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Homeworld 2 Review
publisher: Vivendi Games
developer: Relic Entertainment
PIII 833MHz , 256MB RAM, 32MB Video Card, 1.6GB HD
|ESRB rating: T
release date: Sep 16, 03 (released)
|» All About Homeworld 2 on ActionTrip|
You reclaimed your home. Now reclaim your destiny.
Enter the Pride of Hiiagara!
C'mon boys, we're not on vacation here!
In a way, this rather cryptic line from the trailer quite accurately describes the story of the Homeworld sequel. Still, we cannot simply throw our readers "in medias res" like this. I guess a short lesson in Homeworld history is order. Developed in '99 by the (at that time) unknown studio Relic Entertainment, Homeworld pretty much swept most gaming enthusiasts off their feet. It looked beautiful and it introduced a feature that was never before seen in a 3D RTS, let alone a conventional real-time strategy. You could move freely in 3D space! Getting used to this is like learning to swim. It seems hard at first, but once you get the hang of it, the skill stays with you permanently. Like so many other game reviewers, yours truly fell in love with Homeworld and its massive and mystical ambience. PC Gamer even named it the 1999 Game of the Year - and that's saying something. The original was excellent, but it also had some control flaws and a relatively steep learning curve. Now that the sequel is upon us we shall try to examine if it lives up to the hype and manages to fill in the shoes of its now legendary predecessor.
The Homeworld saga resumes as the Hiigarans, having reclaimed their homeworld after generations in exile in the original are faced with yet another daunting challenge. They have to put an end to the terrible crusade of the Vaygr, whose leader, Makaan, is trying to reunite the three Hyperspace cores and fulfill his destiny of becoming the Sajuuk'Khem - He Whose Hand Shapes What Is - and herald the coming of the End Time. The Hiigarans have one of the Hypespace cores, and the Bentusi and Vaygr have the other two.
The game begins with the launching of the second Hiigaran Mothership, 'The Pride of Hiigara.' The Hyperspace Core, which is the mark of their heritage has been removed from storage and brought to the Tanis shipyard for final integration. The Fleet has been prepared. What follows next is a sudden attack by the Vaygr fleet bent on getting a hold of the core. The Hiigaran are once again forced to roam the space in search of answers. Now that they've reclaimed their home, they need to reclaim their destiny.
From that point on, players are hurled into the savage void of the space and left to fend for themselves. As sequels go, Homeworld 2 doesn't bring as many innovations to the table as one might've hoped for, but that' probably because the original was pretty damn decent to begin with. It's been four years since I've played Homeworld (not counting the expansion), and I must admit I was a bit rusty at the get go. More importantly I couldn't exactly remember all the intricate details about the gameplay in the original. That being said, it was kind of hard to notice any glaring novelties over the original. Sure, the 3D engine is new, and the AI seems perfected; there are a few notable changes to the gameplay mechanics, like the ability to group units (standard RTS praxis), and target capital ship subsystems, just like in all those space simulations that we've played over the years. As revolutionary as Homeworld was, Homeworld 2 is mostly about perfecting the concepts that were already introduced in the original - making things bigger, better and bolder without actually breaking any new ground. The single-player mode is divided into fifteen missions, in which you'll attempt to unlock the mysteries of the universe by skillfully leading the Hiigaran fleet through its fate of great peril and hardship.
Err... are you fellas on our side?
It's a weird-looking universe out there.
The gameplay in the sequel seems a lot more polished, more mature than the one in the original. The mechanics of the gameplay here - the way you control your units, move in 3D space, etc., seem more refined and fluid than the original game. As usual, rookies to the Homeworld franchise will have a hell of a time trying to adjust to the interface, as the concept of a completely 3D space with depth, height and width may prove a little overwhelming at first. Hell, I've been playing Homeworld for quite a while now, and I still have problems pinpointing the exact spot where I want my fleet to move. Just as a side note, remember that you'll need to use the tactical map a lot, as well as rotate the camera constantly to get the best angles. I assure you, however, that if you spend enough time with the game zooming in and out of the tactical map and moving around will become your second nature. But even then you'll have to take great care, as controlling multiple unit types; each with its highly different combat use; will require copious amounts of multi-tasking and some bona fide strategy planning. Decent multiplayer strategy gamers will love this fact. The rest of us mere mortals may find it a bit too challenging.
