Gratuitous Space Battles Review

by on 26th Dec 2009

The title is perfectly accurate. In Gratuitous Space Battles, there's no exploration, no expansion, no exploiting, just extermination. There's no diplomacy, no economy, just blowing things up. If you want a 4x title, this is not it. But nor is GSB devoid of the thinkmaking.

When you start GSB, you'll go through the first few battles on normal difficulty using different combinations of the three tutorial ships, and nothing else. What, you will ask yourself, is all the fuss about? This is easy. And then beyond those few battles, you will founder and sink.

Let's 'do the numbers' as they probably say at NASA. Each of the four races has access to three different types of ships. In ascending order of size they are fighter, frigate and cruiser. For each type of ship, there are several hull designs, offering various bonuses and a different number of slots into which you place the ship's modules. Modules are divided up into shooty (missiles, lasers, point defence, tractor beams, etc) and non-shooty (engines, shields, armour, crew compartments and so on) varieties. There are lots of modules. Lots and lots. A shedload, to use a technical term. Now, precious few of these are compulsory, so the amount of different designs possible is even wider than you think. Your ships, for instance, do not need engines. Though discarding engines turns ships into nothing more than stationary gun platforms, stationary gun platforms might very well have a place in your strategy. So any type of ship can fulfill a number of different roles. You are limited only by your imagination. Like most feel-good rubbish, that previous sentence is entirely untrue. There is a numerical limit on the different designs you can construct, but the point is, that number is a big one. You have to balance weight, speed, firepower, defences, crew complement, power consumption, and cost. You can design a ship to be as average an all-rounder or as specialised as you like, without changing ship or hull type. Fancy a fleet of long-range missile launching cruisers, defended by heavily armoured and shielded frigates armed with nothing but point defence weapons, aided and abetted by swarms of unarmoured (read: cheap) torpedo-launching fighters? Probably not, but you can if you want!

The ship design area is simple. You drag and drop modules into and out of slots on the hull. Various values change as you add and remove the different modules. This is straightforward, and good enough for when you're only making a single change at a time, but when you want to compare designs of different hulls (never mind different ship types) it's not so good. Working out the difference between a War Bastard v1.2 and War Bastard v5.3 can involve lots of switching back and forth between the designs. While it's easy enough to give each design a distinctive name, by the time you've unlocked all four races, the list of designs soon blooms to an unwieldy size, easily reaching several dozen per race as the different permutations are constructed. As they're not divided into any categories, this can make navigating the list a minor pain. It is alphabetical, which does help a little.

Once you're done designing ships, you select one of 13 scenarios, a difficulty level, and decide on your deployment, formation, and tactics. Each scenario has a pilot and cost limit. Each ship needs one pilot, so while a pair of cruisers only accounts for two pilots, they're much more expensive than a squadron of 16 fighters. These limits vary, so while you can smash an enemy fleet with a massive swarm of fighters in one battle, you simply can't do it on the next scenario. Just to keep you on your toes, some scenarios have spatial anomalies, little rule variations that decree that shields are useless, or all engine speeds are cut by 25%. Basically, cheeky little pokes that will send you back to the drawing board, swearing.

Now, when it comes to deployment, on the easier two of the three difficulties, the enemy fleet is visible, and you can at least tell ship and hull type. What isn't available is what modules they have. While you're fretting over whether that enemy cruiser is an anti-fighter job or just a massively armoured hulk to distract your fire, you have to decide your starting formation, and what tactics to apply. A basic order system enables you to determine the behaviour of your ships in battle. Orders determine your ships targeting priorities, ranges, and their formation and movement. While not terribly sophisticated, this system works quite well, as long as you remember that an order applies for an entire battle. Once it kicks off, combat is entirely automated. Your ships go to war, and all you can do is watch. No manual control at all. Jut sit back, stroke that chin, and thump your command console when it all goes wrong. Trial and error gaming? GSB is guilty as charged, y'honour, but it's never onerous. I keep wanting to call GSB a puzzle game. I suppose a lot of strategy games are, in some ways. You are presented with a problem, and you have to solve it. Often, there's more than one solution. Occasionally, either the problem is open enough or the tools are versatile enough for there to be lots of solutions. Sometimes, someone looking over your shoulder will tell you the solution, and you will punch them.

