Homeworld Remastered Collection can be summed up with one simple noise, the ominous bassy rumbling that occurs every time your ships jump into and out of hyperspace. Of course defining a game with a noise is a pretty rubbish way to begin a written review. However, with the power of the “internet” I can show you this noise by getting you to click on this pretty blue text. Seriously click on it, listen and them come back. I’m not going anywhere. Okay done? Perfect. Everything Homeworld makes you feel is contained in that short sound bite. The emptiness of space, the fear of constantly jumping into the unknown and the hopeless futility that you are the last few of a destroyed civilisation being relentlessly pursued by a genocidal enemy. Wait…that sound’s a lot like the plot of Battlestar Galactica!
Homeworld is, in essence, the video game version of Ronald D. Moore’s re-imagined Battlestar Galactica series but released a good 5 years before that was even a thing! Now almost 16 years after it’s original release Homeworld and it’s sequel have been re-released in glorious HD. HD remasters are ubiquitous in gaming these days but playing the series for the first time, without the benefit of nostalgia, is it still a classic RTS?
• Developer: Gearbox Software
• Publisher: Gearbox Software
• Reviewed on: PC
• Release Date: Available Now
Homeworld follows the Kushan, a civilisation confined to the desert planet Kharak. The Kushan find a colossal spaceship buried in the Great Desert and within it the coordinates of the planet Higara, their true home. Using the technology found on this ship they develop a mothership capable of crossing the galaxy and returning to their ancestral home. After a brief hyperspace test the mothership returns to find Kharak on fire, with no signs of life remaining and only a few hundred thousand colonists remaining in suspended animation. With an unknown enemy on their tails and an extremely limited amount of supplies they head for Higara. As mentioned in the intro the similarities to Battlestar Galactica are obvious and, as a huge fan of the show, I really got sucked in to the Homeworld universe. The story of the the Kushan is told through a series of short, minimalistic cutscenes before every mission and is simple yet engaging. As with every other aspect of the game these are now remastered in HD, Homeworld is now a truly beautiful game. Homeworld is also, a bit of an odd game as far as Real Time Strategies go. In some ways its a bog standard RTS – you have a mothership that builds all your units, you collect resources to pay for these units and you research a variety of tech to gain access to bigger and more powerful units.
There are some key differences that set Homeworld apart from most games in the genre. Space is, generally speaking pretty darn empty. Once you remove the planets and stars there’s not much else left to fill your game world with. Yet Homeworld does just that. Barring a few exceptions, basically every level in Homeworld takes place in an empty black cube and all the usual map related tactics associated with an RTS are thrown out the window. There are no choke points, there is no high ground, there is just space. It really shouldn’t work at all yet, due to some fantastic unit design and an innovative 3D movement system it ends up being one of the best RTS I have ever played. At its essence, its all one big game of rock-paper-scissors.
Fighters are small and manoeuvrable, and at high numbers can be a real nuisance to your fleet yet can be dealt with by a decent squadron of corvettes. Corvettes pack a decent amount of fire-power but can be reduced to rubble with a battalion of frigates. Huge hulking capital ships like the Destroyer can deal devastating damage to an opponents collection of frigates, yet a squadron of small manoeuvrable bombers can deal with that. Being attacked by these bombers? Well dispatch some more fighters to pick them off before they launch their payloads and keep pressing the attack. Each of these units is introduced to you slowly throughout the campaign teaching you the nuances of the game piece by piece.
As you delve deeper into the campaign the nuances become more apparent. Each of these broad ship categories contains a whole host of units and with them a variety of strategies. Support corvettes and frigates can help repair damaged units, drone frigates unleash a devastating swarm capable of dealing with large fighter squadrons and salvage corvettes can sneak up on unsuspecting enemy crafts, board them and transfer them to your control.
The most exciting ships in the world can not save a game from a lacklustre combat system. If all you’re doing is smashing two armies together in an empty black map then it’s going to get boring, fast. Of course this isn’t the case. The maps in Homeworld might be empty but you get to utilise all of that emptiness with full 3D movement. Rather than sending you entire fleet straight towards the enemy you can first send them up to the top of the map way above the enemies radar before heading back down to surprise the enemy from above.
It opens up a whole host of strategic options – perhaps you could split your fleet in two, one as a decoy to pull the enemy capital ships towards you whilst a second, much larger, fleet of bombers swoops in from above. You could hide salvage corvettes in the far reaches of the map sending them in to pick off valuable enemy ships and add them to your fleet. It can be a rather tricky to pull off however, zooming right out to sensor management mode and assigning several waypoints to all the different ships in your fleet. Homeworld is generally a pretty difficult game.
