Gratuitous Space Battles is a game that refuses to fall in any given category. It's developed by Positech Games, a company from United Kingdom, that also did both Kudos games (1 and 2), Rock Legend (an RPG/life-sim/Tycoon game) and Democracy 2 (a political strategy game).
Their pedigree couldn't be more varied. It's no wonder that when they've chosen to do a space combat type game, the result is something which hasn't been done before and not even imagined.
Calling it a space combat game is wrong, in some sense. When a friend asks you what kind of game “Gratuitous Space Battles” is, and you can't answer without a couple of phrases, you know it has to be something about it that makes it stand out.Installation
We acquired Gratuitous Space Battles with the fourth Humble Indie Bundle. The developers from Positech Games provide two distinct packages for the Linux platform. The first is a tar.gz archive; just unpack it and run the included binary for your architecture.
The second option is a .sh file, which is an installer. We installed Gratuitous Space Battles on an i686 Ubuntu 11.10 machine and we had no problems running the game. This might not be the case with everyone. The game might have some dependencies, so if you run into trouble, just run it from a terminal and see what dependencies are required.Gameplay
There is no story behind the game and frankly I don't think it would have needed one. The gameplay on the other hand is a little more complicated to explain.
Gratuitous Space Battles is basically a tower defense game, but with a vast fleet of ships in outer space and no means to control anything after the simulation has started.
I feel like I need to start explaining the gameplay from scratch. The players receive a certain amount of resources, at the beginning of each level, which can be used to build ships. If it were that simple...
In the first missions, just building and placing ships seems enough, but slowly, gamers must think about designing new ships, from scratch. Everything works in the same way. The smallest units are the fighters. In theory, they should be used to counter other fighters and to protect your ships from enemy missiles, but are ultimately used to divert the fire of bigger ships. These tactics always turn them into cannon fodder.
The second type of ships are the frigates, which are a lot bigger then fighters and are designed to protect other ships from enemy fighter attacks and do some moderate damage to bigger vessels. They are usually the first to be destroyed, they move slow, and are not all that useful.
The last category of predetermined ship designs are the capital ships which do a great deal of damage, have a massive shield and they are always the last ones to leave the battle field. The trade off is the fact that they are amazingly slow and it takes a long time to turn them and execute maneuvers.
Between all these categories of ships, users are free to design they very own versions. However, you can't just strap all the available weapons on a hull and send the ship into battle. Why? Because it's really expensive and you have to think about other aspects such as the shield, the engines and other variables.
After building and placing the ships on the starting line, according to a strategy I've given absolutely no thought whatsoever, I just have to press start and the simulation begins. As a player, you can't do anything else, just watch the battle!
After every battle, players are given honor points. These can be used to unlock new weapons and hull designes. The less funds are used for a battle, the more honor points are received.
Visually, the game looks impressive. However, keep in mind that everything is set in just two dimensions. The ships look really well, and the shield effects and the explosions are what makes this a nice game to watch.The Bad
There are several problems, but the most important one is the learning curve. Although the game features a tutorial, the step from building ships to designing new and better ones is pretty difficult. Maybe I don't have the necessary patience to learn the gameplay, but I wished it had a simpler mode, without the hassle of the later levels.
On a technical note, Gratuitous Space Battles crashed a couple times. It could be related to my system so I'm not saying the game is unstable, but I felt it was worth mentioning.The Good
As I said before, the graphics are one of the first things that attract most players. But they'll probably be a little disappointed once they figure out how hard the game actually is. But it's still worth it!
Another plus is the actual gameplay. I know of no other game that does what Gratuitous Space Battles does and it stands alone in its own category.Conclusion
Gratuitous Space Battles is definitely something that gamers must try. A game that falls in no particular niche and still manages to impress is not something to be seen everyday. Although it will be a bit hard at first, I get the feeling that once you master the gameplay, a whole new world opens up and you won't be able to stop playing.