Gratuitous Space Battles thrust players into the cushy leather armchair of the leader of a vast space-faring military force, allowing them to design, equip and deploy a massive fleet to do their bidding. Gratuitous Space Battles 2 has your cushy seat all prepared for you again, with a little bit more of, well, nearly everything: more modules, more ship customization and prettier graphics, so just sit back and build up the largest, most devastating space armada in the universe!
"...Well, hopefully not too big, of course... I mean, we do need to stay within budget... Oh, no! Look at all those lasers! That's got to cost a fortune..."
- Your Boss
Yeah, and that's not all. You have other fun gadgets with cool visual effects, from cloaking devices to decoy projectors and weaponized tractor beams that not only hold enemy ships still, but shake them violently to damage them while they're at it.
Anyone who played Gratuitous Space Battles before checking out GSB 2 is likely to notice the improved graphics right off the bat. The graphics are more detailed and there are multiple levels of parallax, so when you're fighting in an asteroid field and you scroll your view across the battlefield, you'll feel more like you're in an asteroid field, as the closer ones will move by faster than asteroids off in the distance. If you find that there's just too much going on, however, once you've got live ships flying in and around dust clouds, space debris and all of the asteroids, you can turn the asteroids off, if you like.
The U.I. is even more whiz-bang this time, with interactive animations and lots of techie-looking things going on in the background (even on the Menu screens), but the communications coming from your officers are still in the form of quickly moving text at the top of the screen. I wish there was a bit of voice acting used here, to make it feel a bit more sci-fi movie-ish.
What sound there is, however, is quite nice. The music is very moving and is pleasing to listen to, while the sound effects are based on your view's proximity to the action, so if you zoom in, you'll hear only what's on the screen and those sounds will sound closer, while if you back out far away, things will generally be much more quiet.
One new feature is the ability to greatly build-up the appearance of your ships, by taking existing pre-made parts and scaling them, selecting the color you want, setting their z-axis depth (allowing them to stack the way you want them to, so that things are hidden by other things) and using them to create a unique-looking ship of your own design. There are things that seem left out, such as a "paint" tool that would allow you to "draw" things on top of the ship (such as a ship number or a stripe or what-have-you). If you want a stripe, you have to copy and paste a series of rectangular elements in a line... and you can't easily have the line terminate at an angled edge of the ship. You would either have to stop the line before the edge, extend the line beyond the edge (and it will show up beyond the edge) or... get really creative.
One feature of the ship design mode is the ability to make parts rotate. You can set the direction and speed (with a slider), allowing for animated parts on your ships that look like they could be communication dishes or some sort of drive.
In addition to the in-game ship customization, there is support for the modding community, allowing anything from new ships to mods that entirely replace the game's content. To make things easier for modders, there is a forum for modding support and built-in support for mods to be exchanged via Steam.
Much like the original, Gratuitous Space Battles 2 lets you choose the units to deploy, lets you customize or design those units from the ground (well, the hull anyway) up and lets you group them into formations and assign them various orders to define what types of units they will attack and how they will interact with ships in your fleet and enemy attacks, among other things.
As with the original, this game is all about tinkering and setting things up, much like building a massive track of dominos and then knocking the first one over and watching the action. Once you've prepared your deployment and clicked the button to start the battle, you're interaction is limited to changing how you view the battle. You can zoom in or out and move around the battlefield, as well as speed up or slow down the action. That's it. The graphics are pretty and the flavor text is entertaining, but you can feel free to move about the cabin, if you're not wrapped up in the fight or watching to see how some specific aspect of your recently tweaked deployment works compared to the previous attempt. You can hop it up to 4x speed and grab a delicious Dr. Pepper from your fridge, then return to see how everything turned out. Or possibly find it still ongoing. Since the goal is to win the battle with only the resources you actually needed, well planned and deployed battles can take much longer than ones that are far over or under budget. To far under budget and you lose quickly. To far over budget and you win quickly (and get little to no honor points). Do it just right and you (eventually) win, with a huge amount of honor points that can be spent to research new modules and hulls for your ships or to unlock one of the two races that are locked by default.
