Title: Homeworld & Homeworld 2
Developer: Gearbox Software
Publisher: Gearbox Software
Genre: Strategy, Simulation
Platform: PC (Steam)
Rating: E (fer Everberdy +10)
Release Date: February 25, 2015
A long time ago on a PC that I no longer have in my garage from which I salvaged random parts, Sierra Entertainment got together with Relic Entertainment to create what I felt was one of the best space simulation/story games of all time. I mean that, by the way – Homeworld was a game that not only surprised me, but made every half-baked space game that came after it seem insignificant to my memory of that graphical wonder complimented by arias and a theme song powered by the band Yes (never you mind that I grew up listening to epic 80’s rock bands such as Yes). Soon after, they announced their not so successful follow up of Homeworld: Cataclysm that involved a massive bio organism alien enemy, which I still enjoyed immensely. And shortly after that, they released Homeworld 2, which was still massively fun and even more beautiful (although for some reason even less popular) that left the whole series open-ended for a third, fourth and fifth game.
Unfortunately, Sierra Entertainment was cannibalized by Activision in 2008, leading to its erasure from the Internet and existence entirely. Relic Entertainment was bought out by THQ, which then went bankrupt and sold Relic to Sega before Relic ever had the chance to “get back to the Homeworld universe” and create another game. Which left most of us Homeworld fans of 2003 hanging without any sort of way to communicate to the newest generations what kind of game Homeworld was (since it would no longer run nicely on any modern hardware) with no hope of any sequels. Which I believed might have been a better fate for Homeworld, given what kind of schlock was being delved out as sequels back then.
For those of you new to the series, the entire series is about the Kushan – a group of warlike clans living on a harsh desert planet named Kharak on the edge of the galaxy. They have a long past involving space travel, but most of this information was lost, as the clans of Kharak spent most of their time blowing each other up. It’s only in a moment of peace that they eventually regain their technological advancement to find the remains of a spacecraft in the middle of the desert. Not only is the ship a huge surprise to the Kushan, but so is a giant chunk of rock found in the ship with a galactic space map carved on it. It charts a path back to the galactic center with one recognizable word on it – Hiigara, or home world. Most of this information is departed to us older players who bought the game and read the instruction manual (which was incredibly rich with the game’s history and images), but to the newcomers, some of it is missing. The game opens up with a quick, thin overview of how things came to the point of building this massive colony ship over Kharak called the Mothership.
The first game itself is a voyage of discovery, telling the player a story about exile, loss (on a planetary scale), paranoia, revenge, war and finally a return to the Homeworld. It is a wonderfully crafted tale, told by animated artwork, woven into the vast space tapestry involving building tons of spacecraft, researching new technology and harvesting tons of space debris to eventually wear down the “enemy” and complete a mission. Not all missions are about fighting – there’s one specifically that doesn’t involve any enemy spacecraft whatsoever – but most of them are about wiping out a force bent on keeping your mother ship from reaching her goal. Often, one would have to replay a mission to figure out how to preserve more forces for the next mission, which would literally kick your ass if you came unprepared.
They completely skipped Cataclysm to give us Homeworld 2. Now, the story of reclaiming Hiigara moves to preventing a madman of the old Taidan empire from committing mass genocide of the Kushan on Hiigara. Despite the fact that old regime is pretty pissed at losing the seat of their empire to a bunch of desert folks, there is another thread interwoven into the story – one involving hyperspace warp cores and the possibility of leaving the known galaxy (the cliffhanger of Homeworld 2). The same formula is applied – one commands a restored Mothership and her fleet to complete missions. While the story is a little less refined with less SURPRISE! moments involved, it’s still a complete narrative about the Kushan people from the first game.
The game really shined (and still shines) in the gameplay. The maps in which all missions and combat take place involve a large sphere of space. Instead of a normal 2-D plane, you are now forced to move your fleet not only along one horizontal axis, but along a vertical one as well. Things are not only operating along an X and Y axis, but a Z one has been added. You may have to go UP or DOWN a distance to reach a goal, and the enemy can always zoom into your fleet from above or below if you are not paying attention. This 3-D perspective makes missions – and multiplayer games – somewhat of relief from traditional space combat simulators.
