Game Over Online ~ Homeworld

GameOver Game Reviews - Homeworld (c) Sierra Studios, Reviewed by - jube

Game & Publisher Homeworld (c) Sierra Studios
System Requirements Pentium 200, 32MB Ram, 4x CD-ROM
Overall Rating 92%
Date Published Friday, October 1st, 1999 at 08:05 PM

Divider Left By: jube Divider Right

Homeworld, like a cheese or wine, has been years in the making. And like a fine hunk of cheese or choice bottle of red bordeaux, is worth the wait. In an industry of rush jobs and last minute updates it is refreshing to see a game that was obviously developed with quality (and not a release date) in mind. Unlike another long awaited RTS game recently released, Homeworld proves that it was worth the long wait. Where C&C2 failed, Homeworld stuns. Where other games relied on contrived formula, Homeworld manages to shine above the crowd. Elements of strategy, space combat, and economics are combined perfectly in a fully 3D environment. A careful balance of fleet tactics, specific ship abilities and resource gathering make every game challenging and unique.

It pains me to have to praise a game so heavily, but in all honesty, it’s warranted. Over the span of a week I kept returning to play Homeworld with an increasingly critic eye, trying to find the fatal flaw that would deconstruct my high opinion. I found a handful of flaws, but nothing that would come close to changing my recommendation of this game. It’s quite the experience, so let’s get into the details.

Homeworld is far and away the best-looking RTS game ever. True 3D. Fully rotating camera. Twenty-or-so highly detailed ships. Huge space environments. Massive asteroid belts. The list goes on and on. Homeworld is just fun to look at. The two races, the Kushan and the Taiidan, each have their own distinct designs and customizable color schemes. During battles, which by the way can involve up to 200 ships, the camera can focus in on the actions of one unit, or view the entire operation from far overhead. The effect is nothing short of cinematic. Fans of X-Wing, Freespace, and Star Control will totally get off on this eye candy. And so will you!

The sounds of Homeworld caught me a little by surprise. I was expecting the standard fare of canned voice-overs usually found in RTS games. Silly me. Every unit, squad or fighter will communicate the status of their mission, ship and actions. Fighters will request docking for fuel. A group of attack bombers will return updates on how well their attack run is going. Research ships will chatter, sensors will relay proximity intrusions. Again, the effect is nothing short of impressive. The music in Homeworld, which mixes operatic and contemporary elements, is equally as good, but I found it more appealing to turn it off for a more “realistic” experience.

The gameplay of Homeworld, and of any other RTS game, is truly the center of the entire production. At the heart of this game is a monster. On one hand, it appears relatively simple. Everything you do in the game, from harvesting nebula dust to scouting unknown territory, is to achieve one goal: destroy your enemies. All the game’s economics, science and research serve one purpose: Military Superiority. So that’s the relatively simple “why” of Homeworld, it’s in the “how” that things start to get complex. There are a number of equally available, equally effective means of winning the game. Any frequent RTS gamer will immediately recognize these.

1. Offensive (Also known as: Destroy the other guys crap before he destroys yours). Probably the most used and most direct way to win the war. Homeworld has plenty to offer the player who wants the quick kill. A number of small fast ships, known as Strike Craft, can be produced in huge amounts, and in these amounts, can be deadly.

2. Defense (Also known as: Turtling, as in to turtle.) Other players believe in the age-old adage, “A good defense is a good offense.” Homeworld covers this style of play equally as well. Larger, more powerful units, such as Frigates and Capital Ships, are available fairly early in the game, but require huge resources to construct.

3. Resource Hoarding (Also known as: ANNOYING AS FUCK.) Build a bunch of harvesters, grab every consumable on the map, and then produce to ward off any attacks until your enemy is out of money. Personally, I can’t stand this play style, and gave up playing Starcraft when -everyone- figured out how effective it was. By putting resources in a variety of map locations (and not right behind your base) Homeworld makes gathering an extremely challenging and strategic ordeal.

Homeworld’s game is broken, surprisingly enough, into single and multiplayer modes of play. Single is a stock set of missions that offer a small variety of tasks, but essentially just equate to the multiplayer skirmishes with a few scripted events thrown in. To be honest, the plot isn’t stellar. It’s borrowed heavily from Descent: Freespace. (Two races, battling it out. Third race shows up, things get squirrelly.) Retrieving cargo and salvaging broken freighters isn’t my idea of a good time, so after getting the hang of the controls. Which does take some time, by the way. I moved on to the multiplayer skirmishes. Setup very similar to Starcraft’s multiplayer, Homeworld allows you to setup various aspects of the session, or choose from one of the pre-built scenarios. The computer AI can be adjusted in both difficulty and diplomacy. Two slides ditermine the strength and frequency of the computer attacks on human fleets. Given the large range of choice in terms of play style, unit research and military approach even the smallest of levels can be used multiple times of a number of battles.

Another interesting mix of game elements, and perhaps the most difficult aspect to overcome, is the balance between the “Metagame” and the “Microgame.” I swear I didn’t make those terms up. The Metagame concentrates more on a general over view of the entire battle, and conversely, the Microgame places the focus of the game on activities of specific units and squads. While playing Homeworld I found it difficult to establish the appropriate balance between these two styles of game strategy.

During one skirmish, I was busy docking a group of scouts that were scheduled to attack an enemy harvester near the area. While I was fiddling with these 15 or so scouts, checking fuel levels, setting up squad formations, adjusting maneuvers, etc a large group of attack frigates attacked my research colony. Alarms went off and I had to quickly fire off my own counter measures against the intruders. I should have seen the slow moving frigates moving into my space from hundreds of miles away, but I was busy tweaking my scouts, and I got screwed because of it! On the other side of gameplay, which would be the Metagame for those of you following along at home, small groups of fighters will be wasted because they were out classes, in need of refueling or in the wrong formation for the encounter.

The moral of this story? Developing playing skills in Homeworld will take time, much like the before mentioned wine and cheese. But don’t worry, in time you will know the ways of the Force. And I’m sure there is going to be plenty of teachers on the WON servers willing to take your sorry ass to school.


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