Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Homeworld, the best space RTS you (sort of) can't buy. And the sequel you can. And the mod that's free.

and Homeworld 2
Grade: B+ and C
Platform: PC, Mac
Genre: Space RTS
Steam: Remastered $34.99
Released: 1999

Homeworld Complex Mod

For fans of the genre Homeworld was a jaw dropping experience when it was first released in 1999.  This was the era of dial up internet, the Pentium III was the new big thing, and a good computer would have around 128MB of RAM.

And what Homeworld did with that was nothing short of amazing.  Fully 3D, free camera, free moving, space RTS.  It may not have been the first, but it did it better and more impressively than any of its predecessors.

It also featured a good story with good characters. Funny how that makes an otherwise merely good game better, isn't it?

Even for an era when games came in large boxes with manuals, and if you were a serious gamer you actually read the manual (usually while the game crawled through its agonizingly slow install), Homeworld came with a truly massive manual.  In addition to covering the controls for the game, the manual included a brief history of the Kharak (presented from an in universe POV), a discussion of the events leading up to the construction of the Mothership, a lecture on the social and political structure of society on Kharak, in depth tech specs of every Kharak ship in the game, and an explanation of why there's a woman named Karan S'jet floating in a tank of goo with all her nerves pulled out of her body and spliced into the computer core of the Mothership, and why she's always talking to you.

After a brief tutorial, for those who hadn't read the manual, the game explains that not all Mothership systems are fully online but that they're ready for the hyperspace test, and you get the truly nifty hyperspace effect taking you to the first real mission. Which ultimately results in the Taiidani fleet bombarding Kharak and killing everyone there before you can jump back.

As far as explanations for why your ship is isolated and doing all this stuff with no backup go it's a pretty good one.

The story takes you through a number of interesting environments, which takes some doing since the game takes place in space and space is mostly empty, while you discover why the Homeworld was attacked, build up you strength, enlist allies, and ultimately kick Taiidani ass and retake the titular Homeworld.

We'll skip the Yes! song at the end, it wan't very good.

But the little details that helped build the story and characters were excellent.  Heidi Ernest voiced Karan S'jet in her person as Fleet Command well (and never did any other voice work again), Michael Sunczyk put some real emotion into the voice of Fleet Intelligence, and the incidental chatter from fighters and larger ships as they went about their assigned tasks not only helped you stay aware of the situation but also added some personality there too.

The mechanics had their problems, but ultimately people overlooked those problems because the game was utterly amazing.

You can't buy Homeworld today.  Or, you can't buy it from any big name store.  Maybe if you hunt you can find a CD somewhere.  But just buying Homeworld is no longer possible.

You can buy Homeworld Remastered, and that will include the original Homeworld, as well as the remastered versions of Homeworld and Homeworld 2.  If you can get it running on a modern PC, I'd recommend playing the non-remastered version of Homeworld 1, though the remastered version of HW2 is just fine.

The reason for this is because the Homeworld Remastered release only actually updated the Homeworld 2 engine, and it tries to run the original Homeworld as an unfortunately rather poorly implemented mod.

In a way, this makes sense.  Homeworld 2 was indisputably a technologically superior game, so updating only the Homeworld 2 engine for modern PC's rather than wasting resources trying to update an inferior engine is a reasonable course of action.  Regrettably they didn't bother extending the engine to include the necessary physics for Homeworld 1, or even to accommodate the Homeworld 1 ships.  There were significant mechanical differences between the games, and things that were fairly important to success in Homeworld unfortunately often don't work so well in the remastered version.

But it's good enough to play if you can't get the original running.

And then there's Homeworld 2.

HW2 was a better game mechanically, no one will disagree.  Little annoyances from HW1 were eliminated, small craft were more logically handled, the controls were smoother, and the engine vastly better.

It's just a damn shame they didn't have a good story to go along with all the technological improvements.

First they made hyperspace into a weird mystic BS thing, retconned the hyperspace engine from HW1 into a mysterious macguffin, and basically made the whole thing a bit silly and blah.

It was still an ok game, but not great, merely average.  Which is a disappointment considering how amazing the original was.

But Homeworld 2 did spawn one of the better mods to have ever been created.

Homeworld 2 Complex changed virtually everything about HW2, from ship stats to adding new ship models to changing resourcing and it made the AI purely vicious. The result was a PvP game that was enjoyable, and above all difficult.  The mod developers continued work on the mod from 2003 until Remastered was announced, and then started work on making their mod work with Remastered. There is an active Complex playing community today, 13 years after HW2 was released, and it still remains a fresh, entertaining, way to be blown up by people with more skill than you can ever dream of having.

So buy Homeworld Remastered.  It's fun, the sequel isn't bad, and the mod is fantastic.

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