Ship Shape?

It can be confusing trying to figure out why your strategies aren’t working though, which is one of GSBs biggest faults. The gorgeous in-game engine shows the battle play out in amazing detail, right down to the wave of escape pods that flee a destroyed ship, but the lack of an easily digested debrief at the end of unsuccessful missions means you’ll need to figure out for yourself why your badass fleet of planetary atomisers got punked by a few wings of bombers and a handful of cruisers.

After a while you’ll learn to spot those batteries of missiles pummelling your hull plating and start to pour over the ship-builders and post-mission stats in a little more detail, but for those just starting out it can be frustrating when you just can’t figure out why you failed to beat that last mission and have nothing but trial and error gameplay to figure things out with.

Speaking of missions it’s a little disappointing to find GSB only ships with just over a dozen of them available, although there are three different difficulty levels for each, with the toughest being extremely challenging. Help is at hand though from the multiplayer component, which effectively adds an infinite number of new levels courtesy of the ability to easily upload formations you think are particularly strong and let others download and try to best them. It’s a great feature and while it lacks the immediate satisfaction of a 1v1 live showdown there’s a great deal of pleasure in blowing another space commander’s best into scrap. Take that Ninjaguy16!

Gratuitous Space Battles Review Gratuitious Space Battles Review - Ship Shape?
That ship isn't long for the cosmos

However, GSB’s gameplay can become a little formulaic after a while. The process of building your fleet, heading into battle, seeing what works/doesn’t work, going back to the fleet deployment screen, tweaking your array and trying again can easily start to grate in extended sessions, and while the elation of finally cracking that hardened enemy formation is great, the trial and error involved in getting there won’t appeal to everyone. There are just so many times you’ll want to completely redesign your fleet to counter an opponent’s armada of bombproof cruisers, although the addition of three extra races (complete with new ship designs) and the array of unlockable extras keeps things fresh for a while longer.

Gratuitous Space Battles Review Gratuitious Space Battles Review - Ship Shape?
Click to enlarge - There's a huge amount of user generated levels available, but they can become a bit samey

GSB is a totally unique game experience and for those of us who’ve marvelled at the epic space battles of Star Wars and Battlestar Gallactica it holds an undeniable attraction. Meticulously planning your strategy, custom designing your ships and then watching your fleet engage and utterly annihilate an opposing force is fantastic fun.It can get a little formulaic after a while but in short enough bursts Gratuitous Space Battles Review Gratuitious Space Battles Review - Ship Shape?GSB requires a surprising amount of depth and skill to win – the same fleet of ships every time just won’t cut it.

While there are theoretically an infinite number of user submitted levels, the game’s longevity is questionable and we wonder just how many times you’ll want to rebuild your fleets and tactics after you've beaten the standard missions and few of those available online. There’s just not enough ongoing variety and we can think of plenty of extra gameplay features that could have gone in. Black holes, asteroid belts, gravity wells, super novas - Sci-Fi is a genre rife with ideas and we can’t help but feel that more of them should be evident in GSB.

Nevertheless, this is still a very enjoyable game while it stays fresh and it's loaded with a healthy battery of originality that's often lacking from traditional RTS games. While it won’t shake the genre to its foundations and won’t be to everyone’s tastes GSB is definitely worth a play if warring fleets of gigantic intergalactic battle cruisers appeals. Which, unless you’ve got the imagination of a dried prune, it should.

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October 15 2020 | 14:00

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