At 15 I had my first kiss. At 15 I also played Homeworld. Only one of those things left a lasting impression.
The year was 2000 and “millennium fever” was in the air. From school parties to restaurant menus, everything was millennium this or millennium that. Ricky Martin was still a thing, and thousands of teenage boys were busy crafting ornate chart paper letters to VJ Shenaz Treasurywala, in the hope that she’d feature their masterpieces on her Most Wanted TV show, and if they were really lucky, blow one of her trademark air kisses their way.
But I wasn’t interested in any of that. I had just installed a copy of Homeworld and was irrevocably sucked into an alternate universe full of epic space battles unlike anything I’d ever experienced before. Ships of exotic design, brilliant voice acting and a storyline that made you believe you were actually living a well written science-fiction saga, all made me forget about real life for a while. Hours were spent at my PC, grades were sacrificed, parents were driven up the wall and relationships were ruined. Regret score? Zero.
I still remember the mind=blown moment when I was playing the tutorial and the robotic voice of fleet command told me to move a couple of ships in 3D space. That moment when I had to hold down the shift key and add “height” to the move command, gave me goose bumps. There it was, the Z axis, in all its glory. Not to brag here but I instantly started conjuring up elaborate tactics involving multiple attack vectors and ambushes. Of course, once you start playing you do realise that most battles are still fought in the same plane and that you rarely employ a four directional sneak attack. Still, I’d never be caught calling it a gimmick. The shift from 2D isometric gameplay to being able to manipulate units in real 3D space was a leap that I’ll forever attribute to Homeworld.
So how are the remastered games?
The story goes that Gearbox had to cut through a lot of internal paperwork and red tape to be able to finally start work on the Remastered collection. Two years in the making and more than 15 years since the release of the originals, hopeful old timers and an entire new generation of gamers finally get to play the old classics in a new Avatar.
Gearbox has retained the essence of the game perfectly. The captivating story involving a race of people forced into exile after a devastating war and how they piece together their forgotten history only to make a final stand to reclaim their home planet, is told to perfection. A perfection that was attained by retaining the original cut-scene artwork and re-hiring many of the original voice actors. The gameplay has been suitably adapted to cater to the needs of today’s fast paced gamers. For instance, the tedious task of manually collecting all resources before moving on to the next level has been automated.
The major difference however is the totally revamped graphics. The game looks stunning. I managed to eke out spectacular details even with a “measly” GTX 560, which is in sharp contrast to my memories of playing Cataclysm, where I had to tone the settings down to such an extent that I was literally looking at coloured cubes instead of actual ships. Still, it’s testament to the core mechanics of this game that even that did not negatively impact my experience with the title.
Ah yes, Cataclysm, the big elephant in the room. This would be a perfect moment to take a detour from all my gushing and talk about all of the things that Gearbox didn’t get right. To begin with, I don’t like the way the heads up display has been changed. Sure it takes up less real estate on the screen but at the cost of functionality. When making massive selections and trying to deselect a few classes of ships, the small wireframe thumbnails aren’t enough to identify ships. Sure I use groups, in fact, by the end of each mission almost every number from 0 to 9 is an attack group. But every now and then you want to leave behind just the assault frigates to protect the mothership from waves of annoying bombers and take the rest of the fleet into battle. Good luck trying to do that with the revamped HUD.
Multiplayer is a bit of an issue as well. For starters players from certain geographies aren’t able to see servers. There is speculation on Steam forums about some legal issues forcing the developers to indeed lock out a few geographies. But it could simply just be that not many Indians are online all the time and hosting Homeworld game servers. I had to switch my Steam download location to the US to be able to finally see a few games. There aren’t too many non-password protected ones anyway and be sure you WILL be kicked out of many for bad pings before you get to play a decent skirmish. The struggle is well worth it though. That said, the multiplayer is marked beta so I can’t really go all out in bashing Gearbox.
Another complaint is that the game was glitchy. It didn’t crash to desktop, but while entering and exiting from the sensors view, at times, the music would stop, which is a shame considering how brilliant the background score is. It ranges from a mix of techno to middle-eastern folk music to even Indian classical. At times the music would be unaffected but the unit voice responses would disappear, leaving you no option but to save your progress and restart the game, which was disappointing.
All of this didn’t come in the way of my finishing the entire remastered collection in 32 hours, getting a perfect game and unlocking 100 percent of the achievements available.
My biggest complaint is what started me off on this tangent – Cataclysm. Honestly, between Homeworld and Homeworld 2, Cataclysm was a far more compelling game. Homeworld has its rightful place as the one that started it all, but compared to that, Homeworld 2 was a let-down, with the story dragging along and surviving on clichés like some random never-before-heard faction suddenly rising to power and oracles and prophecies. Cataclysm on the other hand was brilliant, with the introduction of newer, better designed ships, a mothership that is weaponized and more than just a sitting duck, and a horror-esque story way before there even was an established genre for such games.
Sadly, it’s reported that much of the source code for Cataclysm is lost forever. Hopefully if and when Homeworld 3 does come out, Gearbox will be able to recreate the joys and wonder of Cataclysm, and maybe even go so far as to recreate that masterpiece.
The Remastered Collection allows you to experience a seminal work in gaming using today’s graphics and compute power. It’s subtly modified to cater to today’s attention spans of course, but Homeworld is a game that’s more than just a seminal experience, it’s the kind of game that could almost be “prescribed” to the current generation of gamers, much like “recommended reading” in a college course. You must pardon my high-handedness here, but the only way to appreciate what I’m saying is to experience this game for yourself. It’s an experience you’ll never forget.
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