Game Over Online ~ Homeworld: Cataclysm

GameOver Game Reviews - Homeworld: Cataclysm (c) Sierra, Reviewed by - Rebellion

Game & Publisher Homeworld: Cataclysm (c) Sierra
System Requirements Windows 9x, Pentium II-233, 32MB Ram, 100MB HDD, 4x CD-ROM
Overall Rating 90%
Date Published Saturday, September 23rd, 2000 at 09:01 PM

Divider Left By: Rebellion Divider Right

Last year, Relic and Sierra put out what would become one of the most interesting games of 1999. From a visual standpoint, the game was a stunner, graphically portraying the vastness of space while simultaneously creating scaled battles in all their glory. With its hauntingly fitting soundtrack and worldly visuals, it created a great environment and jolted the typical real time strategy genre. From a strategic aspect, it didn't overly expand, but it showed how different a game could feel, by making an entirely 3D game that wasn't bound to the typical overhead ground based RTS's of the past.

Relic has passed their torch off to Barking Dog to create Cataclysm. This borderline sequel/expansion creates an entirely different story, one that feels much more coherent and interesting than the original. Much credit needs to go to Barking Dog for not just making a plain expansion pack adding a weak story and a few new ships. They went all out creating an entirely new scenario with entirely new ships (at least for you, many of your enemies use leftovers from HW).

Taking place shortly after the end of the original Homeworld, and given command of a sect of your people from your new homeworld of Hiigara, you enter into Cataclysm. A mining ship forms your command center as you roam through space processing resources to assist you in your actions against the other sects. Happening upon a piece of space debris, you unwittingly unleash a biomechanical race on to your people. Pushed to the wall by this new menace, you will also be under constant attack from space pirates and the Imperial loyalists bent on retaking Hiigara.

Earlier I said it was a borderline expansion/sequel. It's hard to really place this as either one. It's standalone, so you don't need the original Homeworld, and it has just as many missions as the original (YES Homeworld had 2 campaigns, but both sides had the same missions). While the game engine remains the same, much work has been done to improve the interface and update the graphics. The interface has gotten a significant level of refinement. It's been set up with a proper menu system accessible through a right mouse click and much of the visual clutter has been removed in favor of a more open screen. Homeworld itself was a visual masterpiece, but Cataclysm seems to improve much of what was seen in Homeworld. The texturing and modeling seems to be more detailed and the new units are all extremely well done. The pilot view that was added to later patches of Homeworld is also included in Cataclysm for all of you that might have missed that nice, though pretty much useless, view.

The soundtrack once again helps to create the desolate emptiness of space, but it just isn't up to par with the original. They tried to make it a little harder to encompass the battles, but I liked the worldly sound of the first game. It just put you in the proper mood for the game. There's just something missing in Cataclysm. It's not bad, it's just not up to par.

Changes to the gameplay have been somewhat dramatic. It gives it more of a realistic appeal. There is a better upgrade system in Cataclysm. Instead of getting more and more unit types, you get upgrades to existing units, from better armor, to better guns, to special abilities. Completion of research doesn't automatically upgrade your existing ships, so they need to be sent back for upgrading. This just adds more levels of complexity to the game. One of my biggest gripes about HW was the lack of complexity. You just build and go, research this to get that, build bigger stuff. It's not particularly complicated. There are some limitations in Cataclysm, with the primary being the introduction of support units. You're limited on how many ships you can have. Each ship requires a certain amount of units and once you run out of units, you can't build any more ships. It's a little bit better than the original with its ship type limitations, but it seems like Barking Dog made the maximum amount of support units a little too low. At max I only had a small fleet of large ships consisting of two dreadnaughts, two destroyers, and eight frigates, plus a handful of fighters. That just seems a little too small, although your ships are far more powerful than most everything the enemy throws at you. They just throw it at you in far greater numbers. A fog of war system was also added to Cataclysm, taking away the ease of knowing where your enemy always is. A great new feature is the introduction of a time compress option. How many RTS games have come out before with one of these? None that I can think of. Just think of how fast you could have gotten through some of those Warcraft missions if you could crank up the time and get your grunt rushes over with. Another major addition is a waypoint system. Waypoints are very handy in an RTS and being that this one is on all three axes, the introduction of a waypoint system makes navigating a walk in the park. The waypoint system is even advanced enough to be used for patrolling a path and then returning and starting over, making recon sweeps simple and easy. Another interesting feature is the addition of difficulty levels and the ability to change the difficulty during the campaign. I had to turn the difficulty down after I hit the seventh mission (I'm still trying to come up with a strategy that works decently on this mission). It's very difficult on the Normal settings, but not impossible. I didn't try anything higher than normal because it's hard enough as it is. The differences between difficulty levels pertain to the amount of resources units cost as well as how good and how many the enemy is.

Research has also been more clearly defined. Instead of science ships that can research anything, you now have defined modules, each having its own research tree. It makes researching a little more even, since you can't as easily focus researching into one area. Research ranges from new units to unit upgrades to game advancement knowledge.

The new biomechanical enemy makes for a great story, although it can easily be thought of as a Borg rip-off, with its "infection" of ships and converting the crews into parts of the ship. An ancient evil of far greater power against you the lowly mining peon and your quest to find a way to overcome is somewhat of an overused plot base. Cataclysm has the same basic plot as most other games, but with way better implementation.

The new ship designs make the game a bit different from the original. Homeworld really had a lack of special ships, most of them being various sizes of gun platforms. While Cataclysm has its share of straight run and gun ships, its well mixed with specialty items as well as giving some of the regular ships special features. One of the new special ships is the Leech class. These ships are undetectable by sensors and stick to the sides of ships and slowly damage them over time, a nifty little ship for all you stealthy miscreants. Another new ship is the mimic. It creates a holographic image and can pass itself off as an enemy ship or even an asteroid. These make for good spy ships as well as its improved kamikaze attack. The Sentinel class adds the ability to surround your ships with a force field for an added defensive improvement. Other ships include the Hive Frigate, a vastly improved Drone Frigate, the Multi-beam Frigate, a vastly improved Ion Cannon frigate, and larger capital ships that once again are vastly improved.

The multiplayer aspects left me somewhat disappointed. There really aren't any new features here, but the new multiplayer maps are quite good. I don't really like how you can only play with the new unit types. If you add computer players into the game, they will play as the Beast, pirates, or the Imperials, but you yourself can't play them. There also isn't any way to play with original Homeworld games either.

The improvements to the game are just phenomenal. It's very hard to take an already impressive game and improve it, but Barking Dog has done a superb job of taking Homeworld further. I am very impressed by this pseudo-expansion pack just due to how much the game itself has been improved. I thought Homeworld was an excellent game, but the game play was a little slow at times. The story in Cataclysm helps make the game more interesting. There's very little to criticize here and if you liked Homeworld, you'll eat Cataclysm right up. The in-game cutscenes, once again, show events unfolding while you're constantly receiving new information on what tasks you need to complete and how to do it. Offering a story with small amounts of what makes a story good, from plot twists to suspenseful moments to the final climatic battle of biblical proportions, Cataclysm delivers fully.


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