Space trading is one of the oldest concepts in videogames, going as far back as Elite. With the resurgence of that franchise last year, as well as the likes of Star Citizen seeing an incredible Early Access campaign, there is clearly a temptation to bring more of these games to consoles. However, by bringing Starpoint Gemini 2 to the Xbox One, Little Green Men Games demonstrates that not only is it very difficult to port a space simulator to consoles, but design oversights are hugely costly for accessibility.
Starpoint Gemini 2 on the Xbox One makes a pig’s ear in its feeble attempt to clear the first hurdle: Teaching players to play their game. Regardless of whether you start with the Campaign or the Free Roam options, the game will prompt you to learn about the controls and mechanics. All this does is open the digital manual that snaps onto the right-hand side of the screen and is independent of the game.
To put this complaint into context, the only other game I’ve seen do this with its in-game help is Peggle 2; a far simpler game to understand with a significantly shorter manual. Starpoint Gemini 2 is a vastly more complicated game in a genre not typically found on consoles, so the concepts behind its mechanics require more than just a wall of text you’re expected read. While I appreciate that lack of hand holding, this is one instance where a lack of a proper tutorial has seriously hindered the experience.
So what is it you actually do in Starpoint Gemini 2? Essentially the bulk of the game is being a space trader; gaining money and experience for mining asteroids, killing enemies and selling their cargo, or completing randomly generated missions that range from assassinating rogue ships, escorting people or cargo, and repairing facilities to name a few, or to improve the ship you chose at the beginning of the game.
You’re free to roam the universe, building relationships with the factions and improving your fleet as you progress. Some might like the rather laid-back and loose approach to the proceedings, but as with most space simulators there is a lot of down-time when you’re travelling at warp speed to another destination.
This is where much of the tedium of Starpoint Gemini 2 lies as you’re spending your time merely reacting to vocal alerts from the ship’s computer. As such, this is a simulator about completing side-quests for the vast majority of the game, which to me is incredibly dull. Different classes do boost the variety, but not by very much.
For those who need a goal to work towards, Starpoint Gemini 2 does have a campaign, yet it’s a conspiracy not worth pursuing for the truth. You take on the role of Adrian Faulkner as he investigates his father’s death, alongside all the side quests that the Free Roam mode has to offer. However it doesn’t really expand on the mission variety much beyond some dodgy voice acting as they closely resemble the Free Roam missions, despite the campaign offering a more structured experience.
As much as this gameplay style that Starpoint Gemini 2 has would appeal to a certain audience, I suspect this game is significantly more playable on a PC than the Xbox One version. “Tutorials” aside, the controls here aren’t efficiently streamlined for the lack of buttons available. More often than not I have found that while moving and basic shooting is relatively simple to perform, anything more complicated requires either weird button combinations or navigating to an options menu.
This is far from the only issue with Starpoint Gemini 2. Entering the game’s world takes several minutes to load all the assets, yet travelling between each sector makes the game stutter as the game updates the universe accordingly. It’s jarring whenever it happens, making it seem like the game has crashed when it hasn’t, but it’s far more worrying when it occurs during combat as your ship may be on the verge of taking a massive barrage of enemy fire. Sometimes, the game will actually crash, which is just the icing on this cake.
Space simulators are difficult to analyse in terms of graphical fidelity because the vast majority of space is black emptiness, but Starpoint Gemini 2 does at least populate space with vibrant planets and luminescent galaxies, creating some nice particle effects as a result. Ship design however is rather minimalistic. Aside from one default spacecraft that looks rather phallic, nothing here is akin to the iconic designs of the Millenium Falcon, the Starship Enterprise, or Battlestar Galactica.
It’s simple to just say that Starpoint Gemini 2 isn’t for everyone, but there are fundamental issues that really make this game utterly impenetrable. The presentation is generally of a good standard, and though the performance falters at inconvenient moments, it’s how the game deals with teaching players how things work that’s most disappointing. We’ve seen space simulations that work on consoles, but this particular trade isn’t worth what they’re offering.
Version Tested: Xbox One