Homeworld 2 Review (PC)
I’ll admit right from the start that I’m slightly biased when it comes to Homeworld. My hard disc holds umpteen games, but there are only 3 that have never been removed – Total Annihilation (probably the best planet based strategy game ever) and Homeworld. This game blew me away when it first came out with its stunning graphics and superb full 3D control of all your ships. It had a superb storyline, played a damn good AI game and was well supported for full multiplay as well – what more could you want. Then along came Cataclysm (the 3rd of my ‘always there’ games), with its new races and ships – not quite as good as the original, but as good a sequel as I’ve seen anywhere. And now I’ve finally got my grubby mits on Homeworld 2, the ‘proper’ sequel to my all time favourite game. This has a lot to live up to - and biased or not, if it doesn’t live up to my expectations, I’ll soon tell you why.
HW2 is set 100 years after this, with a new force, the Vaygr, arising from the eastern sector of the galaxy. Their ruler, Makaan, decides that he is destined to be the head honcho, the Sajuuk-Khar, and that nothing will stop him achieving his aim. Enter the Hiiagarans, stage left, and the scene for an epic struggle is set.
I’m not going to go into HW2’s storyline too deeply, as it could spoil the game for some people. Suffice to say that a few loose ends from the original HW get tidied up – who remembers the Ghostship and the Junkyard Dog that left you so puzzled?
BEFORE GOING INTO THE REVIEW PROPER, A WORD OF WARNING. THIS GAME NEEDS A PC WITH A MIN SPEC OF AN 833 PROCESSOR – ANYTHING LESS THAN THAT AND IT WILL NOT INSTALL. SO, IF YOU HAVE AN OLDER, SLOWER MACHINE, DON’T RUSH OUT AND BUY THIS UNLESS YOU ARE DEFINITELY GOING TO UPGRADE YOUR PC (OR YOU CAN LAY YOUR HANDS ON A MORE POWERFUL BEAST).
Another new move, for HW2 at least, is the ability to pause the game to issue orders. At first you tend to think of this as cheating but, once the AI starts churning out wave after wave of attacks, you realise just how sensible, if not vital, this option is – it is enough to just about bring you onto even terms with the AI. Add in the ability to be able to issue orders to individual or grouped ships via the Sensors Manager for those long-range moves and a whole new aspect opens up.
Now for the graphics. The original just about blew everyone away and HW2 does it again. Yes, you do really need a kickarse graphics card to get the best out of it but something like a Geforce 64 is more than good enough to show you most of the pretties. One of the selling points of HW was the ships drive flares (vapour trails if you like) and these are still there, matching the hull colours of the ships again (mostly anyway, black for instance gives a reddish orange trail). Once again you can choose your own colour schemes and you now have the option to create your own custom logos to adorn the sides of your ships. Zooming into ships shows detail in such scale that you can see battle scars, general wear and tear and other intricate moving parts that you get almost annoyed when a brand new bomber comes back from battle with scorch marks.
The maps are generally huge and filled with objects ranging from ancient junk that can dwarf your mightiest ships, to planets, nebulas and galaxies. All of this adding a sense of scale that damn near leaves you breathless. If you are running a minimum spec machine and need to turn most of the detail off, the visuals within HW2 still shine.
One of the best aspects of HW was the storyline portrayed via the black and white, cartoon style cut scenes and this has been kept by HW2. The somehow angelic voice of Karan S’jet is balanced beautifully by the tone of Makaan, giving a distinct feeling of downright evil. To say that HW2 is easy would be an out and out lie. The first 2 missions of the campaign serve as a tutorial (although by no means a pushover themselves) and from mission 3 the brown stuff really hits the fan. This is a mission that will have you reaching for the bottle and saving/restarting at every opportunity, even to the point of giving up – DON’T. The trick here is to ‘step outside the box’ – use the pause option, think about what appears to be happening and what actually is happening. I won’t say “don’t panic” because you will – just persevere.
Those of you who know me will also know how I feel about game manuals. HW2’s manual is nowhere near as good as the original but it is more than adequate for the job. It is also a ‘must read’ for anyone trying HW2 without having played HW or HWC.
