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Gratuitous Space Battles Review

By on July 22nd, 2010 5:20 pm

Gratuitous Space Battles is a Space Strategy Game developed by an UK indie developer named Positech Games. It’s a strategy and simulation game that does not contain all the traditional elements of a 4x space strategy game but rather concentrates in ship design and space battles.

In Gratuitous Space Battles you assign your ships, arrange them into fleets, give them upfront orders of engagement and then site down and watch the result of your deployment strategy: It’s all about wondering if all the decisions have been done right and if you can come out victorious from battle.

Ship Design

Spaceship design is the heart of the game since the construction decisions you make can ultimately mean the difference between victory and defeat.

Gratuitious Space Battles: Ship Design Screen

Gratuitous Space Battles: Ship Design Screen

You begin by choosing a Hull for your ship, that can be a Fighter, Frigate or Cruiser, these are the three ship hull classes available in GSB. Each hull contains a certain number of slots that can be of two types: standard modules (squares) or hardpoints (exagons). The hardpoints can be used to put weapon modules, the standard slots are used to insert the other type of modules.

Spaceship Design Modules

When designing your ships you can insert several types of modules. These are: “Weapons”, “Defenses”, “Engines” and “Other” .

GSB_weapons_modules

GSB: Weapons Modules

In Weapons you can insert several types of missile launchers, and a collection of energy beams (lasers, plasma, proton beam, etc). In Defenses you can insert several types of Armor and Shields.

GSB_defense_modules

GSB: Defense Modules

In Engines you can choose from a variety of engines, but beware that the bigger and the faster they are the more crew and energy they will require.

GSB_engine_modules

GSB: Engine Modules

Finally there are the Other modules. These vary from a range of modules like crew modules, energy modules, tractor beam, auto-repair systems, etc.

GSB_other_modules

GSB: Other Modules

The Races

In the original GSB there are 4 races the player can choose from: The Federation, the Rebels, the Alliance and the Empire. Each race has its own art work which reflects into different hulls and different modules styles. This variety alone is enough to provide a different game experience to the player.

Federation gratiutous_space_battles_rebels gratiutuos_space_battles_alliance gratiutous_space_battles_empire

(Races from left to right: Federation, Rebels, Alliance, Empire)

Spaceship Combat

Spaceship combat is the core (and probably the single) gameplay mechanic of GSB. This is where everything happens. The player can choose from a set of missions that will be unblocked as soon as the player finishes the previous mission.

GSB: Fleet Deployment

GSB: Fleet Deployment

There are three difficulty levels to choose from: Easy, Medium and Hard. The harder the challenge the more enemies you have to fight for to win the battle. In the Harder difficulty level you aren’t even allowed to know the size of your opponent.

Combat is not tactical but all about Strategy

Once you hit the “Fight!” button the battle begins and all you can do is watch it unfold. All your decisions have to be made upfront before everything begins in the fleet deployment panel. Decisions to be made account the types of ships you will use, the formation of these ships, the specific orders you can set to each ship and the amount of ships you will ultimately use. However the more ships you use the less honor points you receive. Honor points can be used to unlock new modules, ships and races as I will explain next.

GSB: Spaceship Battle

GSB: Spaceship Battle

Among the different orders you can assign to your ships for instance you can instruct your fighters to escort your frigates and tell your frigates to protect your cruisers. There are many orders you can issue: Rescuer, Protector, Formation, Vulture, Escorter just to name a few.  So that’s why GSB is more about strategy than tactics since all decisions have to be made before the battle begins. After you start the battle you cannot instruct your ships to attack A or B neither you can give orders to specific modules of the ship, albeit you can see what each module status is, what they are aiming to, recharge rate, damage, etc.

You can unlock Modules, Ships and Races

As said above the player can win honor points if he fights battles with lower odds and came victorious (that is if he wins battles with less spaceships than the ones he was allowed to use). The player can trade these honor points later in the game Fleet HQ.

GSB: Fleet HQ Screen

GSB: Fleet HQ Screen

The Fleet HQ is a panel screen where the player can trade his honor points to unlock new modules (new weapons, more potent shields, stronger armour, etc), new ships and new races.

Three Expansion Packs: Tribe, Order and the Swarm

Since the original GSB came out three expansion packs have already been released. These are called: The Tribe, The Order and The Swarm. Each of this expansion packs brings a new race with corresponding fighter, frigate and cruiser hulls, new modules, ship bonuses and new scenarios to fight for.

gsb_the_tribe gsb_the_order gsb_the_swarm

(From left to right: the Tribe, the Order and the Swarm)

Aesthetics: Music, Sound and Graphics

The Music score of GSB is certainly a plus feature. The battle sequences music transmit a dramatic feeling which helps the player to forget that he’s just watching the battle and not really taking any action. The sound is also good. From the big cruiser beam weapons firing to the small fighters blasters. Graphics are also good. In conclusion aesthetically GSB sounds and looks nice which is very positive since if this would not be the case the game appeal would drop significantly since the battles don’t require the player actions and the player must be kept entertained by other means.

