The story of "Homeworld" is compelling from the beginning. A race of beings living on the harsh desert world of Kharak discover an ancient spacecraft beneath the shifting sands. In its ruined frame, they find an intact map leading deep into the galaxy, to a world called Hiigara. They discover that Hiigara is their ancient homeworld, and the entire population comes together to build a spacecraft that will take them there, based on the technology of the buried spacecraft.
As gameplay begins, you test the hyperspace drives of your ship, and you control the building, management, and movements of a ever-growing fleet of vessels, starting from smaller scout craft and resource-gathering vessels, working your way up to larger ships. Your fleet makes its way across the galaxy slowly, toward its goal, meeting four alien races -- some are hostile, while others will help. Your job, as Fleet Command, is to survive and thrive in the dangerous deep reaches of space. The challenges with which you will be presented are dramatic and ever-changing.
The story of the game is perhaps is finest aspect. Despite the fact that the game is essentially "on rails," meaning that it flows in one direction only, with no real branching of consequences other than "win or lose," it never really feels that way. The events follow from one point to the next with many surprises and unexpected turns along the way. Starting with a sudden ambush early on, the game truly keeps you on your toes at every step, often changing direction in the middle of a mission.
The music deserves special attention, because it really helps give the game its feel. The music for the general space exploration segments is hauntingly beautiful, giving impressions of distance and silence. For the battle sequences, the music is an effective counterpoint, providing a steady undertone to the deadly ballet taking place. The use of a vocal version of Samuel Barber's "Adagio for Strings" underscores the moment of the game's greatest tragedy, and its most moving moment. And the final song, performed by the rock band Yes specifically for the game, is the perfect way to conclude the game.
The graphics in "Homeworld" seem a bit outdated by today's standards, but they remain beautiful and perfect for the tone that the game sets throughout. Nice 360-degree three-dimensional renderings of ships, gorgeous backdrops of nebulae and space vistas, stunningly-rendered action sequences in the form of the battle scenes. I can still look admiringly at the graphics today. The game is an extremely cinematic experience, because of the quality of the graphics and a smart gameplay model.
The gameplay itself is so much fun. Controls are fairly intuitive and easy to learn, including the "camera" controls, which make the game so cinematic. The game is essentially a real-time strategy combat game, set in a fully three-dimensional environment. The single-player game is heavily-driven by the solid story, but it never lets the story aspect get in the way of the enjoyment of the gameplay itself. Whether fighting your way through an asteroid field or preparing to take on a 150-ship fleet or mining the last few resources from a system (there's a lot of that), there's always something to do. Of course, the drive to find out what happens next is always strong as well. The single-player game is also extremely re-playable, thanks to many different styles of gameplay you can choose. I myself have played it at least six times, all the way through the story, and I still haven't exhausted the possibilities.
Multiplayer gameplay is equally fun, with all sorts of different tactics and styles of gameplay possible. "Grunt-rushing," or making an early rush at your opponent with an overwhelming number of weak ships, is certainly possible, but it's not as effective as it is in most RTS games. The wide variety of options open to all players make each and every multiplayer match in "Homeworld" new and interesting.
There's really nothing bad I can say about "Homeworld." From its visuals to its sound, from its story to its endlessly-entertaining gameplay, it's a game that I can relish playing over and over, even as I look forward to playing its sequel, "Homeworld 2." It's the sort of game that can take on mythic proportions and influence many games that come after it, and so it has. "Homeworld" is, perhaps, as close to a perfect game as one is ever likely to see. It has my highest recommendation.
What did you think of this review?
Homeworld boasts amazing ship graphics and gorgeous deep-space vistas, a unique command and navigation interface and white-knuckle real-time strategy.