Sometimes it is nice to be surprised by a game. To load up and realise that the gameplay is not what you expected, that there is a plot twist or mechanic that you genuinely did not see coming or to find something really original and unique. Sometimes I just want to blow a lot of stuff up in space. Gratuitous Space Battles 2 (GSB2) bills itself as the ultimate space fleet strategy management game and it is certainly very very comprehensive.
GSB2 is what the developer refers to as a ‘hands off’ simulator. Every battle has a set number of points and pilots you can spend. Rather than a turn based system or a real time system you design your ships, lay out formations and give them their orders and start the fight. At this point it is entirely hands off – you have no control of events.
I found this really odd at first and kept trying to work out ways to get ships to do what I wanted. Once I relaxed a little and thought about it I realised I was looking at it wrong. The control is still there but in the pre-battle setup and design and this allows hugely complicated setups which would be far to complicated to control all at once.
Ship Designs both for function and looks
You start with basic designs for a dreadnought, frigate, cruiser, destroyer, gunboat and fighters. As you complete battles you gain honor which can be used to buy new hull shapes and designs, modules that fit on the hulls and cosmetic add-ons. In addition there are three extra races which have their own perks and drawbacks.
Ship design and a good mix of capacities is something that I found was more of an art than a science. As long as you hit the basics of enough power and crew onboard there is no right or wrong way to fight a battle. There are better and more efficient ways and ways that do not work at all but no really wrong ways. I found that I tended to prefer using a combination of big missile armed dreadnoughts with very few engines and a large number of smaller fast energy armed gunboats to annoy the enemy but its just one of a great many possible options.
GSB2 comes with 11 included battles which can be played on an easy, medium or hard level and there is a lot of replayability involved there trying to work out the best most efficient way to win. Once these have been exhausted a completely new aspect becomes available. Players can design maps – enemy ships designs, formations and orders – and put them online for other players to challenge.
This gives a huge range of extra maps for the player and can allow for specialising. For example I might play a map that recommends that challengers only use lighter ship classes. It also adds an entirely new aspect in designing ships and formations for a map that can stand up to whatever combination the other user decides to throw at it.
GSB2 is a game of two halves when it comes to its visual aspect. The pre-battle and the battle.
The pre-battle sections of the game are a menu system. GSB2 uses a dark background with white or light text in most places. The screen is fairly packed with information, text, icons, graphs and options. The layout is generally logical but there is so much information that it is packed in quite densely. If you have difficulty distinguishing grayscale colors and information you will have problems with this. The menu’s also make use of icons extensively – I initially had problems telling ships apart because of this but in most cases there is either a label or more information on mouse over. Color is used as an indicator at some points but not as an only indicator.
The battle is far more colorful and heavily graphical. The developer seems to follow the idea that bigger and more is better and supports multi-monitor setups and impressively high resolutions. I was able to get it running across my laptop screen and external screen smoothly if slightly redundantly from a gameplay perspective. The battle is played out in two dimensions and the player can move their viewpoint around and zoom in out in individual ships or to see larger areas. The settings allow changes in graphical detail and to add or remove specific things. For example you can remove debris, escape pods or any of a number of things. Clicking on your ships will tag them with a label showing their current status and with all of this the screen gets very full and can feel cluttered.
Depending on the mix of weapons being used there is a lot of flash, repetitive actions and brightness. There is some flicker but I have not seen any high-speed strobe like flickering. It is possible to turn up the speed to 4 times normal and this might make some of the brightness move appear to strobe.
It should be noted that you do not have to look at the battle and it would be possible to play GSB2 entirely on stats.
Motion (simulation) sickness and balance disorders
GSB2 is very accessible if you have motion sickness or balance disorders. The ship design screens and pre-map planning are all fixed with no scrolling or movement at all. When the battle begins the user has control over the screen and can zoom in and out and move around as desired but there is no actual need to do so. If you wanted to start a battle and then simply ignore the screen until the end result came in.
The audio is GSB2 is controllable on five separate sliders. Master volume, music volume, soundFX volume, interface volume and voiceover volume. All can be switched from full to muted – in other words you can mute the music and interface volumes but leave the soundFX and voiceovers alone for example.
