Galaxy on Fire II HD: A Hunka Hunka Burning Love

1- It Begins with A Menu
Such a Simple Beginning…

Back in 2003, a little game called Freelancer came out of a small studio called Digital Anvil aaaaaaand…kinda set the space gaming world ablaze. It’s combination of accessible mouse-based controls, viscerally fast-paced combat, vibrant open world and lovely graphics gave it plenty of fans (myself included), plus its moddability still gives it plenty of legs, as people still mod and play it to this day.

Enter the Galaxy of Fire games, which began as mobile games I would term “Freelancer Lite”. I played the first one on an iPhone 3G a few years ago and enjoyed it, so when I heard the sequel — Galaxy on Fire II HD — was coming to the PC, I jumped at the chance to play it. Several hours later, I’m confident in my opinion that not only does this game stand well on its own, but in many ways is BETTER than the game it’ll be endlessly compared to.

3 - This Doesn't Look Good
Uh boy…

We find ourselves in the role of Keith T. Maxwell, war hero and pirate/bounty hunter. After dispatching a couple of rascally scoundrels, Keith finds his ship damaged. The pirates must’ve hit the Flux Capacitor because shortly thereafter, Keith finds himself not only across the galaxy from where he was, but also thirty-five years in the future. Thankfully, the fella that finds Keith is nice enough to loan him a spaceship in return for some basic work like mining (mining? YAY!) and pirate cleanup.

11 - Say Hello to Betty
She May Not Look Like Much But…Well…She Doesn’t Look Like Much…

Eventually Keith is given this ship, Betty — a real rustbucket if ever there was one — and allowed to start on his new life. This sets off the game’s main story, which you can follow or ignore as you like. I actually followed it closely because it’s very entertaining, exciting and sadly ends too abruptly, as I was really enjoying it (it took around 5 hours to complete, all told). The story should be played regardless, as it also serves as something of a tutorial on its own, introducing the player to trading, looting, weapon usage, building items from blueprints and so on. I won’t give more details except that working for scientists is damned fun.

34 - Mining for Void Crystals
Mining All The Day Long…

The real star of this game, however, is its gameplay, which is exciting, fun and well-varied. Let me first apologize for the comparisons to Freelancer, they can’t be helped, but I’ll try to keep them to a minimum. ;) Galaxy on Fire II HD (GoF2 from now on) sports a mouse/keyboard control scheme similar to aforementioned other game with a few notable differences (though it can also support a gamepad, apparently), such as being able to buy components to make your ship even more maneuverable. Some ships were then VERY sensitive and needed to be flown with care, which is a nice touch I enjoyed. Weapon controls are also fairly similar to Freelancer, but with some differences in how they’re utilized.

9 - Splash One Pirate
Boom Boom!

For example, here, the LMB simply fires all of your guns, no matter what you have equipped. Your RMB fires whichever missile you have selected (some ships can carry two types, handy for switching between regular missiles and, say, EMP missiles), which you can select from a simple menu. This sacrifice control is made up with blessed simplicity, as all you really need to do is point and shoot without worrying about weapon groups and the like.

One major difference in how GoF2 handles things is  targeting, and it took me a bit of getting used to. In other games, you hit a button to scroll through a target list, or hit a button to target the closest enemy, for example. Here, you have to hover your crosshair over a target for a moment to actually target it, be it friendly or foe, ship or planet even (more on that in a second). While such a simplistic targeting method might piss me off in other games, here since you’re only asked to target other ships, it works just fine. The radar is also a bit different, taking up much of your forward viewscreen rather than a small separate display. Again, it works well after adapting to it, which doesn’t take long.

10 - Odd Autopilot Method - Targeting Planets
Point at the Planet and GO!

