Since there are many different types of space-combat simulations, some are often lumped into the category that have very little in common with other games in the genre. For instance, some developers aim to make epics like the Wing Commander series, while others try to make simpler, arcade-like shooters set in space. Red Storm's Bang! Gunship Elite definitely falls into the latter category: It tries to draw you in with its graphics and fast action, though it's weakened by its simple story and repetitive gameplay.
Like many other space combat games, Gunship Elite looks great. Although the background images are simply two-dimensional bitmaps, Red Storm added a few effects to make the game look more appealing. Many enormous background objects such as planets and gas clouds almost look three-dimensional. Various effects like blinding lens flares and numerous polygonal asteroids are also in abundance to make the surrounding environment seem more realistic. However, the actual ship models are not very complex. Each ship has a distinctly rectangular or blocky look, which was apparently necessary in order to accommodate the large number of ships that can appear onscreen at once. In addition, with the exception of the hellfire and the stasis cannon weapons, which both fire with impressive effects, Gunship Elite's weapons are disappointing. Most of the weapons just fire simple projectiles or balls of light that really don't convey any sense of increasing strength.
While Gunship Elite is pleasant to look at, other aspects of the game suffer from a pronounced lack of depth. Gunship Elite's story is nothing but a series of mission objectives strung together with an incredibly boring and poorly voiced prologue explaining that you're fighting to protect a valuable resource from the Sektar and its allies, the Morgoths. Whatever semblance of a plot there is in Gunship Elite ends abruptly with the final decisive battle, which is merely narrated to you by the same monotone voice actor. It's anticlimactic to say the least: You fight the majority of the battles yourself, only to be left out of the final decisive confrontation. If you expect a story to help lend some purpose to playing through a game, don't expect Gunship Elite to deliver.
Although you'll have to sit back and watch the final battle, Gunship Elite does at least offer plenty of action up to that point. Gunship Elite resembles an arcade shooter more than a typical PC space combat simulation, even though the game has its share of escort and specific-target missions that fans of traditional space combat sims will recognize. The challenge in a typical mission consists of swarm after swarm of enemies hurling themselves at you while you attempt to complete the objectives. While this keeps the action going at a quick pace, dealing with so many enemies can become quite frustrating and redundant. You'll spend several long minutes taking out the first few waves of enemy ships, and by that time you'll want to get the mission over with. The problem is you can't, because the enemy ships just keep on coming. Except for a few stages, you'll have to spend a large portion of time taking out the enemy ships before you can complete the rest of the mission. Since your foes come in large batches, detecting each individual ship on the radar can take some getting used to. Fortunately, after a few battles you should be able to read the radar without much trouble.
Gunship Elite only really requires that you're able to hold down the fire button, maneuver well, and nothing more. But there are a few additional elements - some of which can be frustrating - that add a little more strategy to the game. Your main goal is generally to shoot down as many enemies as you can in a short amount of time, but you need to be aware of certain resources during battle. The most important resource to keep watch over is your shield, which can be activated at any time. Power for the shield dissipates for as long as you hold down the activation key, and being aware of the shield's power levels is especially important for mission objectives that require you to almost completely ignore smaller enemy ships and focus all your attention on a single primary target. Enemy ships will harass you constantly while you're attempting to destroy a primary target like one of the larger ships, so if you haven't conserved your shield power for that attack, then you probably won't be able to complete the mission. Your ship also has limited boosted-acceleration capabilities, and like the shield, the amount of time you can accelerate depends on how long you hold down the acceleration key. If you use your extra speed early to pursue smaller ships, you can become a sitting duck while your primary target escapes.
The enemy artificial intelligence in Gunship Elite isn't spectacular, but it can sometimes surprise you. Low-level Sektar ships won't do much to avoid your shots, but some of the middle-level ships like the Sektar bombers will try to hide behind asteroids. Once discovered, they will scramble to find another asteroid to hide behind and fire at you in the process. Likewise, if one of these ships is in the open, it will fly directly toward the brightest star so that it becomes difficult to track it visually because of the lens flares and brightness levels.
With most of your efforts focused on shooting down wave after wave of enemy ships, you may not pay much attention to Gunship Elite's music. That's not to say it's bad, because it's actually quite good and suits the theme of the game. The problem is that the thunderous weapon fire and radio chatter from enemy and allied ships will all but drown out the music unless you adjust the volume settings in the options menu.
A well-designed multiplayer mode is the saving grace for many games - that's not the case for Gunship Elite, but it's still a nice bonus. You can engage in a dogfight with up to eight other players over TCP/IP or through one of two gaming services. You can even choose which environment you want to fight in, though each level is fairly similar and features an enormous space station through which you can maneuver. The multiplayer mode is fun initially. The combat is really fast, but like other more simple space combat simulations, it can quickly turn into a game of running in circles.
Gunship Elite does a few things right. Its visuals are excellent, and you probably couldn't find an easier space combat game to get into - but the ease of use comes at a price. Gunship Elite's gameplay is shallow, and you will spend the majority of time fighting throngs of enemy ships until you get so used to it, you just want to stop playing. It's especially frustrating when you've been dogfighting for close to ten minutes, only to lose the mission because you've wasted all of your ammunition and booster fuel, which occurs often if you aren't very careful. But Gunship Elite's worst problem is that there's no real incentive in it - the lack of story and repetitive combat offer no good reason to stick with the game. It's attractive and easy to learn, but other aspects of the game come up short.