I never had the opportunity to play the original Homeworld in 1999. My PC at the time wasn’t up to spec, and I missed out on a game that went on to become a cult classic in the RTS genre. Homeworld 2 simply passed me by. As a fan of RTS games, science fiction and playing with space ships in general, I was excited to finally plug the Homeworld gap in my gaming history by taking on the Homeworld Remastered Collection. This compendium reintroduces Relic’s original series to a contemporary audience, complete with bells and whistles in the form of freshly rendered graphics, HD support, new effects and music. If that isn’t enough, the classic versions are included too.
Homeworld follows the story of the Kushan, inhabitants of the planet Kharak, who discover a ship buried in the sands of a desert. This discovery ushers in an age of technological evolution and the development of advanced spaceflight. Even more intriguingly, the discovered ship provides a galactic map that points to a ‘home’ to which the Kharak endeavour to return. A Mothership is built and a fleet is assembled. Things soon go awry – a hyperspace jump reveals hostile alien forces; Kharak is subsequently destroyed. The fleet is all that’s left.
Time to Beat: 30+ hours
What I found interesting about Homeworld’s story is the fact that the game doesn’t really present any characters per se. There aren’t any people the player might naturally gravitate towards, whose personal quests the player would typically play out. Instead, the player is the fleet, the fleet is the player. It was me out there, on my own, fighting the battles, seeking survival, looking for home.
When playing the first few story missions of Homeworld, I was struck by the immediate sensation of the expansive isolation the game manages to effectively conjure. The actual visual detail is in some ways discreet, but it contributes to the significant sense of scale and depth that permeates the game as a whole. The narrative is elegantly progressed by the minimalist animated cut scenes that appear between missions. These are accompanied by original voiceovers that might perhaps come across as wooden by today’s standards. Yet these brief, sometimes unemotional moments of exposition, perfectly compliment the understated arrangement of the story.
The enormity of the environment contrasts with the tiny place the player occupies within it, imbuing Homeworld with an absorbing sense of atmosphere. It effectively conveys the gravity of the situation into which the player has been thrust – the fleet is all that is left of an entire race, and their survival is in the player’s hands. The Mothership is symbolic of this feeling. It’s impressive how Gearbox (and indeed, Relic, the developers of the original games) manage to infuse a ship with that kind of character or importance. The soundtrack is also stunning, and compliments the visual presentation and sense of desolation, wonder and urgency that permeates the narrative and gameplay. Everything is on the line, failure equals oblivion.
While there are significant differences between the two classic games, for the remastered versions it appears that Gearbox have chosen update Homeworld 2 and utilise the new lighting, textures and aforementioned bells and whistles across both games. The interfaces for each are uncluttered and largely easy to navigate. This mostly complements the player rather than impedes, making objectives such as fighting battles, moving ships and gathering resources flow a lot more seamlessly.
Both games are well balanced. The learning curve of each is just about right, and I found the tutorial missions did a good job of equipping me with the basic commands without overwhelming me with information. Battles are chaotic, but not out of control. Sometimes I felt organised, my directives precise, and I eliminated enemy units effectively. Other times I was scrambling, building units on the fly, redirecting ships and formations, trying to see the conflict out and simply survive. Overall the depth of the strategy on offer is impressive.
The Homeworld Remastered Collection also features the original games, developed by Relic, in all their nostalgic glory. These are, in fact, pretty fun to play all these years later. It’s a testament to how ahead of their time they were, both visually and in terms of their cult status as RTS games that tackled 3D combat.
Originally, one Homeworld’s most innovative aspects as an RTS game was its use of 3D space. This remains the case with the Remastered Collection. However, it’s not all perfect. I did encounter a few issues with unit selection that were largely due to scaling issues. While I found the interface to be largely intuitive, it was occasionally hard to see which units I was selecting if there were more than a handful on the screen.
While the 3D combat sometimes makes it difficult to keep on top of things, there are a few other minor issues with unit control. It remained unclear to me throughout my time with the game what the exact benefits of using different formations were, other than to make my ships look well drilled by flying in synchronised lines. It’s possible that the pilots of my ships agreed with me, given that they didn’t always stick to their formations as instructed anyway.
I found Homeworld 2 to be the superior game in the collection, although the original story in the first Homeworld is more intriguing. Gearbox’s choice to utilise Homeworld 2 as the point of reference for their visual overhaul across both titles was a wise one. In my opinion, it allows Homeworld Remastered Collection to exist as a game in its own right – one which encompasses two compelling volumes.
As a modern re-release of two classic games, the Homeworld Remastered Collection should ultimately be considered a benchmark. Gearbox have delivered on all fronts: visuals, playability, compatibility and spirit. It’s also a heck of a lot of fun.
Review copy of game provided by publisher.