The main gameplay is the Campaign Mode. This is a series of 10 scenarios, where completing each one unlocks the next. These scenarios have no background story explaining what's at stake, per se, and the fact that you can swap between (unlocked) races at any point helps to underscore the fact that it's not the story that's important here, but the gratuitous destruction.
In addition to the Campaign Mode, there are also online Challenges. This allows players to create a scenario and publish it via Steam, then other players can download the Challenge and try their hand at it. Since the game doesn't have an interactive gameplay-affecting aspect during the battles, this effectively serves as a "two-player" version of the gameplay... and the players don't even have to be online at the same time.
How difficult is Gratuitous Space Battles 2? Well, once the "Fight" button is clicked, win or lose, all the hard work is done, so... it's all planning and deployment. And, while this type of gameplay forces the player to be "hands-off" during the actual fight, which could make some players feel a bit distanced from the battle, the truth of the matter is that your decisions prior to starting the battle set up how the battle will progress. You'll need to customize ships to work efficiently with the anomalies present in the various battlefields to avoid squandering resources and you'll need to create a balanced fighting force with the various types of ships included to support each other: Dreadnoughts to wreak havoc on enemy forces, Fighters and Destroyers to defend them, etc. This "balanced force" is much more prevalent in GSB 2 than in the previous game, and needs to be considered when creating your deployments.
When you do manage to win a battle, you'll be awarded in "Honor Points," which you can use to unlock races, ship mods and hulls, which give you more options in building up your deployments, possibly making things a little easier for you, if you use them wisely. However, the amount of Honor Points awarded is based on winning the battle with as few resources spent as possible. So, when you win a battle, you can turn around and try to eke out some additional points by deleting a ship (or two) and starting the fight again. Each time you win the battle again with fewer resources, you'll gain the difference between the award points you've already received and the new score. You can repeat this process to get as much reward as possible from a given battle.
Whether it be real-life military fighter jets or X-wing fighters (or fighters in pretty much any sci-fi series you may watch), these small ships have limited range. New in this sequel, fighters have limited range, which brings into play fuel tanks with differing specifications, with features such as increased range and heavier armor, as well as adding the mechanic of hanger bays... now, if you want to bring fighters into the battle, you'll need a ship with hanger bays to serve as your "carrier" to bring them into the battle and to refuel them. This greatly reduces the awesomeness of the fighters as they were in GSB. This helps to reinforce the "balanced force" requirement, but gamers who relied heavily on fighters in the first one might not be too happy with this change in GSB 2.
Personally, I was disappointed to find that you can't select a ship to center on and have the screen follow that ship, keeping it in the center. That was an option in the original Gratuitous Space Battles, but is strangely missing in the sequel. There are other things to take its place, such as a popup that acts as a dashboard for the status of a given ship, showing what modules are still operational, how much damage they have taken and their "cooldown" before firing again, among other things.
If you really wanted to change the appearance of your ships, but weren't up for hacking the graphics by hand outside of the game (see link below), the in-game ship designer may be what you need to flex your creativity and create that fleet of ships that you wanted in the last game. If, on the other hand, you wanted to mod the game to make it radically different, and you're not afraid of trying your hand at modding, the game's support of modding, Steam integration and modding support forum may give you what you need to realize your own gratuitous vision.
If you haven't played Gratuitous Space Battles, I would highly recommend Gratuitous Space Battles 2 as your first experience with the series; most things are improved and, while the nerfed fighters may anger fans of the series, you won't know what you're missing if you didn't play the first one.
It's harder to recommend Gratuitous Space Battles 2 for people who paid for the original game, though. The graphics are better and lots of things are tweaked and improved, but it feels more like a "1.5" than a "2." If you weren't heavily dependent on the fighters and you mainly wanted to tweak the look of your ships, maybe mod the game or just wanted the graphics to be improved, you may love GSB 2. Otherwise, you may want to try to catch it on sale.
''This is a very difficult question to answer, partly because GSB2 has a very scalable engine. If you want to fight small battles, on a small screen, with graphical detail set to minimum and all the fancy options switched off, you can probably run it on a pretty old, cheap and fairly rubbish PC. The game was developed on a quad core i7 with A geforce 670, and our aim was 50-60FPS at 5120x1440 res with everything on maximum. Your mileage may vary. The game has many graphical options for you to adjust.''