When Homeworld was released in 1999, it quite literally added another dimension to the real time strategy genre. The inclusion of the Z axis took the tried-and-true RTS formula in a very new direction, and even though 16 years have passed, Homeworld’s unique perspective has seldom been attempted since and certainly never been matched.
The first thing you will notice after loading up the Homeworld Remastered Collection is just how beautiful it remains. Space in the Homeworld galaxy is not a black empty void, but rather a wide expanse of differing hues, highlighted with glowing nebulae, massive light-defusing gas clouds, and richly-detailed planetoids. It’s breathtaking and serene, and when juxtaposed with violent large-scale space battles really is a sight to behold.
The team at Gearbox have obviously expended a great deal of effort to make this Remastered edition something that can truly be called a modern game. Ship textures are highly detailed, and bear up exceptionally well even when viewed from very close up.
The bombastic space battles crackle with intensity as fighters, corvettes, and frigates dodge and weave about in a brutal ballet of missiles and turret fire. All of this is accompanied by a wonderful soundtrack incorporating tribal fervour with classical richness and operatic grandeur. Homeworld is a feast for the senses.
At its core is a standard RTS. Resources must be gathered, research trees expanded, and units constructed to fight off enemy forces as you explore each game map. The key difference here are those game maps. No longer shackled to a horizontal plane, every map is truly three-dimensional. While this is the defining feature of this series, it is also presents its most obvious hurdle: keeping track of your ships, enemy units, and the various points of interest found within.
Navigating in space is no simple task. Controlling multiple ships in multiple conflicts is even less so. As a result, you will need to have a strong grasp of the game’s various hot keys in order to manage your forces effectively. The ability to zoom out to a tactical view of the entire map helps you plan wider strategies and orient yourself, but there is still a significant learning curve when moving and tracking units above and below the artificial horizon. The Z axis allows strategies that are impossible in other games, but it does require some upskilling to get to grips with.
As you progress through the game you will unlock new technologies to upgrade and improve your fleet, this maybe via improved chassis for more robust ships with greater offensive capabilities, or brand new support craft that provide a tactical advantage in a fire fight.
Smaller firefights are the meat and potatoes of the gameplay, and to be successful you will need to find the most effective formations, combinations, and strategies to counter enemy forces. You must do all this while keeping your Mothership and support vessels stocked with resources, which fund everything from new units to research. Resources are finite, so not over extending your reach also needs to be a constant consideration.
Resources and units carry over from mission to mission, making it vitally important that you manage each carefully. Entering a new zone with a depleted fleet can spell disaster if you happen upon enemy forces before you have time to establish yourself and alternatively, warping in with a standing army may just provide the advantage needed to ensure victory.
This resource persistence is at the core of the Homeworld single player experience, and ties directly to the main story. The uncovering of an ancient starship leads to the revelation that the Kushan people are not native to their dying planet Kharak, and this discovery sparks an undertaking of truly epic proportions across multiple generations.
The story yet another strength of the series, and the single narrative that connects both games is easily one of, if not the most compelling saga ever told within the strategy genre and perhaps PC games in general. It’s surprisingly affecting, wonderfully written, and makes the single player aspect alone well worth the game’s asking price. It’s also another reason why the games have endured for a decade and a half.
There is a multiplayer component here as well, and although still in beta, it is proving to be very enjoyable. All races and technologies from both games are available in each match, allowing the slightly-differing mechanics from each to do battle. There still needs to be some balancing done, and finding a match can be a chore, but given time the multiplayer could be a reason to return after the epic single player experience has been completed.
Homeworld Remastered might just be the single greatest triumph in this new era of re-released classics. It retains all that made the games great on their release, with the addition of an improved UI and upgraded visuals and sound, all polished to a high gloss. It will be the remaster that all others are measured against.