Gemini Wars is a space RTS with lofty goals, but struggles to get off the ground.
Ewoks dancing to a cheerful tune, celebrating the downfall of their Imperial overlords.
The U.S.S. Enterprise boldly going where no-one has gone before.
Gemini Wars spits in the face of such happy endings of interstellar lore by crafting a tale of pure and utter destruction. In this future, humanity has advanced to the stars, and proceeded to continue its attempt to destroy itself, only now with bigger and better weapons. That said, the involved storyline of Gemini Wars is a highlight of the game; a component so often missing or, at best, under-developed in space RTS games.
The single-player campaign of Gemini Wars unravels the story of the ongoing, brutal war between the USF and the Alliance (with an alien species thrown in), and offers considerable depth in its approach to fans of the genre and newcomers alike. Players can expect a variety of challenges in missions, from simply blow-the-bad-guys-up to the defense of key installations using, albeit limited, strategy. Missions vary in length, with most falling between 30-60 minutes from start to finish, and the difficulty swings from relatively simple on some mission to near impossible on others.
Within the campaign, missions unfold, for the most part, in a uniform fashion that allows little deviation or innovation in order to achieve successful completion. Depending on preferred play style, this may or may not present as an issue that detracts from the fun of the game. The scope of the maps in later missions, and the general length of these missions, lends itself to players who enjoy taking the time to plan out moves and make adjustments as the action progresses. On the contrary, players who enjoy a fast-paced environment with quick decision-making will likely become frustrated with the overall pacing of the game.
That leads to one of the game’s significant drawbacks: its speed. Even for a gamer who enjoys planning, the slow movement of ships and lengthy production time of units in Gemini Wars can be tiresome, if not excruciating, as the player watches waves of enemy attackers arrive, knowing military facilities simply can’t keep up with the demand. The issue of game speed is not limited only to the missions themselves, but also to the campaign itself. Though a firm, purposeful research tree exists in the game, it takes a considerable amount of playtime through missions before these elements start to make their way into gameplay. In the scope of a story-driven game, this delay makes sense, but may put some players off, given that many of these elements are some of the best that Gemini Wars has to offer.
Graphically, Gemini Wars does relatively well. Huge, sprawling maps are detailed, colorful and feel somewhat alive against what can often feel the dull, uninspiring backdrop of space. Battle sequences can be enjoyable, too, with decent shield effects, laser attacks and ship explosions. Short cutscenes and mission introduction videos (great for those who enjoy this type of immersion in the story) are also good. It soon becomes apparent, however, that in a future filled with gigantic space battles, humanity has had little use for cosmetic products or plastic surgery, as evidenced by the sheer ugliness of every human encountered in the game. Ships and bases, although their variety is limited, do stand out as actually looking more attractive than humanity. Sadly, certain gameplay mechanics (discussed in further detail below) mean the visual aesthetics of Gemini Wars are left under-appreciated on most levels.
As a player might expect with a space RTS game, grandiose music accompanies throughout and, while over the top at times, is not too irritating. The same cannot be said, however, for the computerized voices, which will have you reaching for your speaker power in no time. Extremely repetitive and misleading statements like, “Capital ship destroyed,” cause frustration for two reasons. First, the voice sound effects, while not terrible, are used incessantly and second, the game refers to every ship as a “capital ship” and fails to distinguish between ally/enemy ships. Imagine the chagrin when a player thinks the battle is going smoothly in their favor, only to discover that those capital ships did not belong to the enemy, and the military station orbiting a nearby planet is woefully unprepared to spin its gears into action and churn out desperately needed reinforcements.
A situation like the aforementioned would, of course, be unlikely to occur if a player monitors each battle carefully. Unfortunately, an extremely unpredictable, jumpy movement system in Gemini Wars mean that it becomes far easier to oversee a space battle from the zoomed-out strategic mode (in which units appear only as small blue or red markers) than the zoomed-in battle mode. While game commands are relatively simple, units often will not respond appropriately to their orders, especially if trying to move a unit away from fighting in a battle. Let them out of sight, and they’ve turned around and started firing again. Overall, this can have a significant hindrance on gameplay and cause a loss of enjoyment in many of the missions.
The two most significant elements that Gemini Wars has going for it are its development/economy system and its skirmish mode.
The economy in Gemini Wars is centered around only one resource: crystals. Crystals are extremely easy to obtain, mined through one structure on an asteroid field. Other structures, such as colonies, military stations and research stations, are built either on or in orbit of planets or moons. The simplistic nature of crystal production means the game doesn’t get bogged down in an unnecessarily complex and demanding economic system and, as long as defenses are adequate, a player does not need to worry about running out of resources at crucial points in missions or in extended play through skirmish mode.
Skirmish mode allows for a much quicker pace (in terms of development, options and access to the research tree) than found in the single-player campaign. Here, the player can see the benefits of the generally intuitive and straight-forward nature of game controls and unit selection as they race to build a fleet, while also colonizing worlds and developing various research strands. Gemini Wars also has a multiplayer option which, although not covered in this review, expands upon the foundation of the skirmish mode and is a welcome addition to what initially began as only a single-player, campaign-driven game.
Gemini Wars is not a terrible game, nor a great one. It is solidly average and will offer most players enjoyable, though limited, playability for a short period of time. While incorporating many elements of other 4X space strategy games, Gemini Wars primarily suffers not because of anything it does badly, but rather due to a lack of having anything to excel at. Its pace and unhelpful movement system prevent it from competing with other campaign-driven RTS titles, while its exploration and expansion components, although present, simply do not offer the depth of choice and interest to compete with highly complex, strategically-minded titles such as Endless Space.