During university finals each semester (a time I usually refer to as “the week of hell”) I often find myself spending a lot of time either in my room or on campus at one of those study desk things with pictures of penises flanked by various swearwords and declarations of love all over the sides. This time around it was hard to ignore that a lot of the people on my steam friends list were playing games, especially with the Diablo 3 beta weekend, and I eventually got jealous. As my main “school” computer is now a Mac Mini, I set out to find a game that I could play in 10-20 minute increments on a Mac in between studying as sort of a reward for studying. I browsed down my steam library list at only the Mac games, most of which I acquired through humble indie bundles and had yet to play. No, don’t feel like playing a puzzle game, that’s too stressful… no, don’t feel like playing an adventure game, there might not be any pauses for my disciplined side to tell me to get back to studying… oh, what’s this? I wonder what this game’s about. I did some googling and it seemed low-maintenance and like I’d be able to play it in several small increments, so I installed it and went on my way. As you’ve probably guessed by now, this game was called Gratuitous Space Battles. You can check out (and buy) the game here: http://positech.co.uk/gratuitousspacebattles/
If you’re the kind of person who’s a little impatient (like me, as I think I’ve made clear in the past!), then you’re probably not a completionist when it comes to video games. You don’t need to play every difficulty for every level and earn every achievement. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but I just like moving onto the next thing once I’m done the first. I’m always on the go. If this is the case with you, set aside about 2 hours to play through the single player missions of this game.
There are only a handful of missions in single player. 11, to be exact. Plus one tutorial mission and 2 never-ending missions (so you can try to beat your high scores).Don’t expect any kind of story, though. The names of the missions sort of tease at the existence of a story line but the game really doesn’t have one. And despite there being 4 different races, the missions do not change. Apparently all four are allied against themselves… or something. Thankfully, each mission does change when you increase the difficulty (there are 2 harder difficulties over “normal” for each mission), and this does add some replayability to the game. It also gives you the opportunity to earn more honour after each battle which in turn can be used to purchase upgrades for your ships.
There are 3 categories of ships: fighters, frigates, and cruisers. For each category, there are different styles (with slightly different attributes, which I’ll mention in a bit) that you can choose from. The fighters are small, nimble little guys that can deal a lot of damage very quickly but often aren’t any good against stronger ships; the cruisers are the big, slow, powerful ships that take do most of the hard work; the frigates are an intermediate between the two. I played through all of the missions only using frigates once, and that was because of a “spacial anomaly” preventing me from deploying my awesome cruisers. I’d usually send my fighters off to weaken the enemy and by the time my cruisers arrived they’d make quick work out of whatever was left. Anyways, each kind of ship has different “modules” into which you insert weapons, defense systems, crew quarters, power generators, ship engines, shields, and so on. These are the sorts of thing you buy with the honour you earn (that would be one messed up society economically!). Each item, however, requires a few things. Weapons, engines and defensive items usually require crew and power, and power generators themselves usually require crew. This limits you as to how powerful you can make your ships. You can’t load it up with all the best weapons because, well, you might not have any ability to put power or crew quarters in (luckily, for the latter, there is a droid upgrade you can get!). In addition to crew and power, there is also a cost associated with each ship and item you insert in to it. This plays a role in limiting you with regards to how many ships you can deploy for a battle. I should note that during my journey through this game I unlocked less than half of the possible items. For a completionist, have no fear… you will have lots to do!
I made a range of “Lazy” ships (ie. the Lazy Cruiser and the Lazy Fighter) which I eventually had to replace to deal with some of the spatial anomalies I encountered in a few missions. I then created things like my “Buffalo Bill” cruisers and “Punchin’ Puma” frigates. Those were pretty cool! I liked the ship building aspect of this game very much.
There are lots of things to be customized too. You can build your own ships, of course, but also, for each individual ship that you deploy, you can set what sort of priority they should treat different kinds of opposing ships (fighters, frigates and cruisers again) and what sorts of ranges that your ships should approach and do battle in (each weapon on your ships will have varying ranges). This ability is very useful and may result in a loss or a victory in a battle. This, in addition to choosing how many/what kind and where your ships deploy is about all the say you get in a battle situation. Battles themselves are pretty, well, uneventful. They are entirely automated, you deploy your ships, click “Fight”, and watch the battle unfold like a movie. If you have nothing but cruisers out there prepare to sit there for a while as they’re slower than icebergs even with 2 level III engines each. You might want to have homework or studying to do while you wait. Thankfully, there is the ability to increase speed up to 4x which makes it a lot more bearable. This is a bit frustrating, as you can’t intervene in the battle and tell your ships to do something differently, fight another enemy, or take on an opponent together. However, the game tries to make up for this by offering you an overwhelming amount of statistics after each battle. This means you can find out how much damage each individual ship took and what its weakness and strengths were in that particular battle. This is a big help if you have no idea what’s going on.
So, you build your own ships and watch them do battle in a small number of missions. That’s what we’ve got so far. But wait, there’s more! There’s also multiplayer! Basically, you can go online and accept challenges left by other players to try and take on their fleets. Of course, you can also create your own. Since the battles are entirely automated the other player doesn’t have to be present, but they (I believe) can watch the battle later and view a list of attempts against their fleet. You can also impose various restrictions (ie. you can only use so many of certain kinds of weapons, so many kinds of ships, etc.) and what the game called “spacial anomalies” (ie. ships move slower, repair droids don’t work, camouflage doesn’t work, and so on). This is kind of a neat idea, but I fear it will probably grow a bit boring very quickly.
The game was a little less polished compared to some other indie games I’ve played in the past. The constant misuse of “it’s” was the first thing that really bugged me (in one instance it was used correctly in one sentence and incorrectly in the next. It also occurred more than once), and there were a couple of small bugs (although it may have just been my unfamiliarity with the user interface), but nothing that affected the gameplay. It was challenging to differentiate things like weapons when you were trying to figure out which one was the most effective when building your ships. There should really be a more convenient list of your ship’s attributes that is assessible during the deployment stage so that you can figure out what its limitations are (especially if you’re dealing with restrictions). Consider this: you’re want to play a battle but there’s a limitation: you can only have so many of a certain weapon. So you check out your ship, but all you see are the little pictures of the weapons. This means, unless you’ve memorized them all, that you have to go back through menus and figure out what name goes with that picture. I found this very irritating.
One thing I do like about this game is that it doesn’t take itself seriously. It automatically names your ships corny names and you get a little feed at the top of your screen during a battle filled with witty comments from your pilots. I love a game with a sense of humour (that’s why I fell in love with Portal when I first played it), and this game has one which is always a nice surprise!
Considering I probably paid only a few bucks to play this game through the humble indie bundle, I really can’t complain about it. Yeah, it’s short and doesn’t have a lot of replayability, but it was a fun way to kill a few hours. It’s not a bad game, but it does leave you thinking “that’s it?” If you purchased it through the humble indie bundle then you should check it out and give it a shot, you might find it fun. The worst that can happen is you waste an hour or two.