This is good because combat in the game is fast, furious and a near constant. Most of the time you’ll be attacked by pirates (along with some story-based aliens), and while these bouts of combat are fun, it does display one of the game’s few flaws, ship AI. The other ships in GoF2 aren’t particularly smart, nor do they engage in any tricky maneuvers to avoid your fire. They nearly all do the same thing: attack head first, run away when they get damaged enough to scare ’em, then attack head first again. The only advantage they have — besides numerical — is that EVERY FIGHTER IN THE GAME IS FASTER THAN YOURS (at least it feels that way when you can’t catch up to ANY ship…).

This wonky AI behavior is a crime many space games are guilty of, however, so I can’t fault GoF2 TOO much for this, but it needs to be noted. Another crime many games commit that GoF2 does to an extent is that nearly EVERY ENEMY SHIP attacks you and you alone. This doesn’t happen 100% of the time, more like 70% maybe, but it is noticeable. Regardless of these issues, however, I still had a blast shooting up other ships in GoF2. Combat is fast paced and visceral, and ships blow up real good.

16 - Burn Baby Burn
Oh Yeah!

Getting into these combat situations is also pretty easy. Either through story-based missions or random missions gathered in space lounges (of which there are several different types, from combat to rescue to ferrying passengers), you’ll never be out of combat for long if you so choose. The game also makes navigation pretty simple, though it’s a bit funky at first. In most games, with in-system flight, you select a destination from a list or map, or dock at a trade lane or some such. Here, you target the planet and hit the  Dock button, which warps you over there. This took a bit betting used to, but worked fine overall. Jumping from system to system, as well as docking at stations and such, works as one would expect and is very straightforward.

22 - Starmap Allowing Interstellar Jumps
I Do Loves Me a Good Starmap…

Now, let’s move onto one of my favorite parts of the game, the ships. GoF2 has around thirty different ships to choose from, from tiny fighters to missile bombers, freighters and high-tech heavy fighters. I’ve only flown a few of these so far, but they’re all nicely varied and can be used in different situations. Some fighters have a turret, for example, which is good when all you wanna do is dock without fighting some pirates, so you hit the autopilot and blast away at ’em. Ships also have variations in how many pieces of equipment they can install, how many primary and secondary weapons, cargo space as well as differences in maneuverability.

39 - The Hatsuyuki - My Favorite Design in the Game
Such a Pretty Ship…

There are also TONS of different weapons types to choose from, from lasers to heat cannons to slug cannons and so on, which allows you to play according to the style you want. This goes along with the very wide variety of equipment options, from scanners and tractor beams to boosters to crew cabins and everything in between. This further allows you to customize your ship for the task at hand. If you want to be a pirate, equip some EMP missiles and a powerful tractor beam to pull cargo out of disabled ships. If you want to be a trader, get a freighter with a bunch of turrets. If you want to be a miner, get a fighter with a big cargo bay and accurate mining laser.

12 - Lots of Shopping Opportunities
Look at All The Pretties…

And it’s here where I discuss the main reason why I think GoF2 is better than Freelancer…it’s because there’s simply more to do! I never even considered trading or mining in Freelancer (could you even mine in the game? I don’t recall, which is bad because I LOVE mining) because it didn’t have any kind of dynamic economy, so it barely mattered. I’ve dabbled a little with trading, and the economy does seem to be dynamic, but I’m not 100% on that, but mining…oh lord, mining. Mining is a minigame unto itself. When you dock with an asteroid, you have to keep your cursor within the mining circle, which gets smaller and smaller the more you drill. It’s a fun exercise that makes mining those valuable cores in the center of some asteroids even more challenging and worthwhile.

19 - I Do Enjoy Mining
Yay Mining!

There’s also more variety in mission type as well. In Freelancer it was always “go here and kill this person”, which is fun, but gets dull after a while. In GoF2, other pilots will challenge you to kill more pirates than them, some folks will want you to expose an informant but not pay you if you shoot down any other ship, and others will want you to disable a ship and steal some cargo for them, for example. The mission variety has kept things very exciting. One thing that also adds to the excitement are Steam achievements, which I usually don’t care about, but I LOVE them here. ;)

18 - Some Friendly Competition
GG Sir. ;)

The universe doesn’t feel as alive as that other game, but it’s close, the only thing lacking is radio traffic. Freighters come to and fro, patrols hound pirates around their stations and pirates jump out of nowhere to attack you. The universe feels quite alive, and it’s also quite pretty, thanks to some lovely graphics. For an indie game born in the mobile market, this is one fine looking game.

