Since I haven’t been a young gamer for a while now, I tend to start every article in a note of nostalgia when I think of all the titles that charmed me over the years. In today’s episode, I cannot help but mention the good old Elite, with its chubby but suggestive graphics, and the repetitive but fascinating gameplay. It’s a memory that envelops me every time I play a game that tries, even if it doesn’t want to admit it, to capture the glory of those clumsy pixels of the 80’s. Such is the case with the producers from Little Green Men and their debut title, Starpoint Gemini, a tactical space-sim with a hint of RPG, and since I’ve gained a new respect for such developers lately, I decided to study their offspring with utmost interest.
Although the entertainment industry has become quite stale in terms of Hollywood screenplays, there’s a tiny seed of originality in the game’s storyline. Starpoint Gemini is a remote star system under the rule of the Earth Empire, where some rebellious elements lead to an intergalactic brawl. The Colonial Directorate forces, almost beaten to a pulp, decide to blow up the wormhole to Gemini, thus creating a not-so-tiny anomaly that destroys most of the fleets and separates the system from the rest of the empire. Captain Jared Hunt is one of the commanders of those days, who emerges 20 years later from entrapment in said anomaly (being cut off from the normal time flow), only to find an entirely new political situation, where different factions battle each other over resources and the idea of independence is long forgotten.
As such, we have all the conditions of an interesting situation: the subtleties of a profit mongering universe, a smoldering conflict and lots of space toys. There’s something for everyone, since you can follow the main storyline, hunt for treasures and riches or even start your own history, courtesy of the sand-box option in the game. Here you will find yourself with a pocket-full of credits and a rusty ship, but no nemesis to speak of, which is a bit of a letdown, because after you find yourself owning the best ship in the galaxy there’s really not much else to do.
Aside from the moustache and the glasses, you can also choose perks for your hero, special attributes which may enhance radiation resistances or provide a boost to energy-based weapons. There are also skills which increase with each level, called maneuvers, which can be usually used during space battles, to increase the ship’s speed or the rate at which shields are being recharged. Then there are the officers, which can be hired to provide a boost to existing skills or access to new ones.
The fun comes from the freedom of exploration. We can ferry merchandises from here to there for profit, mine asteroids for their valuable minerals, or we can chose to complete missions for the various factions: the Nyxian Consortium, Baeldor Republic and the Korkyan Triumvirate. These missions – rather limited in complexity – can help improve the approval you have with the said factions, although it’s pretty easy to get on their good side without them as well. Besides, once you own a capable spaceship, you can pretty much make the law with the fist in every system, hostile or not.
Speaking of which, there are almost 60 such sectors that are accessible via the so-called T Gates, each system having its own tiny universe. There are plenty of traders, usually stalked by pirates, rogues, and of course, the local police force. As a result, the game’s universe feels alive and although it does not rival the one in Space Rangers, is pretty well-designed.
For any course of action you will need a capable spaceship, and here I must take my hat off to the producers. There are over 50 models and more than 300 sub-systems to be fitted on these ships, from shield generators to engines and grappling hooks for mining asteroids. This rush to get the best dreadnought or the latest plasma weapon is very pleasant since the effort for getting the necessary credits is well-balanced with the expenses and the new technical discoveries.
Each ship has a special ability (such as being able to shoot down fighters) but the entire charm of the idea comes from customizing your own ship by means of careful use of the sub-systems. We have shield generators which repel certain types of attacks, because of course we have different types of weapons, but also we have power generators, afterburners and tiny repair droids. Furthermore, all these systems have their own specific spot in the ship’s hull, which is particularly important for weapons, as you need to take into account the its firing arc. As such, a rocket launcher which was mounted in the rear of the ship will not fire anything until you show your bee-hind to the enemy, adding injury to the insult.