Written by  :  Sam Hardy (82)
Written on  :  Sep 27, 2003
Platform  :  Windows

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A revolution or simply an evolution?

The Good

In 1999 an unknown company, Relic, released Homeworld – a first for RTS games. Featuring the first solid foray into 3D strategy gaming, stunning graphics, good game play and a well written story it went to the top of many RTS games of 1999 lists.

In 2000 a “sequel” by Barking Dog Studios was created – Homeworld: Cataclysm added onto the already great game play and made even better in my own opinion.

Five years later and itÂ’s finally out. After many scary rumors that the game had been cancelled by Sierra the game finally hit our shelvesÂ…but is it what we die hard Homeworld fans are wanting?

STORY Almost two centuries ago the Exiles from Kharak realized they were aliens to their planet and set about returning to their home. That achieved they settled down to live happily. But their nemesis – the Taiidan rebuild themselves up over the years and a new leader – Makkan – now controls them. They are also renamed the Vaygr.

Faced with almost complete domination of the Vaygr the Higgarans realize they must stop it somehow – so they construct another mothership. Then the Bentusi tell them of a prophecy of the chosen one – and that they must seek out Sajuuk – a god they have worshipped for years – if they are to reclaim their destiny.

Overall the story is good – and it would make a nice little novel. But while it’s easy to follow – it doesn’t offer any astounding twists and turns...and in comparison to Cataclysm’s more emotional plot – this one seems a bit too flat and it’s not as compelling as Homeworld’s, but it’s filled with sacrifice and heroism for all.

GRAPHICS The engineÂ’s been given a total overhaul here. Essentially it remains the same as it was from HomeworldÂ…but itÂ’s just far prettier. Firstly the ships have been given more polygons and more detailed textures that make for a really rich environment. ThereÂ’s a really good contrasting difference between the Higgarans and the Vaygr making for easily identification. Also the ships are nicely fleshed out and detailed giving it realistic look. They all look industrially made.

Then there are all the special effects. Whilst they are simply sprites for the most part – they well made and blend in well with other objects on screen (no outlines around the edges). And this new glare mode for some parts of the ships and suns is done nicely – bleaching out your screen.

Homeworld 2 has found a good relationship with particles…from fires belching out smoke onboard damaged ships, to the little sparks flying off from the Resource Collectors repairing the same ship – it’s just filled with highly polished details that make it shine. Also ships and missiles leave trails behind them – resulting in some of the more chaotic moments turning into some kind of weird skyshow especially with large cannons firing off the larger capital class ships and flak filling the sky.

Another great piece of detail added is the damage on the ships. Little chunks of debris flail off your ship when hit leaving a crater; ion cannons leave burn marks on your ships and bits of plasma and smoke vent out of damaged sections.

And of course the colorful backdrops of the previous games are back and theyÂ’re better than ever with a fair amount of variety of planets, moons, debris and wreckage.

Cutscenes are following tradition with them being hand drawn black and white images with a computer eye candy effect put in a subtle fashion over the top. Overall the engine is solid, nice and never crashed once or had any glitches.

SOUND Next to flawless. The good thing about creating a game with a dedicated team is that things are made with love – and when it comes to the sounds of many ion cannons firing upon a frigate…you can hear that love.

All of the sound here adds so many layers of atmospheres into this game, from the whoosh of ships flying by the camera to the grumble of the battle cruiser’s engine and even the sound of a destroyer’s gun cannons swiveling around to blast the crap out of some poor fighter it’s all there. If there’s an action in Homeworld – you can bet there’s a sound for it.

The radio chatter from the previous game is still there, aside from none of the fighters having much personality – at times they sound severely depressed…but the chatter is not just a thing tacked onto the side of the game – no – it’s crucial for the game. Your ships report when they’re under attack and how intense it is…and even little messages like “Stabilizers off line” or “this is a cakewalk” makes you really feel for your little tin cans.

Game music has been composed by the same person who did Homeworld and Cataclysm and it’s very good. Ranging from fast and almost techno music – to music that has a heavy Indian or African influence with its haunting vocals it’s a stellar soundtrack and I hope there’s a soundtrack of it released somewhere. The only downside to the music is that it sometimes stops suddenly – then starts again – changing tracks I think.

Yes! does not make an appearance this time in the end credits.

