In space no one can hear you scream. Or, as is more often the case with Gratuitous Space Battles, explode. An odd amalgamation of spectacular intergalactic battle-porn, puzzler and turn based strategy it's certainly a tough game to pin down genre-wise, but that only means that it offers that most rare commodity in games these days; originality.
The core of the game, as if you couldn’t have guessed, is spectacular showdowns between opposing fleets of starships. You’re shown a general blueprint of the opposing fleet and then design and deploy your own fleet to take those aliens SOBs down in a hail of laser, missile or torpedo fire. So far, so RTS, but the difference here is that once the battle has started and the game has switched to its gorgeously animated 2D engine you’re completely out of the loop - powerless as you watch your strategy sink or swim.
Click to enlarge - The 2D engine is simply gorgeous and is amazingly detailed
This means that all your tactical thinking is done pre-confrontation rather than on the fly and unsurprisingly there’s a significant amount of detail available for you to tweak and tinker with when it comes to your fleet and tactics. The crux of this is the excellent ship designer, where you’re able to fully customise everything about your space navy. It’s not as easy as loading up a ship with the biggest guns and setting it loose though as you’ll also need to include engines, shields, armour plating and crew quarters in order to make your ship a well rounded vessel.
However, as there’d be no fun in the game if you were able to field an invincibly overwhelming fleet of ships you’re limited on both cost and number of pilots available when plotting your deployment. Pack too many fighters or bombers and you’ll lack the presence of the heavier armoured cruisers. Likewise, fill your cruisers with all the expensive top end parts and you’ll only be able to afford a few.
Click to enlarge - All the strategy comes before the battle
You don’t get all the best toys for your ships to start with either and there’s a vast array of unlockable extra kit available by earning Honour; a resource acquired by completing missions with fewer and fewer resources. Ranging from tractor beams to reflective shielding and auto repair systems to targeting lasers, some of the unlocks can drastically alter your strategies and they’re all described with the same sense of self deprecating humour that also runs through the text commentary of ongoing battles – GSB doesn’t take itself too seriously and it only adds to the game’s charm.
Even with an array of unlocked gear, designing a well balanced fleet is an ongoing challenge, especially as the opposition can so often be specialised by fielding high numbers of armour piercing missiles or wings of bombers for which shields are no defence. Differing environmental conditions also change the way battles are fought, with some levels disabling shields and others making a particular class of ship unavailable. This all means that it’s rare that what worked last time will do so again and you’re always tweaking and changing your fleet or designing a new ship to better blow the enemies into floating wreckage.