You will lose, refine your ship designs, lose, change your orders, win, rush into the next battle and lose, and refine your ship designs... Battles are over in minutes, and can be sped up or slowed down at your discretion. Ship designs can be changed in seconds. Orders and formations are simple and quick to set up, and you can save a favourite deployment to reduce the time you spend setting up.

GSB looks and sounds good. Personally, I think this is a ploy by Positech to extend the life of the game. You start the battle determined to watch the tactical to and fro, but in seconds you're distracted by the glow of lasers and sparkling (definitely-not-photon) torpedoes, flashing shields and glowing engines. You forget all about monitoring how that new armour is holding up, how long your fighters survive, and then the battle's over and you haven't learned a bloody thing. Providing another distraction are your crews, as they observe the battle and manage some surprisingly amusing running commentary. The sound effects and music are so deeply sci-fi it's impossible to pinpoint any single source responsible for their inspiration, although Star Wars is the most obvious for the latter. This is one of the very few titles where my own sound effects aren't better than those in-game.

Although the number of scenarios is very limited, longevity is provided by downloading deployments created by other players, and fighting against them. These challenges can be uploaded for a particular player, or for the whole community, allowing for some interesting contests. When it comes to uber fleet versus uber fleet, there can be only one.

So, it's in 2D, and the combat is automated. Off-putting for certain players I'm sure. But the depth and longevity of the game mainly comes from player creativity, not fancy battlefields or fast clicking. Winning battles earns you honour, with which you obtain access to locked races, ships, hulls and modules, but there's nothing revolutionary to unlock. The meat of the game is beating the scenarios and challenges in as many different ways as possible. Done it on normal? What about hard, where the enemy deployment has changed? What about on expert, where the enemy composition is unknown? If the player is satisfied beating each scenario once, then GSB won't last them very long. But what about using different races, ship designs, fleet compositions, formations and tactics? There's plenty here to work your brain, it just requires a little of that most dreaded, most rare, resource. Effort.

Positech, not one to rest on their or anyone else's laurels, released an expansion, Tribe, soon after the release of GSB. Tribe adds a new race and two new scenarios, creating an even bigger matrix of possibilities to play with.

I can think of many worse Christmas presents for a strategy gamer.

 

Add Comment Comments

FullAuto\
28 Jan 2011 - 11:32pm
FullAuto
The Galactic Conquest mode is currently pushing me face-first into a lawnmower.
poee\
28 Jan 2011 - 11:30pm
poee

Civilian, on 9th January 2010, 5:50am, said:

I uploaded all my ship layouts, just in case anyone gets tired of his/her bloody ships blowing up. ;)

Thanks! I've loaded them into my Ships folder and will check out these designs shortly.

I'm late to this game (just got it on Steam for $5 last week), though I hope there are still some players out there. I can't believe how much time flies when I play this game!
Space Voyager\
10 Jan 2010 - 12:39pm
Space Voyager

FullAuto, on 9th January 2010, 4:26pm, said:

That's fun, as when you get a severe beating, it's not harmful to your ego.
:D
FullAuto\
9 Jan 2010 - 3:26pm
FullAuto
You can get more play out of the standard scenarios by trying to find the bare minimum of forces required to win.  That's fun, as when you get a severe beating, it's not harmful to your ego.
Civilian\
9 Jan 2010 - 1:50pm
Civilian
I uploaded all my ship layouts, just in case anyone gets tired of his/her bloody ships blowing up. :D
You can find them here: http://www.megaupload.com/?d=VN973HP8  and I also attached them to this post..
They are all tested and properly named, just unzip them into the *./My Documents/My Games/GratuitousSpaceBattle/ships folder. Beware, the file is extremely huge, make sure you have 21kb free on your HD :)

