This review bring us another expansion, this time “The Outcasts” expansion to “Gratuitous Space Battles” (GSB). Gaming Nexus does not seem to have a review of the original game so this review will mostly cover the game itself.
GSB is, at heart, a mix of RTS shipbuilding and tower-defense-style combat. You are placed in the role of a space ship architect who must design ships to win a series of increasingly difficult battles. Before each battle you have a set number of different hull types, lasers, plasma blasters, shields, engines, power plants, armor, and all sorts of other neat spaceship-y weapons of war. You need to combine these in such a way as to build the biggest, baddest space armada you can.
This brings you to your first problem. Each ship only has a finite number of slots that can be equipped. Each laser means less armor, every blaster takes space that could have went to shields. You can always build a bigger ship – there are fighters, frigates, and cruisers to choose from – but larger ships are more costly both in themselves, and in everything you add to a ship costs. Of course, you have limited resources to commit to any given battle, so it is not possible to just build everything you might want.
The usual way to get out of this trap is to discover a new technology. GSB does not disappoint in this arena. As each ship costs a certain number of “credits” to build, each fleet costs the sum of all the costs of the ships within it. Every battle has a maximum allowable cost (the maximum number of credits your fleet can cost for that battle) and every credit under that that you spend (and still win the battle) goes toward tech research. Winning a big battle with the smallest possible fleet is not only a thrill in itself but also makes future battles easier by allowing you to unlock superior weaponry.
After you have designed your ships it is time to get to fighting. Deploying your fleet is simple – there is a zone on the left side of the screen onto which you drag and drop the desired ship models until you have all you want (or have hit the cost limit). This is also a good time to review tactics for this battle. You are able to give your ships some limited commands such as “stay in formation” or “gang up on already-injured ships”, or “retreat after taking too much damage”.
It's a good idea to set tactics carefully, as once the battle starts you will have (almost) no control over the ships. At this point it starts to feel more like a tower defense game. If you designed good ships then the battle will be a walk in the park for the good guys. If not, well, it will still be a walk in the park for somebody. Just not you. If things go badly you can always retreat, but that's the sum total of your input.
Luckily, in the basic game that challenges are pre-set, so you when you lose a battle you can analyze what went wrong and try again. There are a decent number of statistics presented that allow the user to determine what worked and what didn't. In particular, information about what weapons dealt the most damage and how much damage was absorbed by shields is very helpful in re-forming your fleet for another try.
This is where the game really shines. The various beams, shields, armor, engines and etc. all have their own strengths and weaknesses. Put them together correctly and you can get synergistic results. Do it wrong and your ships will flop around the battlefield, providing target practice for better designs. When things are going well this can be an entertaining trip through the ins and outs of shipbuilding.
There are a lot of ins and outs to be gone through. There are the standard speedy little fighters with weak guns, scrappy freighters to provide stand-off muscle through missile barrages, and lumbering cruisers with huge guns; but also anti-fighter loadouts, glass cannons, fighter carriers, and whole bunches of different designs that can keep you busy for hours.
This biggest variant of the basic “list of challenges” setup is the campaign mode. Here you are presented with a galaxy to conquer. The galaxy consists of a bunch of different systems, each of which provides resources or is otherwise useful. You build ships (based on how many resources you are currently raking in) and send them off to attack neighboring planets. Their you will find user-uploaded fleets to fight. The fighting is the same as the basic game, the big difference being the sense of progress resulting from taking over planets.
The other source of variation is the “races”. Different races have unique ships/weapons and different strengths. For example, there is a race that is good with fighters – they tend to have unique (better) fighter designs and other fighter-related bonuses. That is the premise behind “The Outcasts”: they are another race. There is nothing particularly awesome about them, and it would be hard to recommend spending 6 bucks just to get their content.
The game does have some weaknesses. After a while the shipbuilding choices start to all run together. The campaign mode is nether (after first impression) very interesting nor well-balanced. The graphics are well-done, but too resource-intensive for many machines that could otherwise run the game fine.
In summary, “Gratuitous Space Battles” starts out strong as an interesting and fun spaceship-design-and-fight game (sorta like a new “Trillion Credit Squadron”) but runs out of gas as its limits are reached. It would be really cool if “Gratuitous Space Battles” (entertaining but ultimately too simple) and “Sword of the Stars 2” (complex but ultimately boring) could settle down and have a kid or two.