Bottom Line

GSB ultimately is a fun game to play. Since I begun reviewing the game I may have fought now 90% of all the available scenarios straight on so you can get the feeling of how addictive the game really is. Most of this addictive factor comes from the honor points and the desire to trade them for new toys and new races. The introduction of the three new expansion packs have brought another degree of depth to the game since now there are more ships to fight with, new modules to unlock and new scenarios to fight.

Considering that the game has been developed by an Indie company and the fact that the gameplay is quite limited, since you cannot fight your battles but rather take only the decisions and design your ships, it is quite an achievement for Positech Games to have developed such an enjoyable game that will keep you entertained for many hours. Haa.. and I almost forget, you can also play online by establishing challenges and then connecting your friends to them which is another good feature that indeed enhances replayability.

For more information on Gratuitous Space Battles check the official GSB site at positech games.

Gratuitous Space Battles Complete Buy Gratuitous Space Battles Collector’s Edition
Space Sector score: 7.5

(about the score system)

The Good:
– The honor point system is addictive
– The music score is very good and sets the right atmosphere
– Good amount of strategic decisions that can be made
– Spaceship design screen is intuitive and provides many options
The Bad:
– The player cannot control ships during battle neither individual modules
– Gameplay is limited to fleet deployment and ships design

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6 Comments


  1. Nick says:

    I played a fair bit of GSB, I found it totally lacking depth, complexity and difficulty while only providing about 3 hours of game play. In that time I was able to find a single optimal design to create a homogeneous fleet which could complete all missions well under the honor cap, and I was able to within just a few missions buy everything that could be bought. I quickly realized what I wanted was something of the complexity and depth of the combat in SEV (less the archaic UI), and that this was not it.

    The game is fun for a few hours, but hardly worth more than $10, GSB is little more than a piece of candy compared to the hearty meals of 4X games.

  2. Joe Zak says:

    I have to disagree with the above post. I bought this game last weekend on the Steam sale and I am blown away. Yes if you play the campaign on normal mode, a homogeneous fleet can beat it. That same fleet will fare more poorly against hard, and will be turned into space dust by the expert level missions.

    The “Multi-Player” aspect is quite different, but extremely challenging. One can create a fleet and post it for others to play against, or download and fight against the fleets other players have posted. The result of each Challenge is recorded, so you can see how many times a posted fleet has won or lost.

    There is an enormous amount of detail, and just about the right amount of complexity to be enjoyable. Not to mention the great graphics and sound. All in all, GSB is a great buy for your money. If you think your fleet is good, send a challenge to GhengisRexx.

  3. richtaur says:

    I’m not really into sci-fi games so much these days but I’ve been meaning to check this out just because I keep hearing about it. Cliffski has done a great job marketing it.

  4. Paolo Bertiglia says:

    While I have to agree with Nick… it is still a fun couple of days. not sure if it is 10$ worth but I did not feel rip off.

    And doing it again after a few months adds a a couple of days more to the game play.

    Did not liked the strategic expansion for now, hope it will be update/beefed up.

  5. Daniel Judah says:

    I have to say that this game is great, and really worth the small price. Firsthand, I have no complaint about the not being able to order ship in battle. In my opinion, in this game, we act as a “Space Warfare Researchers” instead of acting as an Admiral. We know how a particular weapon will perform, we know their supposed performance, we know how this weapon should be used, but on the field, it is up to individual admirals to make a decision. In a sense, it’s also unrealistic for admirals of a fleet to decide what type of weapon the fleet will fire, or how a ship will turn. The admiral decide how the fleet will act, the captains will decide how the ship acts, inline with admiral’s order. In most games, we are acting like an admiral, and also acts as individual captains.

    That aside, this game is really great, personally I give it an 8. As the reviewer suggested, I also think that the ship building interface is well-thought and very intuitive, while the game itself, is very satisfying. The way the battle is played on is also great. The amount of weapons and other stuffs you may put in this game is just right, not too little that you find it wanting, or too much that will confuse you.

    Some problem arise from the fleet deployment. Though the “Save Orders” are nice, that the next ship will have the same order set, there are things that can still be improved on orders. Firsthand, orders should be “set”, not “added” or “removed”. For example, I choose one of frigate A, and gave it Order 1,2. Than I choose another frigate A, giving it Order 3. If I choose all frigate A, and gave it Order 4, the second frigate A will only receive order 3 and 4. There are also some ambiguity surrounding escorts and formation.

    The amount of orders you can give in this game is great. You may protect another ship, cooperate with other ship, retreat, etc. Though sometimes I wonder why retreat is there, as this is supposed to be battle till death. I know that fighters may retreat to carriers, but why a cruisers will retreat? Let them fight to the last man.

    Lastly, this game has Campaign mode, where basically we can build ships. But I haven’t played this mode much.


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