How does one create a strategy game that doesn’t require you to multitask at six battlefields at once while trying not to fail your mission miserably? Well, one way to go about the given task is to remove the control from the player altogether, and focus instead on pre-battle strategizing and careful unit management. Gratuitous Space Battles was one such game, and was met with considerable success. Now, a sequel is in the works and it’s looking to improve upon the original idea in every way possible.

Positech Games – the one-man-development-company behind this marvellous piece of software – want to make Gratuitous Space Battles 2 the single best space fleet commander game we’ve seen up until now. I’ve had the honour of playing a beta version of it, and thus have formed a very positive opinion of what the game’s trying to do. First off, yes, this is GSB with all the good and bad that entails. The gameplay consists of you evaluating the enemy fleet, selecting your own ships, setting them in a formation you’ve come up with and then fiddling around with a vast selection of settings to try and overcome the opposing force. It’s a game that gives you immense control over your forces while also taking said control away at the same time. Instead of relying on your reflexes, Gratuitous Space Battles 2 makes you think about the consequences of your actions well in advance. It also makes watching the vast battles play out that much more pleasurable, since you don’t have to worry about issuing orders or manipulating units at all. It’s a game that greatly rewards good pre-planning, since that’s about all you can do to affect the outcome of battles anyway.

Similarly to its predecessor, Gratuitous Space Battles 2 has you designing your fleet ship by ship, until you’re perfectly happy with what you’ve got. This aspect of the game has a puzzle-like quality, whereas you’ll have to select the best tools for the given job from a multitude of weaponry and gadgetry that will be at your disposal at any given time. Balancing the resource usage of the given ships is also an important task, and one you’ll be doing quite often. Vessels themselves range in size and combat efficiency from a simple fighter to the absolutely massive, albeit cumbersome dreadnought. In effect, the bigger the ship the more armour and artillery it holds. However, the massive flagships can be relatively easily thwarted by smaller, faster drones. So you’ll have to compose your fleet from a multitude of vastly different vehicles – each fulfilling its specific purpose. In a typical combat scene, you’ll have to set your fleet up, run the battle and see how it goes and then reevaluate your fleet if you lost or move on to the next conflict if you’ve won. With each battle you overcome you’ll earn Honour Points – which are used to unlock all kinds of different items which are, in return, used to further customize your fleet. It’s a fairly decent system that allows you much leeway in the form of vessel/fleet management and item unlocking. The feature many will appreciate the most in the finalized game, however, is the awesomely detailed visual ship creator/modifier. True to its name, this allows the player to design his/her ship in painstaking detail, going as far as providing them with a full array of colours to use on their vessels. I’ll be spending the most of my time there, that’s for sure.

Visually, Gratuitous Space Battles 2 looks much nicer than the first GSB did, and that’s mostly thanks to the advanced shading and visual effects the game throws at you once the shooting starts. The ships you build will be just as crazily detailed as the ones that are pre-built, or even more (depending on your attention span, I guess). Combined with the lovely textures that grace the hulls and such, you get a fair amount of eye candy for your buck. Thankfully, the camera allows all kinds of manoeuvres – including a pause option that will give you the option to stop the madness for a bit and just enjoy the wonderful chaos in the given moment.

Now, this is a beta version of the game, and even though it’s a very well built beta in this day of half-assed Early Access titles it does have a couple of quirks. My only real gripe, however, is that the UI isn’t quite as logical and simple in some cases as it should be. GSB 2 is a deep and complex game, even though it focuses almost entirely on large-scale space battles. And while the UI itself won’t be the game’s be-all and end-all, I’m hoping the dev will smooth it out regardless.

To conclude this preview on a high note – Gratuitous Space Battles 2 is taking everything that made its predecessor good, packs it up in a much nicer package, adds loads of additional content and will provide us with an editor for just about every aspect of our ships and fleets. Despite its quirky and unique nature, I’d say we’ll be playing a real gem once GSB 2 is out. I suggest keeping a close eye on this games development because it’s bound to be great.