Gemini Wars Review
This game was reviewed on the PC.
When humanity reached towards the stars, a new era of peace and prosperity was expected to bloom as a result. Instead, the same petty squabbles that marred man’s progress until that point simply blew up in scope and size. Now, different political factions wage war across the stars, and young people from every homeland are sent to die for the hopes of scraping out more power and territory. This is an ambitious foundation for Gemini Wars, which explores a galaxy torn apart by conflict. The only question is: did Camel101 create a game that matches the potential in such a premise, or is Gemini Wars a game that will struggle to hold the player’s interest?
Gemini Wars is a space RTS that draws inspiration from classic games such as the Warhammer 40k: Dawn of War and Starcraft series while maintaining a unique perspective on large-scale space combat. Instead of focusing entirely on space marines, dystopian empires, or the hideous xenos that lie in wait behind the stars, Gemini Wars largely concentrates on ship-to-ship combat. Players of games like Sins of a Solar Empire should find themselves at home with the basic concepts of Gemini Wars. Ships engage in combat with other ships, jump between systems through faster-than-light technology, build bases to manufacture more units, and gain experience through combat. Players must protect their ship’s hull integrity and the crew members to keep their fighting forces strong and capable while boarding enemy ships or assailing them from afar to win fights and complete missions.
The main conflict in the game is between two human empires, the USF and the Alliance, though two other factions including an alien race called the Grak appear later. You control Captain Cole of the USF; Cole is returning from years of exile to fight the enemy Alliance. There’s very little difference between the Alliance and the USF, making the main conflict seem essentially flat and boring. There are some differences in aesthetics in ship and base units such as differences in colours and construction such as ship hulls or the shape of wings and ridges, and that is where any separation ends. The same voice-overs are used for all ships, and the story doesn’t explore any great moral or historical differences between the two groups. Even the aesthetic differences are minor compared to other RTS games where each faction has distinct looks (e.g. the iconic Starcraft’s rough-and-tumble Terrans, the bio-organic monster Zerg, and the sleek, futuristic and ancient Protoss), world views, game mechanics, voice-overs and goals. There is rich ground to plant ideological differences between the two factions and make the conflict something that players could really sink their teeth into. Instead, players will find that they have as much attachment or interest in the two factions as they would to a black or white chess pawn.
Problems with writing, world-building and an overly bare-bones take on the game’s narrative periodically pop up as the player progresses through the game. The captions over cutscenes are often badly written, featuring poor syntax, grammar mistakes, and tired clichés. Lines of dialogue are typically things that would never come out of someone’s mouth in real life due to awkward phrasing, wrong emphasis on words and syllables, and redundant overuse of language. Dialogue and captions are heavy with ellipses and vaguely philosophical bents (for example, “Maybe man was meant to be this way…” and “Decades have passed and millions have died… but still everything remains the way it was before”), while unit voice-overs are repetitive quotes that lack personality or style. The end result is that Camel101 has created a universe where the characters aren’t believable as people, the narrative suffers from amateurish mistakes, and players are constantly pulled out their immersion by avoidable errors.
A game with a two-dimensional story can often be saved by clever gameplay mechanics, and Gemini Wars does bring some interesting ideas to the table. There is a Warp mechanic, which enables your ships to jump in groups across large distances, either towards, or away from, the fight. Warping has a cool-down, which means you must live (or die) with your decision, even when you find yourself in a sticky situation. Making good decisions while Warping can be the difference between victory and defeat; I found myself praying for the warp cool-down to count down faster while my troops were picked off one by one. Warp achieves a few important goals: it makes the player aware of just how vast space is; it adds a risk/reward mechanic to every strategy; and it punishes careless gameplay without feeling unfair or forced. Gaining experience on ships by filling the experience bar with every death of an enemy ship was also an interesting and motivating feature; I found myself taking care of certain ships and feeling extra accomplished after every fight. Colonizing bases reinforced the campaign themes of expanding territory through space and the trench warfare feeling of a slow, unstoppable advance against a stubborn enemy.
The core gameplay was far from perfect, however. Large parts of the game were marred by slow movement speeds of units, long periods of time between anything exciting or urgent happening. Players can expect overly long wait times as they move their troops into position. The AI of enemy units was also extremely predictable; I could always tell how a battle would play out if I went into it with enough warning and it became a practice in patience to watch the same battles play out over and over. For instance, if I were to move to an enemy, they would always move for a direct confrontation – no flanking, no nuance, just head-to-head combat.
The engagements may have been repetitive, but the first few times I watched them they were a stunning sight. CGI cutscenes focused around ships navigating through futuristic cities while fending off foes were breathtakingly executed. Unfortunately, as soon as the game focuses on the human element, everything goes awry. Whenever a soldier showed his face during a CGI cutscene, the uncanny valley was invoked so strongly as to ruin the effect Camel101 was going for. Every person in the game is unsightly, with features that can often look like deformations or unevenly candle-wax. Games don’t need beautiful protagonists, and if the appearance of humans was meant to be a stylistic choice that would be a great way to world-build, but rather the characters just suffered from problems coming from art decisions. It was unfortunate and a real blemish on a game that could, at times, be otherwise colourful, vast, and gorgeous.
The visuals grew old over time, but the audio components of the game were painful to listen to right from the start. The sound of the game needed some serious revision: the volume was inconsistent, with some lines of dialogue being quiet and flat and others being blared through the speakers even when wildly inappropriate, such as a captain calmly addressing his crew; several sound effects sounded like they were delivered through several levels of saran wrap, and the sounds of weapons firing or ships moving could be grating and repetitive. As an example of the sound quality, the tutorial for the game is given by an AI. The AI’s voice sounds like it’s emulating a text to speech program, and the pronunciation of words were off enough to be notable.
Gemini Wars has a few novel ideas that act as a structure for a snail-paced game, a weak story and irritating, repetitive mechanics. In the end, Camel101 is still bringing something new to the table of the RTS genre, and that is laudable. However, players who aren’t die-hard fans of the RTS genre might want to avoid this game altogether, as there are a great number of problems and issues that plague it. Connoisseurs of the RTS genre might find merit in the unique aspects of this game, but other players might want to consider looking elsewhere for a fun single-player experience.
Gemini Wars earns a 3.5/5.0
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