iPad Game Review: Gratuitous Space Battles for iPad Review
Reviewed by Tom Slayton
Gratuitous Space Battles (GSB) is a strategy game that tasks you with designing and building starships in order to defeat progressively difficult enemies in a series of beautiful and mesmerizing space battles. Because you don't directly control your ships once the battle starts, those who are looking for a tactical or arcade experience rather than a strategic one will find this game lacking. However, the strategically minded are in for a treat.
GSB is a deep statistical strategy game wrapped inside a lot of bling. The battles are beautiful and exciting to watch, but once they start, you have no control over their outcome. For better or worse, your ships will fling themselves into the breach with whatever you saw fit to give them in the design/build phase. This means that clever ship design and shrewd tactical pre-battle placement are not only the meat of the game; they're the whole game (this is why the battles are gratuitous).
Winning battles will earn honor, and this honor is the currency that is used to unlock upgrades/components/weapons. More honor is awarded for winning battles, well, honorably, so if ship design is the science of GSB, learning how to win with the minimum force possible is the art. After all, where's the honor in crushing an opponent with overwhelming force? It's this delicate balance that will keep you motivated to field only what you need to prevail; a neat little mechanic that keeps the game challenging and fun, even for the highly skilled. When you launch the game for the first time, you will undoubtedly be looking for a tutorial. Sadly, what you will find can barely be called that. However, it is enough to teach you what the buttons do as well as the mechanics of gameplay.
As GSB was first a PC game, iOS users will reap the benefit of countless hours of gameplay feedback and balance tweaking. This means you will find a highly polished and balanced game right out of the game. As great as the gameplay is, the iPad version still suffers from its freshman status in that it contains some fairly nasty crash bugs (most of which have been squashed at the time of this writing) and doesn't contain, multiplayer, leaderboards, or access to the expansion packs. While I am confident that Red Marble Games will continue their recent aggressive campaign of bug extermination, they are still silent on whether or not the above-listed features and expansions will ever be added. I'd wager, however, that their appearance will be at least partially based on sales, so ante up, folks; I'm anxious to get my hands on the Galactic Conquest expansion.
As I said, ship design is really where you'll be spending most of your time. Every equipment and upgrade decision will affect the outcome of the battle so take some time to pore over the details (available by tapping) as well as the capabilities of the ships you're going up against. Mercifully, the initial choices are relatively few so feel free to pick what seems best and get to battling. GSB features four races (each with different ship designs, capabilities, and idiosyncrasies) and three different hull sizes (fighter, frigate, and dreadnaught). While the initial choices are limited, they will still feel a bit overwhelming to the uninitiated. Fortunately, a lot can be learned just from watching battles unfold, so even losing has value. Data from every volley is displayed on-screen to help you determine what weapons work and what don't. Further, your ships will move differently based on the equipment they have installed, and the effectiveness of their defenses is also easily gauged.
The battles may be gratuitous, but thankfully, so are the graphics. RTS games are often beautiful to watch, unfortunately, we never get to ogle them because we're too busy clicking/tapping/scrolling/etc. GSB is unique in that you do all of your work up-front, and are then rewarded with a front row seat to watch the show. You'll see insect-like fighters zipping around, harassing their prey, nimble frigates attempting to dance out of harm's way while they rain death, and enormous dreadnaughts wading into the battle, guns blazing and shields sparkling. Lots of gratuitous eye candy here, and plenty to see, and for the first time, plenty of time to see it. My only complaint graphically is the lack of retina support for the new iPad. Hopefully, these sprites were rendered at a high enough resolution to make it possible; only time will tell.
The music is good, but not headphone-worthy, and I found myself turning it town so I could hear the sound effects. Ah, yes; the sound effects. We all know by now that battles in space would be completely silent, but I'm happy to suspend my disbelief while I play GSB because the sound effects are just so much fun. I can't tell you exactly how many different sounds the developers employed, but enough to keep the battles interesting for your ears, as well as your eyes.
In-App Purchases (IAPs)
Gratuitous Space Battles is a full-featured, premium title. As such, you won't be peppered to buy credits, gold, spacebucks, or honor. I know that some gamers prefer the freemium model because the barrier to entry is so much lower. However, after a few months of record-keeping, I can tell you emphatically that spending $10 for a game up-front is almost always less expensive in the long run that being nickeled and dimed through IAPs. I would, however, welcome the opportunity to purchase the expansions that are available for Mac and PC. Let's hope they are made available on the iPad at some point.
Gratuitous Space Battles is a well-ported A-list PC title, now available on your iPad. While there remain some bugs to be squashed and multiplayer to be added, there are literally days and days of gameplay here for those who are willing to immerse themselves, and take the time to learn the game's nuances. What's more, having your fleet blown apart in the vastness of interstellar space has never looked so beautiful, or sounded so good.
Ratings (scale of 1 to 5):
Graphics: - 4.5 - Looks great, but no retina support on new iPad. Sound: - 4.5 - Decent music and great sound effects significantly enhance gameplay. Controls: - 4 - Some of the buttons can be difficult to tap, depending on your finger size. Gameplay: - 5 - A PC classic now available for iPad. If this is your type of game, you're going to love it.
Playing Hints and Tips:
Take some time to familiarize yourself with all the different ship systems and upgrades available. If you don't, you will be relying on luck rather than skill. Try repeatedly playing the same battle using different stats (upgrades/equipment). It's the only way to quickly assess when to use what, and when. Use only the ships you need to win. Using overwhelming force to crush an opponent will yield significantly less honor.