The audio is of high quality and the music is surprisingly atmospheric but at no point is any information conveyed by the audio that is not also produced on screen. In other words you can play GSB2 entirely on mute with no problems.
It is possible to send messages in game to other commanders but this is via a separate screen and not part of combat. The system is entirely text based and resembles email – it is not real-time.
The only place where voiceovers are relevant is when using the tutorial and this information is reproduced word for word in a speech bubble on-screen.
Input and Touch
GSB2 is a game that can be almost entirely controlled via mouse clicks. Preparation for games involves dragging and positioning ships onto a grid, selecting a ship or number of ships and picking orders or instructions from menus. Multiple ships can be selected by dragging a box over them or holding down the control key and clicking on ships. I had some issues with this with some sets of orders only being able to be given if I used control and click to select them, but I’m not sure if this is a bug or design choice. It is also possible to set up up pre-defined formations so if you find something that works for you it can be reproduced easily.
Ship design is very similar, selecting from menu’s and dragging icons to places on hulls. A keyboard is needed for things like naming ship types or writing descriptions but this is minimal.
There is no timing requirement on either menu – you can take as long as you like to set things up. There is also no penalty for making changes – change things back and forth fifty times and it will be the same. Hitboxes on items and menus feel completely normal for Windows.
Ease of Use
When you first load up GSB2 it launches straight into a tutorial. This holds your hand telling you exactly what to do through your first battle and shows all the basics. When you first go to the ship design screens it point out signficant options and gets you started off and it does the same when you look to spend honor to unlock new parts, hulls or races. The tutorial can be restarted at any point from the settings menu.
When you get further into the game each battlefield has three difficulty settings, with the default being set to the easiest. When you win a battle the next one becomes available in a very logical and sensible manner.
This is a complicated game and there are a huge number of variables you can go in and tweak to make your fleet better, stronger or more efficient and GSB2 encourages this tinkering and experimentation. Once you have unlocked a part it is yours to use and reuse forever in whatever circumstance you wish. Fancy building a high speed dreadnought that is near all engines and one fighter laser on the front? You can build and try it out with no penalty.
Language and Math
GSB2 is a complicated game and while it rarely provides larger paragraphs of text to read through it does use technical terms regularly. These are of a reasonable level of complexity but anyone who has read a space opera should have no problems with them.
A reasonable level of numeracy is needed to optimise ship design. Building a ship involves balancing crew levels, power, shields, armor, engines and maneuverability and weapons and all of these have their own statistics that interact and fit together. This is shown as figures and visually as charts.
If you do not wish for any social interaction in GSB2 it can be completely avoided. If you are willing to handle a minimal amount then the maps that others have created and made available can be easily downloaded without doing more than reading names. Should you want to it is possible to send mail messages ingame, these are text only and can only be addressed to a selected ingame name.
Trigger warnings & age ratings
Gratuitous Space Battles 2 has as the name would imply some gratuitous violence with a very shaky storyline tieing it together. This gratuitous violence is however not graphic, showing at most explosions and escape pods. The text communication channel also shows messages from people who have had their ships hit, mostly funny but occasionally poignant.
Gratuitous Space Battles 2 is one of those games that seems perfectly designed for the twiddler or the perfectionist. Move move this turret down here, adjust this formation and get a slightly better result. Or as the blurb says “build a battleship with purple rotating radars and 64 engines” just because. And its fun.
I came into it sceptical about a game that gave me no control at all of the actual battle and GSB2 showed me the release in setting it all up and seeing how the dominos fell with no way to influence it. GSB2 also turned out to be very accessible to those with control issues – if you can use a mouse, even very slowly, you can play. Recommended for strategy fans, space combat fans and table top gamers.
Product: Gratuitous Space Battles 2 | Developer: Cliff Harris| Publisher: Positech Games| Platform: PC Windows | Genre: Space Strategy Management | Players: 1 with some multiplayer interactions | Release Date April 2015 |Content Rating: not rated