This is a guest review by Anandraj Singh
If you're a sci-fi fan like me, then one of the things you probably love about the Genre are the space battles. There's really no greater thrill than watching ships flying about, explosions filling out the blackness as something or the other goes down amidst cries of "Shields down!" and such. But all too often such scenes are fleeting in movies; only present for a few seconds or a minute at most of film footage before it's gone to leave us either in the midst of good or horrible characters.
In games, that feeling and thrill is almost always overshadowed by something else - if it isn't the pressing need to complete objectives or protect a ship, it's the need to manage one's resources and base back at home - or sometimes just going "WTF" at the horribly bad plot and/or voice acting. Either way, something always serves to divert one's attention away from the space battle at hand while the few games where it doesn't are rarer than hen's teeth.
Enter Gratuitous Space Battles. Developed by Positech Games, Gratuitous Space Battles (or GSB for short) pretty much cuts through all that. Its goal is simple: get to the space battles and don't bother with anything else.
There is no real story here as much as there is a thin paper spy-mask of one. There are four factions (at least in the initial game - the Tribes expansion adds a fifth) available, each one a parody of a major science fiction archetype but at the same time having a specialty associated with them.
The Federation is the free-market economy taken to the extreme and have good hull designs and strength. The Rebels area group that broke off from the Empire due to the harsh military service - only to go ahead and form their own military to just fight them - with ships that focus more on speed. The Alliance are bugs in space with the motto "Six legs good, 2 legs bad" and have ships that focus on armor and weapon slots, for the most part. The Empire is the tech-oriented species that all work under an emperor that's apparently "under the weather" for the past 1,100 years (despite the fact that the species lives to 100). Their ships have undoubtedly the best shield bonuses in the game by far.
What's brilliant though, is that these little blurbs of info are above pretty much serves to sum up the game's non-existent story - a fact that it recognizes and then brushes aside to provide you, the player, with what matters: the gratuitously explosive space battles.
How it works is simple: you choose a mission (of which there are 10 scenarios and 2 survival-type) and then a race to play with - the default starting one is the Federation. You make some ships according to the style you want, place them in formation and adjust their orders, hit fight - and then just sit back and relax as you watch the fleets close in on each other and grind themselves to dust in a magnificent show of beams, gunfire and explosions everywhere.
The system while simple, can get more complicated should one desire. For instance, there is the ship designer, which essentially lets you fit out your ships with tons of modules, split into 4 categories (Weapons, Defenses, Engines, Other). Weapons come in a variety of mixes, from beams to pulses, rockets and missiles. Defenses range from point defenses to armor, while engines are of course, engines. There are more modules though - from Tractor beams to EMP Cannons/Defenses to power generators and crew modules (the last two of which are required to power/run your ship respectively). Although it may seem to make the matter complex, it doesn't really. There are only two resources to keep track of and balance, and their easy enough to do so while still allowing for a mix of ship types from artillery to close range brawlers.
These created ships can then be assembled into fleets on the battle screen. Orders can be given to each ship (or group of ships) depending on desired roles and placed into formation. All one has to do then is hit 'fight', sit back and just enjoy your very own personal space battle roll out in front of you as fighters zoom out to engage enemy frigate screens, destroying them in a single torpedo wave - only to be shot down as they get tractor beamed and neutered by defense lasers and so on.
Whatever happens, don't be mistaken - the action is good to watch even if it's just from a top-down 2D perspective. The ships are very well modeled and the effects are nothing short of gorgeous - easily better than a few of the full-scale productions I've seen in other games. The explosions are just as good, as are the battle scars ships get as they fight it out.
It all rolls in together to produce what is a fascinating experience, one that really is somewhat unique to the game itself. Even better though, is the fact that Positech Games - the developer and publisher - is basically rolling out patches that add more and more features every so often, suggesting that the game may just expand to include a few more interesting features in the future.