In the age of Steam sales and Ultimate Collection bundles, it's hard to imagine that there are many worthwhile PC classics left to add to our ever-growing Steam libraries. That said, 2015 has been a great year for PC remakes. The year started off with fresh ports of Resident Evil and Grim Fandango and now real-time strategy fans can finally get their hands on a spruced up version of Homeworld and Homeworld 2.
Those who skipped out on the revolutionary sci-fi franchise when it debuted in 1999 (or when the sequel dropped in 2003) missed two staples of PC gaming and the RTS genre. Blizzard and a few other developers had already made a name for themselves in the RTS market by 1999, but Homeworld was the first game (and one of the only) to really nail 3D RTS movement and combat. The original game's engaging story and groundbreaking mechanics made it an instant classic and despite its shaky track record (see Aliens: Colonial Marines) Gearbox has honored it with a brilliant Remastered edition.
In Homeworld, players take control of a fleet of spaceships that are desperately searching the corners of the universe for the civilization's titular homeworld. The plot definitely pays homage to the original Battlestar Galactica, but keep in mind that the game launched about a decade before the rebooted TV series. Much like its competitors, Starcraft and Warcraft, the plot of Homeworld is full of intrigue, mystery, and compelling characters, which all help the game stand out from the now overcrowded genre of sci-fi strategy games.
The Remastered collection updates the cut-scenes and voice overs to bring a contemporary feel to the classic narrative. The franchise's plot still takes a turn for the worse during the second game, but the high quality voice-acting and beautiful representation of endless space make up for the sequel's more outrageous plot points.
The Remastered collection includes both original games and an HD remake of each. The HD remakes are built on the same engine, which make the two 15-hour campaigns feel more like two parts to one epic adventure. If you've never played the originals, the first thing you will likely notice is that the game is not for the easily frustrated. The difficulty level of the first game is taken down a few notches in the HD remake (feel free to boot up the original for the pure experience), but we certainly weren't complaining as we struggled to regain a grip on the 3D combat during the game's early missions.
The 3D combat is both what makes the game entirely unique and what makes it frustratingly difficult. Controlling fleets of scouts, bombers, research ships, and corvettes in 3D space requires overcoming a serious learning curve. The interface allows players to group ships together and assign flight patterns to each armada, but when the dog fights begin, it's very easy to lose track of what is going on.
Luckily, many of the improvements that were introduced in Homeworld 2 have been added to the original campaign (hence the reduced difficulty). The game comes equipped with a three-part tutorial that helps even the most clueless players become familiar with the tools built into the interface to help manage control of the fleet. Even after working through the tutorial, many spatially-challenged gamers will still struggle through commanding ships to move to a specific spot on the map. Players need to manage to not only point to the specific spot in space that they want a ship to move to, but also to adjust the altitude, so that the vessel doesn't end up miles above or below where it should be.
Other mechanics, such as research and constructions, will come with ease to veteran RTS players. Throughout each mission players gather resources, research upgrades, and build new ships. The basics may sound a little too familiar, but trust us, the unique 3D combat and travel make the RTS game feel like a whole new genre. One of the few downsides to the 3D space, is that the maps are enormous. This helps set the tone and convey the vastness of space, but there is definitely a lot of downtime as you wait for scouts to inch their way up, over, and across the great unknown. The same frustration is also felt while waiting for resource ships to make their way back from asteroids.
Like many classic games, Homeworld is more punishing than some players may be used to. The fleet presence is persistent, so losing a particular ship in one mission means that it will not be around in the next mission. Players need to ration their resources and be sure not to pick a fight that they can't win if they plan to survive to see the next level.
Although the game's beloved campaign is the main reason to pick up Homeworld Remastered, the collection does come equipped with a multiplayer experience. The multiplayer mode is still labeled as beta, even after the game has officially launched, so enter at your own risk. At this point, the multiplayer mode's main hangups seem to be balance and stability. The competitive mode allows players to choose from any of the four factions (which means we're crossing over factions from the original and the sequel) to battle in a classic competitive RTS setting. The multiplayer mode is fun enough, but the action in Homeworld does is too slow to really provide an intense competitive environment. It's possible that tweaks could be made to increase the pace of the battles, but for now the multiplayer mode doesn't have a lot to offer that RTS players couldn't find in another game.
Despite the shortcomings of the multiplayer mode and the sequel's disappointing narrative, the Homeworld Remastered collection is a must-purchase for any fans of the RTS genre. The HD upgrade makes the already-addicting game even more beautiful and engaging, and the unique 3D combat and navigation bring something to the table that is still drastically different from the vast majority of other RTS games available.
Homeworld Remastered is currently available for PC.