Homeworld Remastered Review
The gaming generation of the nineties, those that grew up on clunky desktop PCs playing Westwood’s hardcore Real Time Strategies and crazy Lucasarts’ Adventure games are getting old. Many of us now have lives, with jobs, maybe kids, maybe a mortgage, but most of all hopefully a disposable income. We’ve hit that point where we look back at the life we have led and wonder where it has all gone. I say we because I’m right there with you, with my greying hair and a desire to hear that majestic beep of a 56kbps dial up modem. The gaming market, not one to miss an opportunity, knows this and as such we’ve seen a sudden explosion recently in re releases, reimaginings and remasterings of classic games from our youth. And despite the almost blatant lack of care and attention that has gone into some of this work, we lap it up because we miss being young. We miss being carefree. We miss being able to hide in a dark room playing broken buggy games on our Intel P200 processors.
Homeworld: Remastered is one of the latest games on the market to receive such treatment after the rights passed on to Gearbox. This is a game that I hold dear to my own heart. A game that took the complex tactics and ideas from the growing RTS genre of the nineties and threw them into space, creating epic battles with little regard to how moving to a fully 3D area would completely change the style and basic fundamentals. It’s a beautiful mess where tiny ships zoom around massive frigates, bullets and lasers lighting up the dark recesses of space, while you are simply trying to navigate the camera or position your fleet without them disappearing off up the z-axis. In a way Homeworld was an experiment in 3D modelling and viewing as it was a game.
So almost fifteen years later this remastering appears on the market and it is actually a fairly expansive package. Containing both remastered versions of Homeworld and Homeworld II as well as a new multiplayer hub that joins both games it is enough to ease those retro desires for many hours. Sadly the remastering, as is often the case, is barely more than just a graphics overhaul making those ships look prettier and those space battles all the more epic. These games are still littered with bugs and flaws that really should have been buffed out during the polish.
Homeworld tells the sad story of the Kushan race who after discovering a crash-landed ship on their planet with a marker that seems to point to a ‘homeworld’, created their own hyperspace drive to search the stars. On its maiden voyage it is attacked by raiders and is forced to return home only to find the planet up in flames. With their entire race wiped out, bar the few left on the mothership, the Kushan are forced to explore the stars searching for a new home. A journey that is met with constant danger and peril after every jump.
When it was released Homeworld was unique for many reasons. Not just its wild departure into 3D recreating those magical spaceship battles from the films as well as having different units performing very different strategic roles, but also in its sensitive plot which, combined with the fact that units and resources are kept between missions, really imparts a desire to save and care for them. Of course this does bring its own issues, most notably being that every fight that is not considered an overwhelming victory often results in a forced reloading in the knowledge that the next area will be all the more difficult with your damaged fleet. Furthermore the resources that are left in each area after the enemy has been defeated must be painfully collected by your drudging crawlers as leaving without farming it all would be a waste. There is some balancing going on behind the scenes, with levels supposedly changing according to how many ships you bring with you but it never seems accurate or fair. Furthermore the remastered version is supposed to farm all those resources for you when you end the mission, only it doesn’t seem to work as it should.
This buggy theme continues in the changes they have made, many of which are transplanted from Homeworld II making the two more ubiquitous than before. Ships no longer need to refuel, which was always a bit of a frustration and many of the squad formations and attack patterns can be found in both. Meanwhile the tactical map has been improved to accurately display your units on a screen. The only issues is that none of these really work in the way they should. Squadron patterns rarely stay in shape and have no effect even if they did, and the tactical map often stops responding to mouse clicks as if it is just as confused about the 3D world as you are. Similarly to the recent Grim Fandango Remaster there seems to be an overall lack of care and attention going into the product, as if it has been rushed out too quickly.
A couple of times these issues have been gamebreaking, with bugs that caused mission objectives to not update and required reloading. Yet despite these problems Homeworld: Remastered easily stands up to the test of time, displaying a keen sense of style and strategy that has rarely been matched to this day. There is nothing more enjoyable than watching the fleet outmaneuver your foes, watching as tiny corvettes eliminate their defensive gun ships, leading way for your (horrendously overpowered) salvage crews to cling on to a huge frigate and drag them back to your mothership for repatriation. The stunning overhauled graphics only make the whole experience more enjoyable, allowing the player to act as a cameraman filming these epic battles, zooming between ships perhaps catching a bomber drop its payload onto an unsuspecting leviathan finally bringing it down.
Even after the two lengthy campaigns that total around thirty hours each, this package keeps on giving. In a tribute to the way things used to be it also comes with the original code for both games so if there are elements that frustrate and bug you about the new version then one can fully breathe in the nostalgia and play the games just as they used to be. Then there is the multiplayer. This is still technically in beta at the moment which does lead one to believe that perhaps the whole package may have been released a little early, but the system is surprisingly robust and we have hit no particular problems in our testing. The biggest issue is lack of players, with the main Steam hub being either empty or with people using private games most of the time. With up to eight players in a match and comprehensive support for LAN games, if one can find enough people willing to join them there is scope for some fantastic battles of truly epic proportions and with the added ability to save games it does not have to be one lengthy session.
The aspects of Homeworld I and II combine neatly into the multiplayer package with every race, module and unit available. This makes for some very interesting and dynamic tactics and has the potential to make every game rather unique. At the same time however the number of options available at any one time can be rather overwhelming to anyone that has not invested a lot of time into the game.
The complete package then is therefore rather special. The graphical improvements are considerable and there is plenty of content here and while it is unlikely anyone will load up the classic versions other than a breath of nostalgia, the fact they are thrown in too makes it all the more special. While we’re sceptical about the rather rushed out nature of this remaster, it has to be said that Homeworld is still a fantastic Real Time Strategy game and should be in the library of any one with an interest in the genre. This remastering gives us, and of course anyone that did not play if the first time around, a chance to become that fleet commander that many of us dream about still to this day.