PC Gamer
So gratuitous...
So gratuitous...

Maybe you'd like to play some games this weekend? Maybe you'd like them to be completely free? Maybe you'd also like them to be games you don't own; games that will stop letting you play them on Sunday unless you pay a reduced price to secure their continued use? That's a bizarre set of conditions, but whatever, Steam's got you covered. Both Call of Duty: Black Ops 2 and Gratuitous Space Battles are holding Free Weekend trials, giving you unpaid access to two completely different ends of the gaming spectrum.

Gratuitous Space Battles is a sci-fi strategy in which you design spaceships, construct a space-fleet, issue space-orders and then watch as your space-squadron battles it out against an army of spacejerks. In space. It's currently 75%, with the generously stocked Complete Pack costing £3.49.

CoDBlOps 2 is a purgatorial nightmare in which you're forced to endlessly and repetitively kill aggressors, all while smug and indifferent soldiers babble in an alien language of numbers, Zs and Xs, performing depraved rituals like "Noscope" and... Oh wait, it's just a relatively fun arcade FPS. It's 33% off, at £26.79.

Both trials will end at 9pm GMT on Sunday, at which point you'll have to start playing games you actually own or something.
Rock, Paper, Shotgun - contact@rockpapershotgun.com (Adam Smith)

I know many of you will be spending the weekend tending to your winter-blasted shoots as you celebrate the feast day of Serenus the Gardener, or perhaps remembering Red Army Day by engaging in tabletop recreations of the Battle of Kiev or, for the more ambitious, Operation Bagration. Commendable pastimes, I’m sure, but if the dusty red blocks that represent Soviet armoured divisions are lost in the attic, or Serenus’ spirit is locked in the frozen turf, then you may be interested to hear that Gratuitous Space Battles is free to play on Steam until Sunday 9PM GMT.


Announcement - Valve
Play Gratuitous Space Battles for FREE until Sunday at 1PM Pacific Time. You can also purchase Gratuitous Space Battles at 75% off during this time.

If you already have Steam installed, click here to install or play Gratuitous Space Battles. If you don't have Steam, you can download it here.

Who needs backstory? Who needs resource-gathering? Diplomacy is so last year. Gratuitous Space Battles cuts right to the chase of sci-fi strategy games, and deals with large, completely unjustified space battles between huge opposing space fleets.

Gratuitous Space Battles combines the visual appeal of an RTS, with the addictive unit-placement and design gameplay from tower defense games. In GSB, the player does not control individual ships at all during battle. The ships fight to a pre-determined set of orders and formations given to them by you before the battles.

GSB casts you as supreme space admiral, tasked with the design of individual spaceships, and the composition of your fleet, as well as general orders of engagement. This is not a twitch-based real time arcade game like many an RTS, but a game of careful thought, planning and big-picture strategy. Huge space battles can be won or lost depending on just how cleverly you balanced the needs of defensive shielding and armor against the expensive punch of laser cannons and plasma torpedoes.

PC Gamer
Team Fortress 2

The concept of distributing a game for no cost, once the domain of Facebook app-clones and mobile platforms, has quickly become commonplace in PC gaming. We've all seen clear evidence of such a phenomena, from the lessened emphasis on subscription models in MMOs to the availability of quality multiplayer shooters like Tribes: Ascend from a single download. In a blog post, Positech Games head and Gratuitous Tank Battles creator Chris Harris says the psychology of free gaming boils down to letting players set their own sense of worth before asking for money.

"Free to play works because it doesn’t ask you to value the game until you already feel you own it," he writes. "How much would you pay for Farmville to buy it outright? Maybe $5? But play the game for free for a month, build up your farm, invest it, and then hit a plateau in the game where you really need to buy coins to continue, and suddenly your game is worth a lot more than $5. You value the game you already own very highly, and so buying add-ons for it is just common sense. I suspect this is why DLC works so well and sells so well. You have already made a commitment to valuing the game by investing your time. Only a fool could try to rationalize not spending money on it now."

It's almost as if Harris stumbled upon the secret formula of free-to-play games: foster a sense of ownership to encourage microtransactions and DLC. Item-heavy games such as Team Fortress 2 and PlanetSide 2 let you try out a shiny weapon for a short period before taking it away, but that brief usage could boost the likelihood of a wallet getting pulled out simply because you determined your own measure of worth on the item you fleetingly "owned."

Let's hear your comments. Do you only drop dollars on free-to-play games after you've built up a sense of attachment to them, or are your buying habits more free-form?
PC Gamer
Gratuitous space battles - swarm war

I know a man who was once consumed by Gratuitous Space Battles. The stand-offish strategy lets you design a fleet, sketch out a plan of attack and then deploy them against the enemy. It's like cultivating a bionic army of space-pokemon. Once they're away, you can only watch as they're lasered, rocketed and bombed into shimmering clouds of galactic debris. My friend spent hours tinkering with the modules on each ship. He tried sending hordes of tiny fighters into the fray. He tried lone rocketeering behemoths. With every iteration his score increased until he entered the upper echelons of the global high score table. Then, one day, he was gone. All that remained was his chair, a puddle of alien goo and a note in cryptic cosmic shorthand.

I sometimes wonder what happened to that guy. I like to think he was recruited by some interstellar warmongers to direct their ships. Wherever he is, I'm sure he's playing the new Gratuitous Space Battles expansion, The Outcasts.

As you'd expect, the expansion lets you play as The Outcasts faction. It includes 10 new ship designs and some neat Outcast-specific ship modules like the "multiple target tractor beam" and a "decoy projector" to create wobbly holographic decoys. See that particular gadget in action and many, many lasers in the trailer below. The Outcasts is available now from the Positech site, or via Steam for $5.99.

