When I reviewed Gratuitous Space Battles last year I remarked that, despite its name, the game's design was actually quite lean and focused, providing a unique, hands-off approach to real-time strategy, placing emphasis on ship design and preparation rather than unit micromanagement, all dedicated to one thing, and one thing only: giving players a taste of vast, thrilling slugfests between metal death-machines sailing upon the sea of stars. And it succeeded quite poetically, propelled by by crisp visuals and a sharp, self-aware sense of humor.
You'll be glad to know, then, that that has not changed at all with the addition of two new Gratuitous Space Battles expansion packs from developer Positech games.
Read on to see just what they add to your experience.
Gratuitous Space Battles Expansion Packs: The Order and The Tribe (PC)
Developer: Positech Games
This is actually a review of two expansion packs, namely "The Order" and "The Tribe", which add two new races to Gratuitous Space Battles' original four (one for each pack) and their attendant signature weapons. As might be inferred from the expansion packs' titles, the races are called "The Order" and "The Tribe".
Those names might sound hideously generic, and they are, but that's part of the game's charm, given that all the other factions are called the Federation, Alliance, Empire and Rebels. As ever, they serve as stand-ins for all the sci-fi's greatest tropes and conventions, unburdened by the need to cook up fancy languages or presumptuous naming conventions.
The Tribe are a diverse group of peaceful space-hippies, dedicated to bringing love, peace and good vibes to the universe through the total military destruction of all other warmongering life forms. Their bulbous, rounded ship designs practically wash the bad karma off their hulls. Tribe ships also have just half the armor and shield strength as the other races, but twice the durability, which can be a real downer for enemy tacticians who like to end fights in just a few laser barrages.
The Tribe pack brings in a total of eleven new hull designs (four cruisers, three frigates and four fighters), two new scenario maps, and "Kinetic Weapons", which are basically space machine-guns and space cannons. Kinetic weapons have an obscenely high rate of fire, but short range, adding a lot of "bang-bang-bang" to the "pew-pew-pew".
The Order, on the other hand, are a group of religious extremists who wish to convert the infidel races to their faith, or to irradiated space dust (they prefer the latter option). They fly around doing their god's work in asymmetrical ships that look for all the universe like a series of bright red space hulks held together by powerful tractor beams. Which is good, since that's exactly what Order ships are. Order hulls have very low engine output, but produce a lot of power, and are a great option for commanders who love spamming juice-hungry beam lasers at range.
Besides ten new hull designs (four cruisers, three frigates, three fighters) and two scenario maps, The Order pack contains four new weapon types. Radiation guns do damage on impact and degrade subsystems over time (as well as giving enemy crewmen extra limbs), and Nuclear missiles do the same thing, except that the enemy will yell "Oh no, they are launching nuclear missiles at me. NUCLEAR MISSILES." Firefly rockets are much faster than ordinary ones, and Limpet mines can attach to fighters and slow them down, making them easy pickings for all the slow-to-aim Radiation guns and Beam Lasers you mounted.
The packs themselves aren't without their own flaws, however. Since they are just add-ons, they naturally do not address complaints about the trial-and-error gameplay, nor do they add entirely new play modes or AI orders. If you didn't like
Also, Kinetic weapons, while sounding nice and loud, are not very impressive visually. The space bullets are mostly invisible, and the muzzle flashes tend to be obscured at short ranges. For the most part one can only tell if Kinetic weapons are being used through by hearing them.
The Order and Tribe themselves provide some interesting matches when placed in opposition. Will the Tribe's weak hulls last long enough to rush through the Order's beam/radiation spam and take out their lumbering vessels at range? The expansion pack races also come with the benefit of being unlocked straight out of the gate, requiring no in-game "honor" points to purchase (though some weapons are still locked until bought), unlike Gratuitous Space Battles' default factions.
Of course, one will need to purchase the packs in order to play online challenges that feature the new races and scenario maps.
Viewed from a pure value proposition, it seems that The Order pack provides more content, since new weapon types tend to outweigh the impact of new hull designs, but overall, both packs provide everything you might want from this sort of game - a diverse selection of ships and weapons with which to set up epic - nay, gratuitous - space battles.
You can grab the packs here or on Steam.
Score: 8 -- Great (8s are impressive efforts with a few noticeable problems holding them back. Won't astound everyone, but is worth your time and cash.)