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Homeworld: Cataclysm

Score: 90%
ESRB: Everyone
Publisher: Sierra Studios
Developer: Barking Dog Studios
Media: CD/1
Players: 1 - 8
Genre: Real-Time Strategy/ Online

Graphics & Sound:

The graphics engine from the original Homeworld is back, and it looks just as fine as before. Jacking the resolution up high and kicking to OpenGL mode makes for some gorgeous space-scapes, not to mention furious battles. No games have ever portrayed the epic space opera as well as Homeworld: Cataclysm and the original. You just canít beat seeing a fleet of thirty ships ďghost inĒ and start to wail on you... although itís certainly preferable for it to be the other way around.

That being said, the ship designs are pretty much all new in Cataclysm. At least, yours are. And as such, they look a little less alien-ish compared to the ones in the first game. Your ship, the Kuun-Lan, looks a little bit too much like the Nostromo in ďAlienĒ for me. But as theyíre both mining ships, Iíll cut it some slack. The sheer coolness of watching two ships link together more than makes up for some of the more mundane ship designs.

Weapons effects are still spectacular, and the jet trails are just as cool. And the resolutions... oh, the resolutions! Jacking a game up to 1024x768 with little to no slowdown makes a man proud. Sure, in the furious battles, it tends to lag a little. But isnít that what Pause is for?

As for the sound, expect more of the same groovy style of music that you heard in the first Homeworld: epic space opera. Yum. Whereís my soundtrack disc? Er... Anyway, the special effects are, well, pretty special, with satisfying booms and bangs and whatnot. A real thumbs-up must be given to the voice acting, once again proving that itís possible to make a game where the people donít sound like rejects from the high school production of ďUp the Down Staircase.Ē Props to the people who put that together.


Gameplay:

Iím sure youíre curious -- does Cataclysm offer a new paradigm to the Real-Time Strategy genre? In short: no. But is it fun as hell? In short: yes.

If I had to pin down the feeling I got from playing Homeworld: Cataclysm, itís something like ďThe Empire Strikes BackĒ as opposed to the original ďStar Wars.Ē The world is a little grittier, the stakes a little higher, the enemies a good bit tougher. Unfortunately, itís not better than the original (Empireís claim to fame), but itís certainly not a shabby experience either.

Youíre a member of the Somtaaw Kiith, a small clan by most standards, made much smaller by the fact that most of your kiith was destroyed due to events in the first game. So you occupy the fringes of the Homeworld (now called by its real name, Hiigara) society. Youíve managed to get a few largish ships made by the original Mothership, which now sits above Hiigara, making ships for the larger Kiith. So off you go in the Kuun-Lan, out to continue the mining business that your ancestors took up ages ago back on Kushan.

Of course, nothing goes the way you plan. You start off coming to save the day in orbit around Hiigara, fighting off Imperialist Taiidani. Those are not your only enemies, however -- Raiders soon show up, and a few missions in, you meet one of the most evil bad guys in the history of RTSís. The Beast shows no mercy.

From that point on in the game, itís pretty much a goal of survival. But enough about the plot. How does it play? In a nutshell, a whole lot like the first game. You have a ďmothershipĒ of sorts (The Kuun-Lan), which soon gains the ability to add modules to it that take the place of the generic Research Modules in the first game. You can also produce ships and whatnot. A massive advantage is that the Kuun-Lan can move without using the Hyperspace drive, which means you can actually use it as a defense or an offense. Very nice.

There are other changes too, of course. There are tons of new ship types, and a few of them can link together to cause more damage and have more abilities. There are more varied ship types as well, a larger tech tree, and more single-player missions. There are crystals which can be refined for resources as well as exploded for damage. You can set waypoints for your fleet to follow. You can speed the game up to make resource collecting and traversing long distances much faster.

And then thereís The Beast. This enemy changes your strategy completely since it has the ability to take over ships you send against it. Eep.

If all thatís not enough, thereís multiplayer, which offers basically the same options as the multiplayer in the original game, with the added bonus of being able to play as The Beast, which is a decidedly different stratagem. Itís a pleasant change from the relative stalemate of the original gameís races.


Difficulty:

You pick your difficulty at the beginning of the game. On the easier levels, you take less damage, do more, and there are less enemies to fight. On the higher difficulty levels, you can be prepared to die quick.

Like the original Homeworld, Cataclysm requires you to be intimately comfortable with the controls before you can succeed with any regularity. It also has a rougher difficulty ramp in my opinion -- the first few levels are damn near trivial, and once you start fighting the Beast, they become quite difficult. This could just be a result of my own twisted way of playing the game, however, so your results may vary.


Game Mechanics:

No game has 3D controls down like Cataclysm, and although youíll fight sometimes with the Sensors Manager trying to get the ships exactly where you want them, usually itís a trivial thing. The hotkeys are easy to remember and quick to respond, and the game has an intuitive interface. I did seem to have a few bugs -- it was difficult to target more than one thing at once unless I clicked on one separately, and then boxed them all -- but nothing thatís unfixable with a patch sooner or later, and nothing that you canít work around. Sure, itís a minor annoyance, but you get used to it.

Homeworld: Cataclysm has both the benefits and the detriments of being the follow-up to the original Homeworld. It canít be too original, or it wonít be another Homeworld. But part of what made Homeworld so special was its originality. So itís stuck between a rock and a hard place. Itís not groundbreaking, but it retreads some gorgeous ground, and it presents a world you wonít mind slipping back into -- or diving in to for the first time. While itís not the ultimate experience that the first one was, Cataclysm is a damn fine game nonetheless, and one no fan of the genre should be without.


-Sunfall to-Ennien, GameVortex Communications
AKA Phil Bordelon

Minimum System Requirements:



P2 266, 32MB RAM, 300MB HD Space, 4X CD-ROM, 4MB PCI Video Card, 16-bit soundcard, mouse
 

Test System:



Windows 98 running on a K6-III 450 w/256MB RAM, 6x24 DVD-ROM drive, SoundBlaster Live!, Creative Labs Riva TNT2 Ultra w/32MB RAM

Windows Heroes of Might and Magic III: Shadow of Death Windows Janeís USAF

 
Game Vortex :: PSIllustrated