Friday, 8 April 2011

Thing That Is Good #4 - Homeworld

Kicking it old-school today, with a truly amazing game. 

Homeworld was released nearly 12 years ago now, in 1999, and it holds up remarkably well. It follows the story of the Kushan, who make a surprising discovery in the desert that encircles their planet, a discovery that prompts them to travel to the center of the galaxy to reclaim what is theirs.

First of all - The story. Rarely has a game with almost no characters had such an emotional depth. There are no unit portraits, very little actual dialogue, with only sparse radio chatter and fleet updates to break your concentration, and only one main character with an actual name. But I defy you not to feel anything at the beginning of the third mission. The game generates everything from a profound sense of loss, to outrage, to utter elation, to a healthy glow of smugness as you deftly outmaneuver your enemy. 

The graphics are still impressive, especially when compared to how other games from that era have aged, and the backgrounds and ship design are still some of the best ever seen. But what would you expect from a game that was obviously heavily influenced by Chris Foss and Peter Elson? There's nothing like sending in an attack wing of Interceptors to distract a destroyers guns whilst your frigates start carving it apart with glittering Ion Cannons.

The gameplay was groundbreaking at the time, and in my opinion, hasn't been bettered since. Movement is possible in any dimension, and ships can be formed into lines, columns, defensive spheres and a variety of handy and visually impressive formations. Another rarity for the RTS genre is fleet persistance - you start each mission with the ships and resources you had at the end of the last. Again, in a game with few characters, having several die-hard veteran frigates floating about helps to foster a sense of story. These men have piloted their ships through hell and back! Of equal note is the ability to salvage almost any enemy ship. Sending in a huge group of salvage corvettes to steal the enemies ships out from under him is one of the most satisfying experiences in any game I've played.

And the music! Oh, the music. The main 'theme' of the game, if it has one, is a haunting choral adaptation of Samuel Barber's 'Adagio for Strings', and believe me, when that third mission starts, you'll never have found a more fitting piece of music. The rest of the music is a sort of spacey electronica with a heavy middle-eastern influence, fitting very well with the scale and atmosphere of the game, and also tying in with the arabic influences on the story and naming of many of the events, races and locations. Interestingly, the game does have an 'official theme' of sorts; A nine minute prog-odyssey sung by Yes, shown over the end credits. It might not be to everyones taste, but...I don't know. It grows on you...

If you do anything this weekend, other than spending time with friends and family and fostering a healthy social life (hah!), then play Homeworld. And if you've played it, go play Homeworld 2. (But that's for another post)


  1. I remember spending whole nights with this game. It's really addictive!