rotating on their axis, their surface still or in turmoil, smooth, cratered or cracked, with rings and asteroids about them.

Zooming in does these celestial bodies no disservice at that, the same being applicable to ships and the detail they exhibit close up, with etched surfaces, strange designs, the trails left by thrusters ablaze, etc. And if you really want to indulge, engage the cinematic battle camera, as it will all look even better during combat with cool angles chosen as you sit back and things play out before you.

This is not counting the showers of colour present in the background, environments that you can enjoy in their entirety only by rotating and tilting the camera, so providing unique glimpses depending on the angle and light sources.

The user interface is pretty unobtrusive and doesn't really get in the way of all this sight-seeing, which is also a plus.

If we then add that developer Camel 101 is a rather small indie outfit, the effort in the visuals is indeed not undeserving of praise.

It has to be said, though, that since players are often better off staying largely zoomed out for the bulk of normal gameplay to oversee things, leaving ships obscured in the dark or covered by overlaid icons that represent them, what we have here is a largely wasted opportunity to capitalise on the graphics.

That greater constancy of being 'in there', alongside your ships, that prevailed in the actual gameplay of classics like Homeworld would make, well... a world of difference.

Another aspect that didn't feel comfortable was adjusting the view of the play area. To move the view somewhere you have to place the mouse pointer on the edges of the screen to scroll, which is slow and ineffectual when you're partially zoomed in and acceptable in terms of responsiveness only when you're quite zoomed out.

Contending, however briefly, with basic controls that seem to limit your actions instead of being a tool that assists you is not something you want to have in a real-time game.

Allowing people to alternatively 'grab' the screen wherever the cursor is and so making it fast, fluid and intuitive to scroll about would change this dramatically for the better.

But let's move on to other more sensor-engaging elements.

Music permeates the silence of space with moody pieces that echo the surrounding vastness or, if conflict erupts, so does the score follow in tempo and boldness.

Punctuating the aural spectrum too in such occasions are the explosions of condemned ships and the firing of heavy-duty energy weapons, or the voice of crew members reporting shields down, enemy ship destroyed, etc.

There are voice-overs for characters as well, during scripted sequences, but nothing overly remarkable.

In all, audio is generally serviceable but won't leave much of an impression one way or the other.

The Final Frontier

Past the campaign, the game will purportedly feature a skirmish system and there are plans to have standard multiplayer as well as co-op. Not being available at the time of this preview, though, no insight can be offered on these elements.

Gemini Wars is easy enough to pick up and play without being outright shallow, which is a good thing, and you can tell it is shooting for a specific sweet spot in the genre by eschewing complexity in favour of retaining only essential ingredients and streamlining the experience.

This means there was also a conscious decision to leave out a part of the audience who wants more - more freedom and more depth.

What remains to be seen is if it has enough arguments to cater to its own chosen audience. That doubt is compounded by the fact that, regrettably, there's nothing here that hasn't been done before, and, perhaps more worryingly, nothing that hasn't been done before better.

 

Add Comment Comments

Thorondor\
10 Jun 2012 - 7:50pm
Thorondor
Space Voyager\
9 Jun 2012 - 9:15pm
Space Voyager
Free DLC = patch. ;)
FullAuto\
9 Jun 2012 - 4:04pm
FullAuto
Multiplayer and skirmish modes are going to be released as free DLC later on.
ShadowBlade\
9 Jun 2012 - 2:55am
ShadowBlade
Did it come out today? Does anyone know if it shipped with multiplayer and skirmish mode?
silencer_pl\
8 Jun 2012 - 6:07am
silencer_pl

FullAuto, on 07 June 2012 - 11:24 PM, said:

COMPLETELY AWESOME, you mean?

Yes they were awesome in that games ;)
FullAuto\
7 Jun 2012 - 11:24pm
FullAuto

Quote

Voice overs reminds me of first C&C game

COMPLETELY AWESOME, you mean?
silencer_pl\
6 Jun 2012 - 12:28pm
silencer_pl

Space Voyager, on 06 June 2012 - 12:04 PM, said:

(I haven't seen much of that in the preview)

Only I see strange icons that fire white and violet beams at other icons that when zoomed in look like black ship shapes and the other shapes don't seem to do anything just some kind of shield?

Voice overs reminds me of first C&C game (or Dune 2 since they don't differ).

Yeah I am picky since I played Homeworld and SW: Empire at War :P

Don't look at me - if you think this game is good then carry on with what you are doing.
Space Voyager\
6 Jun 2012 - 12:04pm
Space Voyager
This thread is now officially weird.

On topic: I really like the description of this game, especially planetary assault mechanics seems interesting. After reading game description I got more and more impressed - until I hit the conclusion, he he he!
This is not an advertising attempt but even when a game does nothing best and is a good blend of features, unlike any other, it can come out as a great game. Sadly even when a single feature is utter crap (I haven't seen much of that in the preview) it can ruin the game.
silencer_pl\
6 Jun 2012 - 9:30am
silencer_pl
Laugh it up.
Thorondor\
6 Jun 2012 - 9:05am
Thorondor
Don't be weird. :P
Space Voyager\
6 Jun 2012 - 8:57am
Space Voyager
I look weird.
Pete\
6 Jun 2012 - 8:13am
Pete
You look weird :D
silencer_pl\
6 Jun 2012 - 8:05am
silencer_pl
It looks weird.

 

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Gemini Wars Box
Developer: Camel 101
Publisher: Camel 101
Status:In Production

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