Homeworld: Cataclysm Review
developer: Barking Dog Studios
PII-200, 32MB RAM, 300MB HDD, 4MB 3D accelerator, 4X CD-ROM
|ESRB rating: E
release date: Sep 12, 00 (released)
|» All About Homeworld: Cataclysm on ActionTrip|
Branislav "Bane" Babovic
A year has passed since the release of the original Homeworld, and now we face --- Cataclysm! The original game was, in many ways, revolutionary, introducing (z-axis) to RTS and enticing the players with rich graphics. The critics mainly complained about the interface that didn't let you fully enjoy the otherwise smooth and fun game to the maximum. Cataclysm has many improvements, and presented in numbers, it's 17 missions in single player mode, 18 new ships, 25 new technological elements, and a LOT of good action.
Homeworld: Cataclysm continues where the original story ended. The Hiigarans (aka Homeworlders, Kushan people) have again settled in Homeworld, and they are gradually rebuilding their civilization. The Taiidan divided in two fractions: the aggressive Imperialists who want to finally settle the score with the Hiigarans, and the peaceful Republicans, who wish to redeem themselves for the sins of their nation committed in the past. Amidst all this Hiigarans and Taiidan bickering, one of Hiigaran mining ships, the Kuun-Lan, came across a piece of debris from an unusual spacecraft. The destroyed vessel was infected with the so-called Beast virus. When that happens, the virus turns the crew and the craft into a biomechanical system, which is a part of that race (like the Borgs from the Star Trek Serial). The bad thing about the whole deal is that the infected vessel can spread the virus, and the Beast can use the captured vessel against you. The tactics and the formations that the Beast uses are identical to those available to the player, which requires quick thinking in certain situations. Since the Beast takes over technologies together with the ships, it doesn't have to spend time researching new ones, and this is another advantage it has over the player. It has presented problems to everyone in the galaxy, so your race has decided to stop the Beast. The mining ship Kuu-lan performs identical operations as the Mothership in Homeworld. Actually, It was made in the shape and image of the Mothership. Kuu-lan provides several operations important for the game. It can research new technologies, construct advanced ships, and serve as a hangar, a place for repair of other Fleet ships. The story develops some 15 years after the one in the original, and several new crafts are available. Yes, here you have the new product line for the fall-winter 2000. Some have quite surprising performances, regardless of their dimensions, like the Sentinels, which are excellent when in formations against bigger ships. In the first few missions, it is useful to build a bunch of smaller ships, which will overpower enemy ship by their numbers. Later in the game (when new technology is discovered), the much bigger Capital Ships, Multigun and Ramming Frigates are used against enemy fighters.
A ship that allows loads of fun is the Ion Frigate, which fires a huge ray of energy that tears the enemy fighters into shreds. It is rarely destroyed, but if it explodes, it will turn several ships in its vicinity into space dust. Mimic is a very useful ship. It can imitate ships similar in dimension by projecting a hologram field around itself. It is a very good scout and recon ship, since it can take the shape of an enemy craft (it can even take the shape of an asteroid) and penetrate deep into enemy lines. The ships once called Scouts are now Recon ships, and the only difference is better sensor range. Tactics and Formation options remain unchanged. I think this is an excellent solution, since the players can customize units to their liking. Boosting your engine or weapons may prove to be crucial in certain moments of combat, but so may your ships' formations.
The main interface suffered some alteration in order to become more player-friendly and intuitive. It's not necessary to hop from screen to screen. Units can be easily seen and controlled on the map of the universe, which is also used as a sensor at the same time. Waypoints, Recon, Interception, and Attack all have simple commands displayed on the interface. The whole mission can be played from the main map/sensor. It gives a pleasant and realistic feeling of tactics, planning and commanding. The main map/sensor is summoned by one click on a key (by default "space"), so you can always plan movement of units, or keep an eye out for intruders. You don't have to switch to the 3D part of the game until the fireworks start.
Gameplay is superb, but then again that much had been expected from the Homeworld "sequel". All newbies are advised to pass the detailed Tutorial missions, in order to study the commands. The first few missions in the Tutorial are boring, but they are followed by information that can help you in space combat. The mouse is optional in this game, since most of the commands are given through the keyboard. Once the shortcuts on the keyboard are all familiar, the fun can begin. There is a time compression option added (up to x8), to make the tedious space travel easy, and resource gathering quicker. For easier ship control, there is a Focus option for changing view from one ship to another during dogfights.
Cataclysm is a visual masterpiece, and from the very start, the game is graphically very well designed. There is an option for zooming and rotating the camera 360°, which enables the players to enjoy the effects from any angle. The combat is visually magnificent. Smaller ships circling in cruel dogfights, and the bigger ships firing rockets and rays, are irresistible. It is fun to watch even when there is no combat, like when Workers ship docks the Main Ship, or leave for one of many mining expeditions to a nearby asteroid. Often, the fleet will pass through a colorful cosmic mist, and as a great effect, you can see distant stars blink in space. The only possible objection is the general blocky ship design. They are all pretty rough, with few sleek lines. Still, ship texturing is done superbly. It is best noticed on the Main Ships, which are biggest (like the Main Ship Kuun-Lan) and move slower than the smaller ones (like the Basic Fighter Acolyte). Cataclysm is one of those games that you pause just to admire the creativity of the graphic design. There is much more eye candy than in the last year's original. There are explosions that spread diametrically, hologram projections, and accurate polygonal alignment-a bunch of effects that will keep high-end 3D graphic card owners glued to the screen. All animations are real-time rendered, which means the game runs smooth and without noticeable slowdowns.
As in the original, a first class musician, Paul Ruskay was in charge of the soundtrack. A whole new set of themes was created to match the new surrounding and atmosphere. The themes are dark, and emphasize the danger that awaits the player in the battle with the Beast. During battle, the sound effects are marvelous, and draw attention to the detailed graphic effect. The sounds of lasers and the humming of spacecrafts are truly brilliant. As you zoom out of the combat scene, the sound grows quieter as if you were leaving the fight. The background music was an inseparable part of the original Homeworld, and Cataclysm is merely following that trend, although some might not appreciate the soundtrack being "enriched" with a couple of techno tunes. There are references in Cataclysm to the old soundtrack, which resembles remixes of the old hits. The main differences to the original Homeworld are the graphics, which are much better, new elements and a better gameplay. Sierra made a wise decision by releasing Cataclysm as stand-alone, and not as an official sequel or expansion-pack. The story is exciting and reminds of a novel. Replay value is enormous, because when you pass the single player campaign, you can switch to Skirmish mode or Multyplayer. Cataclysm is a good RTS 3D game, with plenty of elements that will thrill any seasoned game strategist, as well as a newbie to this genre.
Great addition in a world of RTS games and very addictive too...
Chunky ships, but I got nothin' else to complain about.
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