Intergalactic wars are not the sort of conflicts one expects to finish up in an afternoon, or even a plethora of afternoons spread across multiple years. Positech Games' Gratuitous Space Battles is a war seemingly without end, with countless short battles constantly playing out on would-be warlords' PCs.
Adding to the war-torn milieu is a new expansion, pitting the cybernetic conquerors known as the Outcasts against the battle-hardened veterans from the base game and its copious amount of DLC. They have a chip on their mechanical shoulders, and a shedload of firepower to back up their hostile intentions. They fit right in.
For the uninitiated, Gratuitous Space Battles is a strategy sim that allows prospective space commanders to build and customize a fleet of vessels ranging from tiny fighters to titanic cruisers before sending them off into a 2D scrap against a myriad of alien foes. The battles are nail-bitingly intense, as players can do naught but sit back and watch their fleet go out in a blaze of glory, or come home victorious conquerors.
The base game came out over three years ago, but has been expanded upon by several DLC packs that add new races, ships, and modules to the already filled to the brim list. The latest race, the Outcasts, might seem like bad eggs to most -- inspired as they are by the likes of the Borg and Cybermen -- but I can totally sympathize with their crusade against fleshiness. People can be pretty gross, and when they aren't secreting fluids all over the damn place, they are trying to wipe out really cool cyber-guys and gals. After having a rough time on their homeworld, the Outcasts took to the skies and blasted their planet and its meatbag residents from space. Right on!
In terms of aesthetics, the Outcasts are galaxies ahead of the rest of the races, with their ships looking like a mash-up of the Millennium Falcon and an old-school UFO. Bright lights of varying colors pulse hypnotically on the ships' hulls, promising an intergalactic disco inside, or maybe they are just trying to communicate -- most likely through "your mum" jokes.
The Outcasts have some pretty neat toys to go along with their groovy look, most notably a holographic decoy projector and a multi-target tractor beam. The former is a great tool for sly fleet commanders and for those who like to watch their enemies waste energy on shooting lasers and missiles at empty space. It projects a transparent, flickering image of a cruiser, but still manages to trick the enemy pretty consistently. Eventually it does disappear, and the vessels of the opposition will tire of seeing their weapons do absolutely no damage to the ghost ship, so it's not a win button, but it's one of the handiest modules in the game right now.
The multi-target tractor beam is a worthy addition to any frigate, specifically ones set up to be anti-fighter frigates. This class of ship gets no end of flack from players, due to its many perceived weaknesses and the fact that it can't stay on the front line for more than a couple of minutes without getting blown to smithereens. It's much better behind the front line, protecting the more important cruisers, and shooting down those pesky, spry fighters. With the new tractor beam, it can now hold several fighters in place, making them even more vulnerable to anti-fighter weapons.
There's nothing quite like seeing a swarm of rocket fighters -- no doubt piloted by irritating hotshots -- confidently speeding towards a group of frigates, only for them to become surrounded in a beam of blue light, unable to move at all. I like to gleefully wave at them before they become space dust, because I'm just that kind of friendly chap.
While the new modules cater to many different play-styles and offer tons of possibilities for all ship classes, it does seem like this DLC was designed to make frigates more prominent. The Outcast frigate hulls have some nice boosts to speed and defense, and the new sniper laser is a boon to any frigate hiding behind the damage-soaking cruisers, able, as it is, to take shots at foes from a great distance.
Although The Outcasts doesn't provide anything that drastically changes the game, it's a more than welcome addition to an already highly entertaining and content-rich experience. The new race manages to have a lot of character despite the lack of any narrative, and the new vessels, weapons, and systems just beg to be experimented with. Now we can look forward to checking out what the modders do with all these extras.
The DLC can be picked up directly from the Gratuitous Space Battles site or Steam for $5.99. I also had the opportunity to chat with Cliff Harris, creator of the game and founder of Positech Games this afternoon; so keep an eye out for the interview next week.