GSB is imo perfect for those moments when you are too tired to play a "full" game, but want to do at least something without only passively watching (aka TV). It is also great for quick deathmatches in the office. ;)
FullAuto\
9 Jan 2010 - 1:28pm
FullAuto
I'm tired of my bloody ships blowing up, that's what I'm tired of.
Pete\
9 Jan 2010 - 9:08am
Pete
SV - Many folks spend as much time building fleets in space empire games as they do on the rest of it and sometimes more-so. I recall my brother spends as much time designing ship layouts in EVE nline as he does actually playing the game.

This is catering to that audience that loves to see the results of their tech research and construction ideas quickly and appears to do it rather well. Sure, it's not 3D, but it does look better than a lot of the combat sections of a lot of space empire type games and offers something you can jump right into that I suspect will have a lot of replay value further down the line.

FullAuto's not tired of it yet at least :D
FullAuto\
8 Jan 2010 - 2:16pm
FullAuto
Cheeky!  :D

That's with the Tribe expansion, though, and I don't think most people will pay that much, living outside of the UK.
Space Voyager\
8 Jan 2010 - 2:08pm
Space Voyager
That is quite a lot for a game this devoid of deeper content.
FullAuto\
8 Jan 2010 - 1:31pm
FullAuto
£21.13 for both from Positech, but I imagine you'll pay less if you're a non-Brit.

Jammy foreigners.
Pete\
8 Jan 2010 - 9:53am
Pete
Well that sucks - I didn't think to add them together when I added that bit in. Give it a little while and it'll drop though I'm sure.
FullAuto\
8 Jan 2010 - 8:04am
FullAuto
Love the GG offer, buy them both together and get literally nothing off.  What an incentive!
Pete\
6 Jan 2010 - 8:36pm
Pete
Finally getting around to it. At least the forums look all the prettier to display these lovely posts :D
Space Voyager\
6 Jan 2010 - 11:16am
Space Voyager

Pete, on 2nd January 2010, 11:03am, said:

I'll sort that out soon enough :D
Promises, promises...
Civilian\
4 Jan 2010 - 6:54pm
Civilian
Yes, fighter torpedoes are rather useless. I will try your cruiser killer layout in one of my next games, thanks FullAuto!

Posted Image
FullAuto\
4 Jan 2010 - 5:35am
FullAuto
My basic 'cruiser killer' fighter design has armour, rocket launcher, power generator and engine.  Attacks at or near maximum range and seems to do quite well.  You need to keep enemy fighters off them, though (either use your own normal fighters to establish space superiority or construct anti-fighter frigates or something).

I wouldn't bother with torpedoes on fighters, the weight is prohibitive.
Civilian\
4 Jan 2010 - 4:49am
Civilian
Yes! Though: I haven't found a good equipment for their heavy fighter yet.

I sometimes wish fighters in general had more options, one can only choose between two lasers and two projectile weapons. The later are rather useless because of the slow firing rate and their odd combination of maximum range/minimum range.

And if you use the target painter most fighters are turned into unarmed units as they only have one weapon slot.

If anyone has some tips... :D
FullAuto\
4 Jan 2010 - 12:56am
FullAuto
Lovely rotund ships.
Civilian\
3 Jan 2010 - 11:09pm
Civilian
The Tribe :D
Posted Image
Pete\
2 Jan 2010 - 10:03am
Pete
I'll sort that out soon enough :D

 

Add Comment

You must be logged in to reply. Please log in or register an account.

Game Card

Gratuitous Space Battles Box
Developer: Positech Games
Publisher: Positech Games
Released:2009

Screenshots

Databank

Purchasing Options