Halycon 6: Starbase Commander may lack the nuances of some of its peers, but it nonetheless delivers a charming and moreish strategy RPG for science fiction fans to enjoy.
When people think of the most iconic sci-fi properties, Star Trek is pretty high up the list. The story of exploration and discovery has been loved for generations, and its no surprise to see plenty of games try and emulate that atmosphere with their own projects. After all, there are many great space exploration games around, and often thematic ties to Gene Roddenberry's acclaimed property can be found among them.
Halcyon 6: Starbase Commander certainly fits with the general feel of Star Trek. The player is thrown into a world where a human civilization has expanded into the galaxy around them, forging ahead with offworld colonies and relationships with other alien beings. The title, from developer Massive Damage, does a great job of setting up this world where human technology - with a little help from alien tech a la Mass Effect - has vastly surpassed what is currently available.
However, all of that is then taken away within minutes. A set of inter-dimensional beings known as the Chruul appears and immediately sets to work destroying the human fleet and huge chunks of its empire, leaving one commander left in charge of the entirety of the remnants of human society, based on a starbase left behind by a precursor race. That’s where the player comes in, with an aim to re-establish humanity's control over its own empire, taking on monsters, pirates, and alien races aplenty.
That may seem daunting, but in reality the player has plenty of help from a selection of trusted officers, who can be built up over the course of the game. These officers, who can specialize in engineering, science, or tactical, are recruited and used in the same way as turn-based RPG characters. They are the ones that take part in space battles, that beam down to planets, and that travel the galaxy discovering new worlds and collecting materials.
As such, the bulk of the gameplay is based around managing these officers. Halcyon 6: Starbase Commander is a hybrid of sorts, mixing up turn-based strategy, space sim, base building, and RPG elements into one sprite-based package. Although the quality of these different aspects does vary, the overall game manages to move seamlessly between these different play types.
Much of the player's active participation will be spent taking part in combat, be it as inter-ship space battles or on-ground skirmishes. Users will want to use each officer's different skill set to create combos, such as following up hull breaches with attacks that exploit vulnerabilities. Although it's simplistic, similar in feel to Pokemon but without a major emphasis on those rock-paper-scissors mechanics, the combat is still fun, and it is satisfying to take down opponents.
This is helped by the variety of enemies that Halcyon 6 provides. There is a wide range of alien races in the game, each with their own personalities and motives, and players will need to go into interactions with them in different ways. This difference is also clear when it comes to combat; each enemy type has its own strengths and weaknesses, and the user will need to base their play style around these effectively.
Alongside the combat-based gameplay, players will also need to focus on base building and item-collection. At most points of the game, the user will want a fleet travelling around the surviving human colonies gathering resources such as crew members, dark matter, and materials. These can then be turned into upgrades to the starbase, which can then be used to recruit new officers and build bigger, better ships.
This management section is where the game falls down. Although eventually it is easy enough to single out a fleet to travel around the different colonies, early on in the game it does seem as though having to sweep around the different survivor groups to get resources takes away from the gameplay a little. The game's narrative has an emphasis on rebuilding, but by necessity the user will need to tread water, which can be a little frustrating.
Thankfully, the speed and relative simplicity of Halcyon 6 certainly works in its favor here. Gameplay is extremely quick, with battles over in a flash and travel around the galaxy moving at a solid pace. Unlike some other space-faring titles such as Into the Stars, Halcyon 6 is not a sluggish game, and instead players will be zipping around with ease.
It's almost a shame that so much time is spent effectively running errands, as the game is at its best when the player is taking part in quick battles and building up officers. Levelling up these officers is just as rewarding as levelling up characters in other turn-based RPGs, and its easy to get a personal attachment to these characters. Players are given a brief (and often humorous) background to each officer when they are chosen, and this - together with their varied character models - means that users will be looking to make sure that their officers survive enemy encounters.
It’s this surface-level story and world building that really helps Halcyon 6 feel like a rewarding product, too. The different alien races and pirate legions are fun to interact with, and nothing quite feels as one might expect from a sci-fi story of this type. The Borg-like Collective are extremely personable, offering up suspiciously large amounts of positive feedback to the player, and almost all the characters pop and fizz with personality. All the while, the retro graphical style and synth score give it a timeless quality. In terms of charm and atmosphere, Halcyon 6 is very much on point.
Underneath this surface veneer, players may feel a little disappointed that there isn't more depth, but there is plenty here that gamers will enjoy. Halycon 6: Starbase Commander is a quick and cheerful, if not particularly deep, tactical game with solid RPG elements. Sci-fi lovers will most likely eat it up, and the game’s humor and personality, in spite of the somewhat dramatic subject matter, will keep it sweet with lots of players. It may lack the depth of games such as Stellaris, but it’s hard to look past it for a bit of innocent space-faring fun.
Halcyon 6: Starbase Commander is out now for PC, Mac, and Linux. Game Rant was provided with a PC code for the purposes of this review.