Basic gameplay consists of flying and fighting with the ship in a star system, jumping from system to system via jump points, landing on bases or planets, interacting with people (mainly talking) and buying or selling equipment or commodities. The Gemini sector is divided into quadrants, each contains several star systems, most of them with planets or bases that may be visited.

When flying, the main view is a first-person-look from inside the cockpit onto the cockpit screens (HUDs) and the space before the ship. Space combat simulation is similar to the style of other Wing Commander games of its time. When jumping, a short third-person-view sequence from outside the ship is intercut to visualise the transfer from one system to another.


Centurion cockpit view during combat with Talon fighter.

Landing is easily achieved by approaching a planet until a certain distance is reached and the ship is automatically placed on the landing pad. Starting from a planet is much the same: by clicking on the ship on the landing pad, a short third-person-view sequence starts showing the ship flying away from the planet.

On planets and bases a static overview / first-person-view is used to show the rooms and interact with people. When buying or selling and taking missions from the mission computer, in-game menus are used.

The Gemini sector is frequented by seven factions: Merchants, Bounty Hunters, Retros, Pirates, Militia, the Terran Confederation and the Kilrathi. Some of them will attack the player on sight, some are allies of the player. How the members of the factions react is not only pre-set but depends also on the actions of the player.

The player may conduct his own business as a merchant or fight in combat for non-plot missions provided by the above factions. If playing as a merchant, the player must make a profit from price differences of commodities on different planets or stations. Alternatively, the player may choose from randomly generated non-plot missions from a mission computer. Successful completion of missions results in monetary award, which allows better ship weapons and equipment to be purchased.

During the plot, the player meets fixers, often representing one of the factions above, who assign the player missions in their interest in exchange for money or helpful information. The missions usually consist of plain combat, escorting other ships while combating enemies or commodity delivery including smuggling while combating / escaping enemies. The plot itself can only be played straight, one mission after another in a pre-set line. But between plot missions or even while being on a mission the player can follow his own interests.

Privateer was notable in that one of the many forms of cargo a player could transport for profit were slaves.