Playing through Homeworld again after all these years is weird. Games are forever changing. Usually, they’re advancing. They progress not just in terms of visuals, but design. Shooters, for example, change the way you take cover and recover damage, while stealth games have developed smoother controls and give the player a greater awareness of what’s going on around them.
If you played a shooter from 1999 and then a shooter from 2015, you’d notice the differences immediately, not just in how they looked but how they played, how smartly they were designed.
Homeworld was released in 1999. The 20th century. Play its remastered edition in 2015, though, and you’d be forgiven for thinking it was a brand new video game. Almost everything about it — and I’m not talking about its new visuals — feels fresh.
The way it works its narrative into the missions, the way you get audio feedback from distant units, the control scheme (which somehow nails movement in a 3D space), the user interface…it all works, and works almost perfectly, with a simple elegance that space games released over a decade later have yet to match.
I used to wonder why, in the dark times between Homeworld 2’s release and the more modern run of entries in the genre (like Sins of a Solar Empire), why nobody had come along and just cloned Homeworld (even Sins, perhaps its closest “competitor”, has a vastly different strategic side to its action).
After all, that’s how it works in other genres. A game comes along that rewrites the rules, sets a new standard, and suddenly everyone else is making the same damn game. To bring up the blockbuster genre again, shooters are notorious for this. It’s derivative, sure, but at least you get to play more of the same once you’re done with your first choice.
Yet we never got a Homeworld clone. Still haven’t got one. I’m starting to think it’s because Homeworld was just so timeless we never needed one.
Here are some other things I jotted down in my notes after playing for a while:
- Boy, Homeworld 1 really needs a button to speed up time. Homeworld 2 has one, and it makes a huge difference, since there are plenty of times you’re just hangin’ out, harvesting resources.
- So, the story of Homeworld is basically the same as Battlestar Galactica. What’s funny going back into Homeworld after the BSG remake was how that TV series itself seems to have been inspired by Homeworld, at least in terms of its soundtrack, with both featuring a heavy dose of Middle Eastern-inspired tunes to really set the mood for a deep space caravan. That might be a coincidence, but…
- While both Homeworld games are close to perfect, they’re not quite there. There are a few quirks, like some questionable spawning tricks and mission pacing, that remind you games were harder in 1999 (or at least more randomly brutal) than they are today. It’s a shame the series expansion/spinoff, Homeworld Cataclysm, wasn’t also included, as I remember it being the smartest entry in the series.
- While the remastered editions are the ones everyone will flock to, it’s still worth going back and taking a look at the originals, which are also included in the pack. If only to admire just how timeless the art design is.
- I’d forgotten that one of the coolest things about these games is that your fleet isn’t just a disposable force that you build and destroy each mission. Your units survive between hyperspace jumps, meaning you can develop an attachment to your favourite Ion Frigate or Carrier and see it carry you through. It’s a nice touch, making you fond of tiny fake spaceships, and it’s one I wish more strategy games could/would make.