Gratuitous Space Battles is exactly the kind of game you might imagine based on the title—a game that gives gratuitous amount of space action, however, the GSB might not be exactly what you are looking for if you are looking for a typical strategy game, like Starcraft or even the Civilzation franchise. Rather than choosing between being real-time or turn-based, GSB lovingly decides to give you both worlds with its planning phase and fighting phase. Before battle even starts, you can edit your ships and tailor them to a variety of options, some involving anti-fighter capacity, carrier duty, or dreadnaught style ship destroyers. This phase of can be slightly confusing as the game really does not feel inclined to give you a nice summary listing all the racial advantages and disadvantages, and with eight races to choose from, it can be a real head-scratcher. This proves to only be a small set back if you like fleet creation, however, as the sheer number of options and designs that you can unlock is quite large. You can strap shields on your ships, or load them down with armor. You can install giant turrets that will leave your enemy screaming or use little turrets and smile as your opponent is slowly stung into oblivion (or use them to attack fighters, which are what they are really for). The game provides a plethora of upgrades that can be unlocked by accumulating honor. Honor is earned by beating battles, with higher difficulties netting greater rewards, giving the game a long-term goal for the player: build the best fleet possible. After you design your fleet, you can issue their place on the battlefield map, seen before every battle, and give each ship specific orders, like escorting, defending, or simply attacking the enemy with an all out assault.
The planning phase is fun and intuitive, but the action takes place in a cinematic phase. The player can watch his custom fleet engage an enemy fleet, one either premade in the game’s pseudo campaign, which is more of a list of battles really, or in a multiplayer skirmish present in the Galactic Conquest expansion. This cinematic phase is a bit of a mixed bag, really. On the one hand, it’s awesome to see ships engage in a shiny battle where they gore each other with sparkly rays of death and blast away with cannons of not-really-so-righteous-fury. Then there is the other hand, the one that, open-palmed, slaps you back into reality as you mouth “no, no, no,” watching your big cruiser stupidly target some random frigate that happened to shamble into its view while an enemy dreadnaught has its way with the rest of your forces. You may be inclined to press random buttons in hopes of somehow staving off what you know is your demise, but as the salt from your tears encrusts the keys of your keyboard, the game’s harsh reality sets in: you have lost. This does little, however, to blunt the beauty and humor the game puts before your eyes; with ships named Galactic Maniac and Tentative Tentacles, if the game’s colorful flair does not cheer you, its humor will. During one of my first battles, I noticed that you can monitor the communications of your fleet. After taking damage, a line from one of my ships popped up, here roughly remembered: “We just lost decks 3 through 5. Crap, I left my wallet on deck 4.” Lines like this do a great deal to add to the fact that this game is here for one reason: to provide the gamer with copious amounts of ship to ship combat that is fun, if not always serious. Combined with the fact that the player can make changes to his or her fleet and improve upon the designs, the game strikes a decent balance between visual appeal and mechanical depth.
Should I play It?
Ultimately, Gratuitous Space Battles is going to appeal to gamers who enjoy puzzles or problem solving because, largely, that’s what the game is good at providing. The gamer spends most of his or her time in the planning phase of the game: retooling one’s fleet, reevaluating one’s tactics, trying out new races, etc. The actual battles, while entertaining and pretty, are only a small portion of the game and ultimately one that the player cannot affect once the battle has started. Gamers who enjoy the hands on and more reactionary style of more traditional RTS style games will find GSB lacking. The game appeals to the player who likes to plan ahead, that far-thinking strategist who sees the big picture and enjoys the set up to a battle as much as the battle itself. For other gamers, GSB’s original glamour is going to wear off, leaving a game that feels monotonous and slow in its wake. If you’re a casual gamer looking for a nice little indie romp through space that does not take itself too seriously, GSB is worth picking up—if it’s on sale. If you enjoy games that are challenging and provide problems needing innovative solutions of the explosive warhead or steel bullet hurling through space variety, this game is probably exactly what you want.