I often forget that, excluding Dark Souls and it’s ilk, games were generally a lot less forgiving in the past and this is no exception. Autosaves are almost non-existent, there is very little hand holding and mistakes are severely punished. This is exacerbated by the fact that every mistake you make in one level is carried over to the next. In most modern strategy games each new level hits the reset button. You get a new base and a new pool of resources and build your army afresh before marching out and destroying the enemy. The remaining Kushan population with its sole mothership and limited resources don’t get that luxury. You start each level with what survived the last. Sure you might complete a tough level that you’ve been stuck on for weeks but, if you lose 90% of your fleet in the process then you’re probably not going to make it through the next mission.
It is tough, it is innovative and it is practically unheard of in today’s strategy games yet….it’s awesome. It adds another dimension to the already complicated battle system. You do not just want to win you want to win decisively. It’s also amazingly thematic. Loosing a ship doesn’t just weaken your army it brings you closer to extinction, every death is another soul you really cannot afford to lose.
Despite all this praise there is a lot about this Remastered Collection that is….incredibly infuriating. Ignoring the beautiful HD remaster Gearbox has done very little to update Homeworld aiming to maintain as much of the original game as possible. Annoyingly, this seems to include bugs too. As mentioned above, the third level of Homeworld begins with the mothership returning to Kharak on fire. All life on the planet is dead and all that remains of the Kushan civilisation is contained in six cryotrays floating in space. One of these cryotrays is currently under attack from a group of unknown attackers. Your mission is to simply destroy the attackers and transfer the remaining cryotrays to the mothership. However, if you manage to save all six of them the game glitches out and refuses to continue. This bug has been in the game since 1999 and is still present today! You’re punished for being good at the game because the game simply assumes it’s impossible to save all six ships.
There are a whole host of other bugs that hampered my enjoyment. The game seems to have serious issues with loading save files made during a mission. Starting a mission from the beginning is fine but load up halfway through and often it can not handle it. Cutscenes do not happen, enemy ships do not appear and the level refuses to progress. This is particularly annoying in the games harder and longer missions. There are other issues that, aren’t necessarily bugs but are annoying nonetheless and, when coupled together it feels like the game punishes you for knowing what you are supposed to be doing.
I had played one mission a few times, and after a few failed attempts I finally figured out how to win. All I had to do was defeat a few smaller ships and then send a salvage corvette in and investigate a mysterious ghost ship. So, I load it up again, and did just that, but it glitched and the level would not proceed. So I loaded it again this time from the very beginning of the level and finally made my way through the mission. I easily dealt with the smaller ships and sent my fleet back to base whilst building a salvage corvette….but the game didn’t expect me to do that. It expected me to leave my fleet by the enemy, and once they moved away the location of the ghost ship was lost. I spent a good 20 minutes looking for the damned thing before realising that space really is big….and also realising that I’d have to start the level….again.
It really feels like the game is punishing you for knowing what to expect and preparing accordingly. With ships so valuable, between missions preparation is often the only way to succeed and it sucks that it sometimes ruins my enjoyment of the game. Ignoring all of this and you have got a great game but can it simply be ignored? HD remasters often succeed and sell well thanks to a hefty helping of nostalgia. My collection is filled with such games. I am sure that if I was not such a fan of Metal Gear Solid I would heavily criticise its HD collection for the excessively long cutscenes and the nonsensical plot.
Yet, those games were my childhood and no amount of CODEC calls can destroy my love for those games. With Homeworld I do not have the benefit of nostalgia. Sure, I had heard about it before but I never played it, never loved it when I was younger. I have no distant fond memories I just have what I have experienced so far and that makes it a lot harder to forgive any annoyances.
So what is my final verdict on Homeworld Remastered Collection? Honestly…I do not really know. I can not deny that it is fantastic, possibly a classic, but I also can not deny that it annoys the hell out of me. Your enjoyment of Homeworld will probably be based on whether you have played it before and also how willing you are to accept a few bugs. These bugs may be patched out, yes, but considering one of them has been in the game for nearly 16 years I find that rather unlikely.
I also can not deny that there is a lot of game here. The collection contains both the original and the equally great sequel as well as the classic versions of both games. There is also a multiplayer mode that is currently still in beta and somewhat unbalanced but shows decent promise. Therefore my only real complaint is the bugs and once again the question is whether or not they are enough for me to avoid recommending this game. Ultimately, no they are not and yes this game is fantastic even with the annoyances. Heck the hyperspace jump sound effect a lone is enough to make up for most of the bugs!