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Homeworld Remastered Collection

By MrJenssen07-05-2015
Homeworld Remastered Collection

The Defence

Gearbox Software
Gearbox Software
Release Date:

The Prosecution

Intel Core i5 2.3 GHz
AMD equivalent
Nvidia GeForce GTX 560
AMD Radeon HD 5850
4 GB
20 GB

The Case

You wouldn’t know it from playing Homeworld Remastered Collection, but the original Homeworld was actually first released in the late 1990s. Gearbox Software, a company whose experience with RTS-games is exactly zero, have attempted to bring Relic Entertainment’s beloved Homeworld and its stellar sequel back to life with sharpened textures and streamlined functionality. How could this possibly NOT turn into another Duke Nukem Forever farce? Does Homeworld even have a place in today’s gaming landscape?

The Trial

Alright, alright. Settle down. Let’s not be too judgemental right out of the gate. After all, the two Homeworld games offered some pretty incredible large scale space combat experiences back in the day, successfully combining space opera and real-time strategy like never before seen - and not a whole lot since either. So if all Gearbox intended to do is brush up the look, keep the feel intact and actually make it run on modern PCs, then maybe it’s not that bad after all?

Well, if you were hoping for another lazy non-remake or another Gearbox turkey to ridicule, then you’ll be sorely disappointed. Because as it turns out, Homeworld Remastered Collection is actually an amazing piece of work. Granted, that has a lot to do with how great the original games were. But the amount of respect Gearbox have shown for the source material - knowing where to up the ante and (mostly) where to leave things as they were - is truly admirable.

Yep, she's a beauty alright.

Yep, she's a beauty alright.

I won’t go into too much detail about the story of the two main campaigns, as it is entirely unaltered from the two original Homeworld games. If you’ve seen space opera movies and TV-series (like Battlestar Galactica) then you pretty much know exactly what you’re getting yourself into. In short, a cataclysmic event takes place during the opening of both games, butting your species on the brink of extinction, forcing you to find new ways to survive and re-establish your colony. The story itself isn’t anything way too out of the ordinary. But the way it is told, through narrated cutscenes and in-game dialogue between the different ships and factions - helped by the incredible audio-visual presentation and expertly utilized “camerawork” - gives it all a nice mysterious tone. You’re always left feeling in awe at the events transpiring and of course, the locations they transpire in.

Because, while the two Homeworld games looked amazing back in the day, they naturally cannot match modern games in that area. And luckily, it’s one of the main areas Gearbox have focused their efforts. The textures have been sharpened and up-rezzed far beyond what you’d normally expect from an HD remake. There’s widescreen support, and the UI scales to your set resolution. There’s no way you could know if you had never played Homeworld before, that this isn’t a brand spanking new game, if you just looked at it in motion. From the incredible attention to detail on the ships to the awe-inspiring constellations and nebulae in the background, nothing looks even slightly dated. The audio follows suit; cinematics, in-game narration, the soundtrack and audio effects all have significantly improved fidelity, sounding crisper than ever before.

Beyond the audio-visual presentation, the gameplay remain largely unaltered. It’s pretty typical RTS gaming, but with rather little focus on base-building. And since it’s set in space, you can expect a lot of movement and tactical placement. In all three dimensions. There are a few gameplay additions too, though. Hitting the Space-bar brings you into a sort of three-dimensional map mode, giving you a much better overview over the space battlefield, and makes it harder to get flanked by your enemies.

The new ‘Sensor Mode’ helps in giving a better overview of the battlefield.

The new ‘Sensor Mode’ helps in giving a better overview of the battlefield.

In addition to the campaign and the obligatory “player vs. AI” skirmishes, there’s also a functional multiplayer mode which combines the features of the two games into one. There isn’t much to say about it, it’s like the skirmishes, but more deadly since you’re dealing with players rather than the AI. It’s worth noting that the multiplayer is still in Beta, and not a single update has been released for the game in over a month at the time of this writing.

Many claim that everything gaming-related was better back in the day than it is now, but that isn’t true. And that goes for Homeworld too. Some minor things haven’t aged so well, and sadly Gearbox have been a little too careful in not wanting to mess with Relic’s winning formula. The following points aren’t deal-breaking issues, but they’re worth noting nonetheless.

For example, the camera control can be incredibly unwieldy at times. You can easily move forward, back and to the sides. But the frustration sets in when you’re trying to zoom in and out. Your units can move in a three-dimensional space with ease, so it only makes sense that you should be able to control your camera with equal ease. To reach them, you need to use the “Pan” up and down buttons, defaulted to Insert and Delete. It’s not completely impossible to control the camera, but it does feel more clunky than it should have to be and it takes a lot of getting used to. Putting the game down for extended periods of time and then returning to it can lead to some frustration.

Combat can be hectic. But it can also be confusing.

Combat can be hectic. But it can also be confusing.

Controlling your units can also be tricky. In the heat of battle, it’s easy to lose track of your ships, and though you can now put groups into hotkey-groups, it still gets a little too finicky at times. And when giving your units a move-order, you’ll find that you often order them way too close or far, too high or too low. It’s hard to tell exactly where your mouse cursor is aimed. Using the distance indicator next to the cursor helps, but takes a lot of getting used to as well. One of the more significant improvements Homeworld 2 introduced back in 2004, is having most combat units constructed in squadrons rather than singles like the first HW did. I would have loved to see these improvements implemented in the remastered version of the first HW as well. At least having the option to toggle them on or off would be nice.

The UI of both games has been improved in the Remastered Collection, and they’re the exact same in both games so you don’t really have to get used to a completely different way to play between the two. But also here, I feel that not enough was done. Many things, like the tabs for the various ship types in the build-menu, are marked only by abstract symbols like squares and circles. It’s only when you hover over them that you get a tooltip explaining what’s found inside. So oftentimes you’re left clicking back and forth between them until you find the right ship type you want to construct. You can also set your ships into various battle formations, but nothing is ever explained about the benefits or detriments of these formations, and frankly I don’t see any of them having any benefits at all. Unless they’re just supposed to look cool. Your units also completely break their formation once they enter combat.

The Verdict

Apart from the few nitpicks I can come up, I can honestly say that I’m pleasantly surprised by Gearbox Software’s effort. This is where it’s at. This is the reason why remasters are made. Bringing a beloved classic to a new generation, while at the same time giving the old fans a way to relive the experience once again. I wish Gearbox would have a little more faith in themselves, being less afraid to improve the things that haven’t aged as well. But overall this is an incredible package, and space-RTS fans around the world owe it to themselves to try it out. Fifteen years on, Homeworld proves with its Remastered Collection, that older games can still kick some serious Taiidan ass.

Case Review

  • The Pride of Hiigara: Oh, man is it beautiful!
  • Adagio for Strings: The soundtrack lends about 200% extra awe to the atmosphere.
  • Tamper-proof: Gearbox have been very careful not to fiddle much with gameplay-mechanics...
  • Careful Now!: …maybe a little too careful?
  • Expert Controller: The unit and camera controls require a lot of getting used to, and often feel unnecessarily finicky.
  • UI Wot Mate?: A lot of the HUD-elements should’ve been made more clear and easy to understand.
Score: 4/5
One of the most respectful remakes the industry has ever seen.
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