Review: Gratuitous Space Battles


If you’re like me, you sometimes end up pondering difficult questions in the pub like: why aren’t there enough space games where giant starship fleets get to pound the crap out of each other with futuristic weaponry? Fortunately, Cliff "Cliffski" Harris telepathically heard your (and my) cries and created Gratuitous Space Battles. He did this back in 2009 and in 2013, in a stroke of greatness, he’s made it available on Linux and put it in the Humble Bundle Weekly Sale. (Note: GSB is the only game that officially runs on Linux out of the four Positech games on offer).

The premise of Gratuitous Space Battles is simple: build yourself a fleet, give each ship some commands and send them off to fight another AI fleet or a player-designed fleets (what Cliffski calls a “massively-singleplayer” feature).

I must admit I’ve not played the Linux version, but the original did have some gripes, which after all this time are likely to have been resolved. The main one being unless you were born with latent RTS galactic general skills, fleets battles were, initially, less like fighting and more like a slow deconstruction of your fleet into tiny, tiny bits, albeit accompanied by tasteful pyrotechnics and swelling orchestral music. This was still enjoyable it its way, in fact it was pretty satisfying in a masochistic fashion, but it did highlight that the game’s tutorials needed to be more comprehensive for the bewildered newcomer.

The game involves, then, a lot of trial and error, swapping components in and out of your ships, which slowly leads to victory. Once you’ve mastered the statistical details it does become quite an addictive game, and your successes are rewarded with honour points that unlock even more components, ship hulls and faction races for you to experiment with.

The current price for the whole bundle (including unlocking Democracy 2) is $3.06, and most Linux users are paying an average of $3.86, which is more than any other platform, but still a bargain to experience an epic dust-up in space.

The game also happens to have a Gratuitous Amount of DLCs, but since the port was contracted out you may need to use Wine to access them. Cliffski has said that if he gets enough sales he will consider porting the DLCs too, but that does mean buying a sub-par version compared to the other platforms, but at least the developer's being honest about the situation.
Chris Thornett

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Your comments

I wouldn't get the Linux

I wouldn't get the Linux version. The port was made by a contractor and the developer doesn't know his way around Linux so the version is left at 1.0 or something; you will miss lots of crucial updates.

Not as gratuitous as we'd hoped

Chris here - Looks like a really mixed view on GSB. I can see quite a few people saying it runs fine on various Ubuntu flavours, but particularly the Steam recommended Ubuntu 12.04 LTS, without the need for Wine. Understandably, there's also a lot of people upset that Linux version isn't getting all the patches and upgrades that Cliffski, the dev, has worked on since the original release (including, I think, being able to jump in and control individual ships during battles in the single player campaign, which sounds great to me).

Would have been better if Positech had got the latest version of the game ported for the Humble Bundle sale really, but that, again, would have needed a contractor to port it.

A crucial point to be aware of is that the DLC listed on Steam for Linux haven't been ported to Linux so DO NOT buy them.

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