Monday, 30 November 2015

Video Game Review - The "Homeworld" Saga (1999 - present)

Back at the end of the 20th century, RTS type games were quite popular. Fuelled by the enthusiasm for the Command & Conquer series, many other RTS type games popped up and were popular, Dune 2000, Warcraft 2, Starcraft, the list was endless, and then genre became a bit stale and repetitive, what with its top down or pseudo 3-D environments where you sent worker units off to gather resources, built an army and then flattened your opponent.

The Homeworld games were something different though, as they were the first real stab at making a fully 3-D space combat game that actually worked, and, they all had a gripping storyline too, where you actually felt like what you were doing in game had an overall effect on the campaign at large.

Homeworld (1999)

The first game in the saga introduced the people of the planet Kharak.
The story goes that during an archaeological expedition into their planets great desert, the team uncovered the crashed hulk of what appeared to be a large space craft. The twist in the tale was though that the spacecraft wasn't alien in origin, as inside, the writings contained therein were in fact an ancient version of their own tongue.
The various peoples of Kharak, who were organised into tribes referred to as "Kiith", joined together to build their first interplanetary starship, as the translated pointed to the fact that their people originated on a distant world named "Hiigara".
The Mothership, as it came to be called, was powered by the crashed vessels still functioning hyperspace core, which allowed large vessels to use hyperspace to travel vast distances at many times the speed of light. With the construction of the vessel complete, 500,000 colonists, representing the various Kiith were placed in suspended animation for what was expected to be a long trip, however, this joyous adventure was not to be without incident, as the Kiith find that they had an ancient enemy, the Taidan, lying in wait for them as they prepared to launch into the great unknown to reclaim their lost home.

The game had all the elements familiar to RTS players, gather resources, build units, apply upgrades and unlock new units. What made Homeworld different though was its fully three dimensional play area, where you could order your ships to follow courses and plan attacks from all dimensions to take advantage of enemy weak points. Not only that, but you could tailor that units formation and tactics, similar to games in the "Total War" series, to get the best effect out of them when they attacked the enemy.
These things alone made it stand out from the crowd, and made it an instant classic.

Homeworld: Cataclysm (2000)

Set several decades after the Kiith reclaimed Hiigara from the Taidan, Cataclysm is a stand alone expansion for the original game, telling the story of Kiith Somtaw.
The Somtaw are miners by trade, and one day while carrying out mining operations from their most prestigious ship, the Kunn-Lan, they stumble across an ancient alien artifact.
Upon trying to examine this artifact, they find that it contains a deadly bio mechanical alien organism, which they name "The Beast", that begins taking over both the biological and technological systems of any ships or life forms it comes into contact with.
Kiith Somtaw, realising what a calamity they have unleashed on the known universe, set about trying to make right the situation, and begin building a fleet and finding technologies to combat the Beast.

HW:C used the same basic system as its predecessor, however you could now actually plot multi point courses for your ships, allowing you to get your ships into position without having to keep going back and moving the ships from point to point yourself.
Although the game enforced a strict fleet limit, you could still build a large fleet to your particular taste, and didn't feel pushed into maxing out on big ships if you didn't want to.
Although the storyline was good, this game wasn't as well received as the original.

Homeworld 2 (2003)

Set several centuries after the Beast incident, The people of Hiigara find themselves coming under attack by an aggressive and expansionist people known as the Vaygr.
The original Mothership, now rechristened the "Pride of Hiigara", is one of their major targets, as they want its hyperspace core so they can reactivate an ancient artifact which will make them unstoppable in their quest for galactic dominance.
The crew of the Pride of Hiigara must stop them by any means necessary, even if it means using the artifact themselves!

For the third entry in the series, the game went back to its roots, having the player control the original mothership, which had now been upgraded so it could be moved and wasn't simply a static fortress that needed defending. However, the game abandoned some of the features which had made it successful, for example, although ships tactics could still be set for aggressive, defensive or neutral postures, the ability to set their formations was eliminated and replaced with a "strike force" option, which encouraged mixing of different vessel types in one of three fixed formations, which would then proceed to move and attack in preset "waves", moving at the speed of the slowest vessel in the formation. This loss of tactical flexibility seriously hampered the fast paced combat action of the previous two entries in the series, and instead meant that any "light" vessels attached to a formation were relegated to being cannon fodder for the larger, lumbering battlecruisers and destroyers.

Although the game was well received, it is not considered to be the series best entry, and numerous fan made mods for all three games exist which allow skin changes, additional missions/scenarios, or allow different game "rules".

All in all though, the Homeworld series was a fun to play game, which is in dire need of a new entry.

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