To summarise, I think I can honestly say that HW2 will be the 4th game never removed from my HD. I still prefer the original, but that may change as I play HW2 more and more. Added to the fact that the online status of HW is static to say the least, whilst HW2 is rapidly developing…
If you want a real challenge and have a capable machine, get this. If you don’t have a capable machine, get HW instead (and Cataclysm if you can find it) – they can both be obtained cheaply nowadays. Then, when you have save enough to upgrade, get HW2 as well.
Homeworld 2 could easily topple Rise of Nations as the best strategy game of the year, but I don’t think it is going to get the support it needs from players as many will not buy due to the min specs.In much the same vein, the skirmishes are so hard that you will believe the AI is cheating. There you are, happy as Larry that you have a squadron or 2 of bombers ready, when a huge fleet of capital ships supported by just about everything warps in and kicks arse bigtime – frustrating to say the very least. This, I think, is the one area that doesn’t match up to HW, where you could set all options to enable a game to pan out exactly how you like it. An easy HW2 skirmish is the equivalent of a multiplayer HW skirmish set at near the hardest level, one hell of a challenge. It is the skirmish/multiplay options though that will give HW2 its assured longevity, aided by mod tools yet to be released by the Relic Development Network. I can certainly foresee a growing online community dedicated to massed online battles and an ever-growing library of maps etc. Sound is, as can probably be expected, absolutely superb. Everything has its own sound (yes I know, you can’t hear sound in a vacuum but who the hell really cares) and you can easily differentiate between different ship types by the sound alone. Listening to a battle developing is almost as good a feeling as downing a few beers down the local, as the individual sounds of cannons, engines, machine guns etc. etc. just gel to make the whole thing somehow ‘right’. Battle chat is just great, adding yet another sense of realism to the whole experience and as for the music, it takes up from where HW left off. Once again Relic have done a superb job in coming up with a score which just cannot be easily described although, once again and using the same HW descriptions, Haunting comes as close as you are likely to get. It is never OTT, always just right. Unit Control has changed somewhat and, to be honest, I can’t make my mind up whether I prefer the good old HW formations or the shiny new HW2 strike groups. Both have their plus and minus points but the Strike Groups do make attacks/defence easier as all ships within the group will travel at the speed of the slowest. Add to this the fact that each craft knows what it is best at and you get some superb battles forming as the fighters seek to defend more vulnerable ships whilst also taking out other fighters and bombers. Corvettes and Frigates blaze away at each other while the Battlecruiser just sits around wiping everything large-ish out – until its nemesis in the form of a squadron or two of bombers turn up (make note, protect the big boys with fighters). It certainly does take a lot of the ‘hard work’ out of a battle as you can simply throw a Strike Group at a target happy in the knowledge that it can often take care of itself – but do not become overconfident – the AI is cunning to say the least. Subtle use of the passive/defensive/aggressive stance of a group also can have dramatic results – don’t just assume that aggressive will solve all. Controlling 100+ units in a 2D environment can be a real pain, imagine then the difficulties involved in adding a 3rd dimension so that you move up and down as well. Panic ye not!! Unit control within HW2 is so fluent and easy that, within minutes you will have your units doing an outer space version of any modern nightclub alcoholic induced gyrations. To make life even easier, with HW2 you also have the option to just click on a target and your ships will make their own way there happily (although it wasn’t that difficult in the original version due to the height poles etc). Camera control is, once again, easypeasy, allowing you to rotate and zoom to your hearts content and get a really good look at any ship details (more of that later). In the Beginning, the Kushan were exiled from their Homeworld, Hiiagra, after losing a war to the Taiidan. Part of their condition of exile being that they were not allowed to use or develop hyperspace technology. Their travels eventually took them to a new planet, Kharak, where they continued developing quite happily. By a quirk of fate (a malfunctioning satellite), one of the original exile ships, the Khar-Toba, was discovered on the planet (after being long forgotten). Inspection of the ship led to the discovery of a fusion generator and a hyper drive module. Armed with this new technology (“we didn’t develop it, we found it, honest guv”) the Kushan opted to relocate their original Homeworld and in the process, settle old scores with the Taiidan.