Even better is the sound. The music is appropriately techno-esque, which works well in a space setting, but the thunderous bass used in explosions and weapons fire made my desk shake, and wonderfully so. Presentation-wise, there is nothing here to complain about.

Overall, while the game has some issues, they’re neither annoying nor glaring enough to have gotten in the way of the sheer FUN I had playing this game. I am really, REALLY enjoying my time with GoF2, and even though the story is now over, I’ve been making my own story thanks to a stream of fun and varied missions. I’d say if you enjoyed Freelancer in any way shape or form, you need this game. Hell, even if you just enjoy space combat, Galaxy on Fire II HD will deliver in spades. Highly recommended.

I hope you’ve enjoyed reading my review, and I hope you enjoy the game as much as I am. Finally, please enjoy the gallery of all the screenshots I took for the game below (FYI, these can be a TINY bit spoilery for the main plot, so if you care about that sort of thing, you’ve been warned ;). Thanks for reading!

20 comments on Galaxy on Fire II HD: A Hunka Hunka Burning Love

  1. I agree with your review. I also think it’s a very good “starter” sim, for those who want to test tthis kind of game, for the first time. If it sells well, Fishlabs may also release the expansions (bought the first one for the ipad version). There is an annoying bug (I think it’s a bug. It might be DRM). You need to be connected to your steam account for the game to start. (But then it works fine, even if you lose the connection).

    1. Oh yeah, good point, this would be an excellent “gateway drug” into space combat sims. I hope it sells well, I wasn’t aware that this didn’t have expansions, so I’d love to see ’em.

  2. One of the major things I loved about freelancer was exploring different locations and reading all the flavor text that came with them…does galaxy on fire also have the exploration and station/planet infodumps that freelancer did?

    1. Welcome to the blog Nand1! As for your question, I’ve not yet tried any exploration, honestly, so I can’t answer on that point. The infodumps, however, are one thing Freelancer does better. :/

  3. I like the way the voidx’s primary weapons all focus on one target area. with other ships its a real pain lining them up

  4. can’t wait for the supernova add-on though, i’ve stacked up loads of money so i have no shortage…

    1. Welcome to the blog Rushad! And yeah, I am hoping they’ll bring the add-ons to the computer versions as well. More of this game would TOTES be a good thing. :)

  5. Fishlabs has submitted Supernova for Apple’s approval for all three versions of the game, so your glossy glorious Galaxy on Fire 2 should be that much more thrilling pretty soon.

    1. Welcome to the blog En, and does that include the PC version I’m playing? If it does, why does it need Apple’s approval?

  6. Great game but for PC users, a let down. The addons for it are only available for Android, Mac and Ipad so, forget about flying anything other than the basic ships and forget about more missions, you’re on your own. Thanks Fishlabs!

    1. Welcome to the blog Dave! And seriously? I sure hope not. I’m gonna try to get clarification on this, if you don’t mind.

    2. Hey Dave, I got a reply from Fishlabs on this very question:

      “It is correct that the add-ons are currently not available for PC and we didn’t announce them for PC yet. The simple reason is that Fishlabs is focused on mobile games, GOF2 is their first PC game and we will first have to check how GOF2 on PC worked before we can make further plans for the add-ons. But it might still happen that we announce the add-ons for PC soon – there’s nothing decided yet. I’ll keep you posted!”

  7. I like the game mainly because there aren’t any space sim games recently. But I cant help but fill it inferior to Freelancer.
    In the forum for the game a dev said that there are waiting for good sales to decide to release the addons for PC.

    1. Welcome to the blog Mysteoa, and I have to agree. It does scratch that Freelancer itch though for a while.

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