Homeworld: Remastered Review (PC)
Put on an episode of the X-Files and prep for Y2K, because it's 1999 all over again with Homeworld: Remastered, Gearbox's HD rerelease of the spacefaring 3D real-time strategy games Homeworld and Homeworld 2 . Apparently Homeworld has been staying out of the sun, not smoking, and exercising regularly, as these last fifteen years have been pretty good to it.
Homeworld's story, rendered primarily through beautiful, hand-drawn graphics, tells the tale of the Kushan, a race of chill folk who discover some ancient tech and use it to expand to the stars. Once they get there, however, they're thwarted by the many intergalactic jerk-faces populating the universe. It's up to you to help the Kushan find a place to call home, and to do that you'll build ships, research new technologies, and harvest endless amounts of resources.
Anyone familiar with the ins and outs of real-time strategy games will quickly feel at home with Homeworld: Remastered. Whether playing through the campaign or mixing it up in a random match, you'll begin with a home ship which you will use to build a fleet of scientific, military, and explorative ships, and research the tech you need to advance.
The meat of Homeworld's gameplay resembles that of most late '90s RTS titles. Managing your economy is very straightforward— there’s only a single resource to contend with and a single type of unit to harvest it with, and you can queue up multiple techs for research and groups of units to build, with the option of pausing or reordering the queue at any moment depending on the most pressing need. If you find yourself running out of resources or building the wrong thing, the fault lies entirely with you.
While other RTS games might focus on socioeconomic victories as well as military ones a la Age of Empires, or fast-paced skirmishes like Starcraft, Homeworld: Remastered's matches tend to be more long-term battles. Much of your time is spent gathering resources (too much time, but we'll get back to that later) and slowly increasing your army's power, scouting out the local galaxies until you know what you're up against and how to best destroy them.
It's all wonderfully strategic; each unit comes with concisely-detailed strengths and weaknesses, so if you know what you're fighting, you'll know how to beat it. Interestingly, in the single-player campaign your ships carry with you from mission to mission; you'll find yourself growing oddly attached to that particular Cloaked Fighter who managed to take down a half-dozen ships by itself. It's a small, but neat, idea which more RTS titles should use for their campaigns. The biggest difference that sets Homeworld apart from its contemporaries is that gameplay occurs in a 3D space.
With just a right click and a touch of the shift key you can maneuver your many spacecrafts where ever you want them to go, making for battles unlike any you'd find in other strategy games. You’ll need to position your ships carefully using the numerous attack formations available, figuring out which formation is best for your given army composition, scout out enemy forces as quickly and surreptitiously as you can, and strike where they’re weakest (hoping all the while that your opponent doesn’t do the same to you first). Battles have a fantastic frenzy to them, with ships zipping up, down, and around during dogfights; the second the shots start firing you’ll feel like you’re making the trench run on the Death Star, and there are few things as satisfying as watching a massive battlecruiser go down after a long fight.
When you're not striking down space frigates or scouting out enemy movements, however, Homeworld's a bit dull. There are often long, quiet stretches of time where you're simply harvesting, researching, and building. Most RTS games have similarly slow periods, but Homeworld provides such a large, macro view of the action that it's easy to feel a bit detached and bored of it all. Livelier unit chatter, flashier units and combat, more music, and faster resource gathering (the latter of which was fixed in Homeworld 2 with a fast-forward button) would go a long way towards improving the Homeworld experience.
Though outer space looks gorgeous, eventually it all starts to look very similar— there are only so many stars you can see before wishing for something to break up the monotony. Also, good luck trying to tell most of your units apart at a glance— there are numerous tiny ships which all look similar from a distance but have very different utilities. Managing them all and keeping them grouped together isn't too hard, but once things get chaotic it's easy to lose track of what kind of ships you're looking at, or for a few errant ships to hide away behind a frigate without you realizing they're there.
Homeworld's user interface is clean as a whistle and incredibly intuitive; after only a few minutes you should have a pretty good idea how to build and command everything you need to win. Homeworld: Remastered comes with Homeworld 1 and 2 in both HD and classic form, so if you're feeling nostalgic you can pop in a Smash Mouth CD and game it up with the passion of someone who should be doing his homework.
Despite its age, Homeworld still managed to provide a quality RTS experience unlike any other. The occasional rough edges show, like its overly sluggish pace and sonorous quiet, but for those who can push through the silence you'll find a deep and engaging strategy title with a solid campaign and enough replayability to keep you entertained until the inevitable Ultra HD VR re-release another fifteen years from now.
This review is based on a digital download of Homeworld: Remastered provided by the publisher for PC.