If you're intrigued by Gratuitous Space Battles, check out the demo, and have a look at Positech's innovate tower assault/tower defense hybrid, Gratuitous Tank Battles (which also has a demo)

Rock, Paper, Shotgun - contact@rockpapershotgun.com (Adam Smith)

The release of the conquest mode for Gratuitous Space Battles caused me to reinstall and lose a couple of weekends plotting and planning. Conquest provided a campaign to sit alongside the standalone bouts of ship wrecking and, lo, it was good. A few months ago, unbeknownst to me, a clever sort who goes by the name Pendra on the Positech forums released a random galaxy generator, providing Endless Consecutive Contextual Gratuitous Space Battles. There was an update to the generator this morning, which Cliffski mentioned in the Twittersphere, and I’ve copied some details into the emptiness below.


Shacknews - Steve Watts

Gaming is generally an expensive hobby, but you can make it work on a budget if you search the right spots. The Humble Bundle 6, for example, opened the other day to offer six games for around six bucks. Since that clearly wasn't enough to tempt some hold-outs, today it added four more.

Today's new additions include Humble Bundle alums Bit.Trip Runner, Gratuitous Space Battles, and Jamestown, along with Wizorb making its Humble Bundle debut. Each game's soundtrack is also available.

These join Dustforce, Rochard, Shatter, Space Pirates and Zombies, Torchlight and Vessel, each with their own soundtracks as well, bringing the grand total up to ten games. The new additions are barred behind paying more than average, but the average as of the time of writing is less than six dollars. C'mon, cheapskate.

The bundle hit 220,000 purchases and $1.3 million in sales in its first week. You have one week remaining to grab a big bunch of indie games on the cheap.

PC Gamer
Gratuitous Space Battles

Fledgling space admirals can never have too many Flash Gordon effects and science-fiction noises. To that end, Positech Games has released a free update to its set-and-go tactical sim Gratuitous Space Battles adding direct unit control, shield shimmers, and shockwave ripples from explosions.

In the features video above, Space Battles designer and former shipwright Cliff Harris showcased how single units, squads, groups, and even individual weapons platforms receive order overrides alongside fire and movement commands. Although explaining direct control only works in single-player missions - campaign and online battles remain hands-off - Harris hopes the extra layer of control equates to stronger tactical options during a fracas.

And how about those shield and shockwave effects, huh? Both are carryovers from Positech's Gratuitous Tank Battles. Now, when my fleet spills its metal space-guts across its future nebula graveyard, I'll enjoy seeing my shields waver and shimmer under fire and my frigates distorting space as they blossom into spectacular fireballs.
Rock, Paper, Shotgun - contact@rockpapershotgun.com (Jim Rossignol)

The point of Gratuitous Space Battles was that it was a fleet manager, not an RTS. So while you watched the space battles play out, you didn’t actually influence them – you were the admiral who had designed the ships and decided upon the tactics. And that made the actual battles gratuitous in terms of the gameplay. That, however, is no longer necessarily true. Cliff from Positech has sent word that he’s continued fiddling with the game, and has released a free patch to allow players to get involved with the battle-action. Cliff says: “It’s only an ‘optional’ feature, and only works in single-player offline games, but from patch 1.60 (which is now live, steam copies will be updated soon), the player can select ships and issue movement and fire orders mid battle, and even edit the ‘standing’ orders for ships in the middle of an engagement.” There’s a video, which explains it in a bit more detail, below. (more…)

PC Gamer
Gratuitous Tank Battles review

Gratuitous Tank Battles is the result of experimentation with the tower defence genre, yielding a strategy game where you attack as much as entrench. Experimentation with units means players can make their own machines and turn them on their foes. And experimentation with AI means the computer can use your creations against you in an endless arms race of tanks, mechs and laser-toting Tommies.

Fittingly for a world where the Great War never ended, very few units will make it through: hundreds will die in a pointless bloodbath to gain just a few inches of ground. But GTB’s fields of death are thrilling to die on, over and over again. The key is asymmetry. Playing a map as the defender gives you a traditional tower defence game, where you plop down turrets and defensive forces to try to stem the incoming tide. Attacking is more like the ‘reverse’ tower defence of Anomaly: Warzone Earth – you decide the order and routes of your units in the hope of breaking through the cyber-Kaiser’s defences.

But what really makes both sides of this top-down strategiser stand out is the unit customisation. Much like Positech’s previous game, Gratuitous Space Battles, you build your own units. Pick a hull and add whatever weapons, armour and engines you desire. Trenches full of riflemen giving you trouble? Put together a heavily armoured flamethrower tank to smoke them out.

But there’s a catch: any unit you design can also be used by the game’s superb, adaptive AI. So that flame tank you treasured as an attacker is now a rolling fortress on the defence. A long-range laser turret will fry an enemy before he gets close, but next time out you’ll have to deploy some heavily shielded mecha-men to take it down. You’re forced into a continual arms race with yourself and, in keeping with the WW1 theme, one you can never quite win.

The campaign is a little on the short side with only a handful of official maps available, but you can browse an abundance of user-made missions. Budding Field Marshalls can edit maps and upload their forces online, custom units and all, for anyone to defend against. The ease with which these challenges can be shared and downloaded extends your playtime immeasurably.

More problematic is the game’s tendency to crash faster than a biplane over Belgium. Starting or finishing a map, as well as saving and deleting units, can potentially result in a short sharp trip to your desktop. You’ll rarely lose any significant progress this way, but it still makes for a frustrating experience.

But these are minor issues that continuous updates will fix, and they don’t take the shine off an otherwise excellent game. Gratuitous Tank Battles is both challenging and strategic, and the clever use of AI and customisation results in a successful bout of experimentation.


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