The core of every game, especially the mutilplayer ones, is to gather enough resources using collector vessels to do various other tasks. The obvious task is to build a fleet, but you must also research with resources the technologies as they come available to create new ships (or improve the old ones). Often, you are competing with the opposing faction’s resource collection. You’ll need to capitalize on improving resource collection (such as building ships that collectors can connect with to send back resources far afield). Another thing you can use resources on is buying technology from an alien race known as the Bentuzi that show up fairly early in the story. Ships come in the rock/paper/scissors variety, meaning some ships are better used against others, which have weakness to other kinds of ships. It’s not until you reach the biggest ships that you can stop worrying about that formula. Ships go fighters, corvettes, frigates, carriers, destroyers, heavy destroyers. The latter is basically a dreadnaught of destruction.
The music of Homeworld is both uplifting, breath-taking and appropriate. Often you are treated to the same aria Agnus Dei (a choral variation of Adagio for Strings), but the theme song of the Taidan and Turanic raiders is wailing and tribal, while the theme song of the Kadeshi is ethereal and haunting. Sound effects are very well done, with the sounds of humming engines, swooshing fighters, thunderous guns, burning ion lasers and massive ear-rending explosions being the best I’ve heard in a long time. Voice acting is top-notch: Fleet Command and Fleet Intelligence lead you along in every mission, relaying important data to the player. You also have the radio chatter from ship pilots/captains in your fleet that give you a heads-up of their issues. The game is very sound dependent, as it gives you a degree of immersion into the atmosphere of the game.
The game is by no means incredibly easy. Getting used to the camera and how to quickly access your ships in a 3-D map can be tricky. The enemy will bring the same kind of ships depending on the mission, so you may have to restart once or twice after finding out the hard way what the enemy is sending to destroy your mothership. Construction queues can take awhile, so you may need to find other ways to delay the enemy while you bulk up your fleet. Granted, in the first game, once you master the Salvage Corvette, you can literally steal every ship you want instead of building it. I think by the end of my play-through of the remastered version, I had more Taidan ships in my fleet than Kushan vessels. Again, you need to learn the rock/paper/scissors balance of the game to succeed. There are also caps on how many ships of each type you can build, so you need to work within boundaries that can be frustrating.
All in all, the remastered version by Gearbox is a very nice remake of the old Homeworld games. Not only are they prettier, they are more balanced, especially in the multiplayer area. There are still some glitches here and there (such as too many ships fighting in the game actually causes the enemy AI to suddenly stop functioning, which happened to me in the final mission of the first game). You can also play the game in the new, pretty graphic style or the old 2003 version. Once you play the new graphics, however, you’ll wonder why you’d even want to play it in the old graphics. I played it both ways, side by side, mission for mission, until mission 5, where I abandoned the old graphics version. It seems like a waste to even include it, since I can’t imagine the new generation wanting to experience the blocky, jagged graphics of 2003.
The good news recently is that we might get another Homeworld game soon, because Blackbird Interactive is adapting their concept of Hardware: Shipbreakers to Homeworld: Shipbreakers. Blackbird is made up of previous Relic Entertainment people, so it should prove to be a good game based in the Homeworld universe. So the series is long from being forgotten. The interface to their game seems very similar to Homeworld, and the music is almost exactly identical. I can see it being a very successful game about salvaging old crashed spaceships.
One other slight complaint I have with the remastered version – I know that the rights to the Homeworld song by Yes are probably expensive, but the exclusion of the song from the end credits of the game steals something from the original game. The song is epic in itself, giving you a true sense of the struggle of the Kushan. I’ll link it here for the new generation to experience – enjoy.
Nathan is a 40-ish year-old gamer, father and programmer. His hobbies are board games, video games and watching his son. He wrote for http://www.ironmanmode.com/ for the years of 2012 and 2013 to make money for Child's Play. He has been basically playing games since the 1980's in one form or another. His very first favorite video game was actually an arcade game called Dig Dug. He has played every generation of video game console (including the Magnavox Odyssey)