I've been playing around with Positech Games' Gratuitous Space Battles for a few weeks now. Those in the know will be aware that pre-ordering the space war game will allow you access to the beta which is constantly updated by Cliff Harris (the one-man taskforce behind Positech).

Initially the beta was a tad buggy and I opted to wait until a more stable build was released before sharing my thoughts. I'll keep this brief, as this is just a beta version and could potentially be far from what it is now come release date.

Gratuitous Space Battles runs with a concept rarely utilized. Players are given the plans of a battlefield along with the positions of the enemy fleet. It's your job to place your own ships down at the opposite end of the arena in a formation you believe will be effective in wiping out the opposition. There are three main types of ship - Cruisers (the big beefy guys with huge lazers but slow movement), Fighters (tiny, swift and hard to hit) and Frigates (somewhere in between the prior two).

A huge part of the game is the ability to create your own ships. Main chassis' are provided and can then be filled up with power, weapons, shields and other special powers. As the game progresses, more parts become available and you'll be creating a whole fleet to tend to your every whim.


Once your ships are placed, then comes the interesting part. After hitting the Deploy button, control is taken completely out of your hands and the battle begins. All you can do is simply watch the destruction unfold. Your ships act on orders given to them before the battle begins and cannot be ordered about during the fighting. It's literally a case of sit back and enjoy the show.

Now, this is either going to be your dream come true or not your cup of tea at all. As a gamer who dabbles with strategy titles now and again but wouldn't profess his love for them, I initially was taken in by the concept and its originality. After an hour or two, however, I wasn't quite so bought. The idea is that, when you lose a battle, the after-match stats will indicate exactly where you went wrong so you can go back and try again with a slightly altered setup. This means that there really is a lot of sitting around and head-scratching to do, especially since the death stats aren't exactly easy to decipher.

One point to note, however - it looks incredible. The detail on the ships; the sheer amount of blasting, missile launching and fire-fights going on all over the place; the remains of destroyed fleet ships scattered around space after a particularly intense battle; GSB definitely looks the part and carries itself with a constantly perfect frame-rate to boot.

I'm going out on a limb to say this, but I reckon only hardcore strategy enthusiasts are going to get a kick out of GSB. As a concept it sounds intriguing, but it turns out it's pretty difficult to get into. If you're considering pre-ordering the game, I'd suggest only doing so if you know tactical play and a lot of patience are your kind of thing. It's also worth noting that the beta is still very rocky - when I first began playing the game a few weeks ago, I could barely complete a single level and found it all incredibly taxing. After going back to it 3 weeks later, it would appear that one of the numerous updates applied has lowered the difficulty somewhat - I am now able to blast my way through half the campaign simply using the tutorial ships provided.

Gratuitous Space Battles is available to pre-order from the Positech Games site for $22.94 (£15.51).