This brings me of course to the most controversial issue about the sequel. You'd think that with such an overwhelming amount of strategy options (that require highly sophisticated multi-tasking routines by the human brain) the programmers would ease the novice players in a bit more, let them get a feel for the game before the action heats up. Homeworld 2 introduces many new ship models of course, and as I said, to become even modestly proficient at this game, you'll have to know which corvettes are good against the "Mover" ships, and if Flak Frigates are any good at all without proper Gunship support, etc. There's a multitude of new research options available in the game, and believe me when I tell you that you'll have to study them thoroughly if you want to beat the single-player game. Forget the multiplayer for now; you'll first have to become good enough to beat the single-player game. The single mode is incredibly tough at times. The solid enemy AI will only be the start of your troubles. For some reason, the guys at Relic thought that throwing ungodly amounts of vessels at the player and watching him squirm in his seat as he tries to figure out what the hell to do next would be "great fun." Ironically, they were partially right, because finishing missions four and nine gave me a sense of accomplishment, like I've actually done something worthwhile. I'm not going to retell the entire missions here, but let's just say that you will probably laugh in desperation when you see dozens of Assault Frigates and Destroyers coming your way and there is a note in the mission objectives that says: "Destroy the remaining Vaygr forces."
As it was the case in the original, your fleet is constant throughout the game. In other words, all of your ships and research technology are carried over from the previous missions. I always liked this feature of Homeworld, but if you've by any chance barely beaten an enemy in one mission, and expect to get a breather to rebuild in the next one, you damn well better think again, because that's not going to happen. To cut a long story short, Homeworld 2 is extremely difficult. It's the most challenging RTS game I've ever played. It's like the sequel was built for Homeworld veterans, and not for the regular players being introduced to the franchise for the very first time. I must say that's a very odd move by the design team. While the current trend in gaming is to simplify games in order to make them more mainstream, Relic took the exact opposite approach. They've made a highly involving and challenging game for those gamers who are willing to devote a far amount of their time and energy to master a game.
On the upside, the game looks more beautiful than ever. The surrounding void of the cold and dark space has been filled with many new objects: giant asteroids, huge derelicts, murky gas clouds, and vast nebulae, and the ship models are meticulously designed with great attention to detail. What impressed me the most about the 3D engine, however, were the spectacular explosions and weapon special effects. This is what truly sets the graphics apart from the first game. Destroying a capital ship is truly a site to behold. Relic should be praised for their masterful use of dynamic lighting and advanced particle effects. The visuals only improve on the air of massiveness that was one of the main traits of the original. To top it all off, the game is highly playable on a relatively modest rig thanks to the excellent dynamic LOD system.
The feeling of mysticism and vastness of the game world is only further enhanced by the excellent oriental soundtrack, and the deep booming sounds of the massive Mothership. Voice acting is top-notch and it does wonders to immerse the player into the story.
It's really hard to accurately review Homeworld 2. For those of us who are willing to spend a little more time and energy than what we're used to spending on video games these days, Homeworld 2 will reward us with a dynamic, exciting and engrossing game world, with an epic storyline and plenty of challenges for true fans. Then there are those of us, of course, which either don't have enough time or patience to properly master this game. Still, what struck me as a bit disappointing is that even if you devote enough time to the sequel, you will be treated to a relatively short single-player campaign. Despite the fact it took me several tries to beat certain missions, I finished Homeworld 2 on normal in two days. After all, we're only talking about fifteen missions here. I guess jumping in a few multiplayer matches increases the game's replay value, but the accent in Homeworld has always been on the single-player experience. New multiplayer modes and features allow up to six players to wage war via a LAN or over the Internet. Additional tools and modules enable the community to develop new missions and mods. Hopefully, some talented modders out there will be able to further expand the single-player campaign, and build upon the excellent foundation laid down by Relic Entertainment.
Sure, the single-player mode was so challenging it even drew a few sarcastic grins of disbelief out of me, but in the end I ended up longing for more of that frustration. Aren't we gamers a strange bunch? (No, that's just you. - Six)
8.3 Very Good
Highly evolved and matured concept, more intense battles, engrossing storyline, fantastic visuals and sound, a worthy challenge;
Challenge borders on frustrating at times, slight AI glitches (fighter class ships rush even when in defensive mode), sometimes vague objectives, single-player campaign is too short.
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