Gemini Wars review
Gemini Wars is a Real-Time Strategy (RTS) game set in deep space. Humanity’s forces have split in two, with both factions wanting control of the newly formed asteroid mining project. Now, a race of aliens has decided to enter the fray. With three factions competing in a ferocious fight to the death in the bitter depths of space, everything is in place for a gargantuan gaming showdown. While the massive war can be felt at times, leading to an enjoyable play experience – the game fails to impress overall.
The basic premise of Gemini Wars is simply war and I like that in RTS games. You build space stations capable of constructing starships; moveable juggernauts equipped with death-lasers and energy-based torpedoes. Continue building and small groups of ships turn into huge fleets of deadly war vehicles. Each ship have shields, a hull and a weapon such as long-range missiles or fast-firing guns for taking down smaller fighters quickly. Ships also vary in size – there are small frigates for minor skirmishes between fleets, ranging to huge destroyers capable of taking on entire space stations and coming up trumps. Issuing orders to your airborne Armada, you use your fleet to destroy the enemy’s equally well-powered fleets of starships and claim dominion over a vast tract of cosmic space-dust. It is simple, entertaining fun with clear goals and visible results.
The standout highlight of Gemini Wars is the ability to sit back and watch a massive battle unfold. When two equally matched fleets come within firing range of each other, a wonderful scene of chaotic carnage follows! The smaller assault craft arrive first, unleashing star-shaped projectiles into the enemy’s ranks. Missile frigates bombard from further behind, while destroyers gradually rumble into range. The enemy returns fire and the visual spectacle kicks up a level. Projectiles fly back and forth. Shields flash with each impact. Captains blare into radios, warning you of their ships’ weakening hulls. Soon you can’t tell who is firing anymore – every ship is taking damage and dishing out as much punishment as they can. The sounds of shell-blasts and weapon launches are amazing. Ships explode in flames, casting metal debris in every direction. It is a truly epic and memorable moment.
War isn’t easy
Gameplay is split into resource management and the construction of death-machines. There are three resources – Research Points, Population and Crystals. Crystals are currency – they are spent when building warships, construction ships and space stations. Crystals are mined from asteroid fields, which can be found dotted around space in motionless clumps – not a state you’d naturally expect asteroids to be found in. To get a steady supply of these glass-like nuggets of power, a Mining Station needs to be constructed above a clump of the unmoving space-rock. After the station is built, you can forget about it – job done.
Construct a Research Station in the space above a planet and you gradually rack up Research Points to spend on new technologies. Technologies are pretty much limited to new, deadlier types of ships to build which is disappointing as more variety would have improved this element. Also having proper research trees that cut-off choices depending on earlier research would have injected some thought and element of planning, meaning you could not just rush to invent the next best ship that became available.
Population is used to restrict the number of ships and structures you can control at one time meaning you cannot just continue building ships until you have a massive fleet that can simply crush the enemy with overwhelming numbers. However, the restriction seems a bit too constrictive. Colony bases that increase the population capacity can only be built on rare occasions so you often reach your population limit without any way of increasing it – especially annoying if you have a mission objective to build one more missile frigate. There does not seem to be any way to destroy already constructed ships to “make room”. Instead, you are forced to send lone ships on suicide missions against the enemy. With the slow movement speed of ships and the fact that a sizeable enemy force capable of culling your unwanted ship can often be lightyears away, the game is slowed to a crawl.
Those three things plus an on-going battle should be enough to deal with during gameplay, but there are several more features shoehorned in. Each ship has a crew that varies in number, affecting the combat effectiveness of that ship. Ships have two engine speeds and gain experience from combat. Some big ships also have damage zones allowing targeting of specific components like engines or life support. It’s just too much. This needless complexity gets in the way of the action and makes it difficult to really start enjoying the game.
Space: The final frontier
Space is a big place and Gemini Wars seems fixated on bringing this sense of size to the battlefield. It has missions consisting of multiple “sectors”, each containing a single planet to construct a space station above or an asteroid field that can be mined for Crystals. Sectors are usually far apart so, thankfully, the game supports an impressive level of zoom. Zooming the game view significantly far out shows a “Strategic View” although this is pretty much just a view allowing you to see the whole battlefield and all sectors at once. Ships can use their fast hyperspace engines to jump between sectors – you do not have to wait the painfully long time it would take moving at default speed. In Strategic View, the tiny ships are given coloured icons making them standout. The drawback is that it is now virtually impossible to tell ships apart, let alone select your one defenceless construction ship to move out of the frontline. It also hides most of the game’s graphics which, while not spectacular, are definitely above average. These two problems are more serious than they sound. To make the best use of all available sectors, you are going to spend most of a mission in Strategic View which is a real let down.
It’s not a simple case of zooming out for high-level planning and zooming back to default levels for the visually entertaining space-battles. It is annoyingly easy to zoom out to the Strategic View and then zoom back into an area miles away from where the action is happening.
Although Gemini Wars is apparently very proud of the fact it is set in space, you will quickly realise you are not actually in ‘space’. Ship movements and station positioning are restricted to a 2 dimensional plane – flying ships vertically upwards and downwards is simply not possible. Ships are all at the same constant depth – occasionally they are positioned at different heights by mission opening cutscenes to give the illusion of actual flight in a 3 dimensional environment. This gives ships the image of “flying tanks” rather than graceful science-fiction spaceships, gliding nimbly through the air. Spaceships in this game move sluggishly, never really giving the impression of realtime flight. When they have no orders to carry out, they simply stop and hover in mid-air without moving an inch. They also appear “tank-like” – a bit drab and bulky with jagged edges.
With the amount of complexity involved, Gemini Wars can only be recommended to serious RTS players. However, you should definitely reconsider what you want from a game before purchasing this one. There is no multiplayer (despite one being advertised on the back of the box), no skirmish mode where you can take command of any faction and play against the computer, battles are heavily scripted so the enemy will not surprise attack you in interesting ways, and the action lacks depth, simply rushing in with the biggest guns is enough to secure victory. There are some redeeming features such as the decent graphics and entertaining large scale battles, but these are not enough to make purchase worthwhile.