Another Masterpiece Returns
When the more casual audience for games thinks of real time strategy games, usually the first name that comes up is StarCraft, thanks to the massive staying power the franchise has had over the years. But one series does not a genre make, and the strategy games have quite a few titles that qualify as “essential,” “classic,” or “masterpiece” titles. The Total War series, for example, might not have the same brand name recognition, but is frequently cited as THE historical simulator for combat. In the same way, when we talk about futuristic fleet battles with massive capital ships pounding each other with energy weapons as strike groups of fighters buzz angrily through the heavy fire, one title stands head and shoulders above the others. That title is Homeworld, and now, at long last, a new generation of gamers can enjoy this masterclass of the genre.
True 3D Combat
Anyone that plays Homeworld and says “This is just a rip off of new Battlestar Galactica” has inadvertently admitted they don’t remember—or are simply too young to know—their history. Homeworld is the story of a small battle fleet that finds itself in a desperate struggle for survival in the wake of the annihilation of their home planet. As the fleet fights, survives, grows and learns about the greater galactic community around them, they take a stand and make history. It’s a spare, minimal story that leaves much to the imagination of the player, and what worked brilliantly in 1999, still works today.
It’s also looking much more palatable to an audience that is now used to a world of HD and 4K resolutions. Like many remasters, Homeworld really benefits from a side-by-side comparison, as seeing the new game in action might prompt older gamers—with nostalgia goggles set to “full”—to remark “That looks the way I remember it.” It doesn’t. The polygon counts may be similar but textures are incredibly detailed, the lighting is new and beautiful, and modern visual nuances like depth of field focus and motion blur are in full effect for PCs that can handle the game with all the bells and whistles. Sound is also a big winner here, as the original game needed to fit on CDs, but now the voice acting, music and audio effects have been given a big bump up to lossless audio and sound much richer and fuller than they ever have. For fans of detail, Gearbox has also gone back and used Heidi Ernest (voice of the original Fleet Command for Homeworld) to voice Fleet Command in Homeworld 2 as well, something she was unable to do due to pregnancy when the sequel originally launched.
But the most important thing here is the game—or games—and what your $32.89 gets you is Homeworld one and two in shiny new remastered editions, as well as the original games, now compatible with a modern Windows OS. Aside from the graphics, the only other real tweaks to the game are in the interface. Gearbox has now added a few extra status indicators and management screens to ease the complexity of building and researching. They haven’t touched the actual content or mission structure of either game, which means that the devastating salvage corvette tactic of HW1 is still just as viable (and possibly overpowered) now as it was in 1999.
In many ways, this series is still just as exotic and innovative now as it was over 15 years ago. The RTS has retreated in popularity, so it’s not like fans of the genre have a ton of titles to choose from today, and very few of them are based on the combined arms of space fleet battles. Fewl of them operate in true 3D space, allowing attacks to take place on the Z-axis, and fewer still allow your fleet to carry over from battle to battle, rather than making start from scratch building up forces over again with each new level. There’s a lot of take in here for new gamers, and even old hands will need a few rounds to get reacquainted with the complexity, but if they do, what they’ll find is a deep, rewarding RTS experience. The multi-player, curiously, is labeled as a “beta,” and the online portion of it was unavailable for review.
In many ways, this series is still just as exotic and innovative now as it was over 15 years ago.
The Homeworld collection is a fantastic and complex RTS that will challenge players with an almost intimidating amount of depth of choice. It tells a serious, engaging story, and has skirmish modes that will test both strategic thinking and the ability to think quickly under pressure. This is a very different beast from StarCraft which is a good thing, since not every RTS has to be based on that concept. For younger RTS fans, one of the greats of the genre has finally returned.