CONTROLS AND INTERFACE The usual keyboard and mouse control. The best thing about it is that most homeworld vets can get into it really quickly…and all the rookies can learn it really quickly. The new interface kinda scared me at first. The first homeworld had almost nothing on the screen – save from the auto-hide taskbar at the bottom. Fears put aside – it’s a well done interface – aside from it being a bit too chunky. It offers many quick keys to show info about anything – from the amount of ships you can build – to what is being built. The build and research menus all appear on the side of the screen when clicked instead of the old homeworld where you had to risk a few seconds of playing to quickly churn out a fighter or two – this time you don’t have to worry as it’s all accessed easily on the side. It’s also a bit more automatic – as you just have to click whatever you want instead of having to queue up then hit build.

The main menu for the game is oddly accessed by the F10 key…which I think is a bit pointless – or is the F10 key becoming the new escape key?

GAMEPLAY Right – time for some slogging. There have not been many constructive critics about Homeworld 2’s gameplay – many citing it as inhumanly hard and unfair towards the player. I had to sit down and think about this for a moment. The game throws many many units against you – you are always completely outnumbered in any way possible…so why did Relic choose this? The biggest complaint about today’s games is that “oh that was a cakewalk” “oh I finished that in 2 hours” most people are saying there’s a lack of challenge… So here we have Homeworld 2 that is – well damn challenging. While there are a few missions (4 and 9 notably) that really are a tad unfair in some aspects the game has been designed FOR hardcore RTS fans. It’s MEANT to be played strategically and when you do properly play it – you realize that it’s not that hard.

ButÂ…there are some mission design quirks that I find odd.

In one mission you have to destroy a probe that could possibly alert the enemy…that done you think - “ah that’s that” because at the time – you’ve got your own problems with another bunch of aliens. But no – destroying that probe probably didn’t do much as a small army hyperspaces in to greet you with a bit of a barrage. There are many small niggles in gameplay that really did bother me a bit and it looked like parts of the game lacked thought and thinking in terms of interesting mission design (the prize for that goes to Cataclysm)

Now units. This has to be one of the most thought out unit collection in any RTS – every unit here has a purpose and it’s a worthwhile purpose other than just a feature. You have to utilize them properly. In the first homeworld – a missile destroyer could pretty much eat any large group of fighters single handedly. That has been tweaked so that the missile frigate HAS to have some form of fighter or corvette protection. It’s impossible to do any form of tank rush in this game. There’s this harmony over all the units so that when it’s all working – it works like a well oiled machine.

But there’s an interesting twist. Instead of cranking out units like in the first game where anything could be constructed simultaneously it’s set up so that you can only punch out one at a time. This has been cleverly rectified by creating squadrons. Meaning for one order of Interceptors – you get 5. So you still can pump out a large armada…it just takes up some time. Carriers can produce their own ships independently of the mothership making them a must for larger armies.

Sensors are limited to what you ship can see which is very different compared to the first homeworld where you could “see” everything. Thankfully the feature of Cataclysm where you could control the game from just the map alone is still there. Another feature implemented from the previous game is subsystems. The mothership gets various systems added onto it which can be destroyed by enemy fire preventing them from building frigates or capital class ships.

Multiplayer deserves a big kudos to the developers. The units are incredibly balanced. The Higgarans love their Ion cannons. While just about every Vaygr ships have some form of missile on them. But both are next to equal when the numbers are added up. Also added are new sensor types that make you think about just what to put on what ship. Cloaking and Gravity well generators make a return in multiplayer- many strategies abound. The only downside to multiplayer is that all the fun game modes and extras from Homeworld are gone. So you canÂ’t set it to have resource boosts every minuteÂ…nor can you have modes like bounty and so onÂ…it seems somewhat incomplete. But itÂ’s still a blast.

The Bad

Hmm I've kinda nitpicked the game in the rest of the review...skip this part and read the end.

The Bottom Line

CLOSING COMMENTS “Evolution not revolution” was the motto for the latter part of the Homeworld 2 development phase after the nasty catfight with Sierra. Has our much loved homeworld evolved? Yes in some aspects. While you cannot have a perfect game in every sense what’s been presented is a game that’s got a fair amount of polish on it and it’s pushing in a different direction for the mainstream gamer with it being hard and challenging. It’s a sold and polished game in the end and it’s probably just the thing the hard Kore Korean RTS gamers are looking for.