In Homeworld, after the discovery of the Guidestone artifact, the warring factions on the planet Kharak united in an effort to build a huge starship and return to their home of origin. Homeworld: Cataclysm, the sequel, picks up about 15 years after the events of the first game and continues the struggle for the establishment of power in the new order. Thrown into the mix is a new enemy, the mysterious techno-organic entity known as The Beast.
This sequel contains enhancements and expanded gameplay by providing new gameplay aspects such as waypoints and sensor screen attack commands, new types of ships capable of upgrades with advanced technologies and weapons, fog-of-war, damage control, research and mothership modules. New vessels include mimic ships and multi-ion frigates along with two unique fleets consisting of Taiidan, Kushan, and pirate ships. Homeworld: Cataclysm features 17 single-player missions.
Homeworld was one of the best games of 1999 and in this one editor's opinion, the best RTS of that year by far. The game combined one of the best camera control systems with some of the best music, sound effects, models, and gameplay that you could hope for in a gaming experience. The atmosphere in the game was unforgettable and undeniably powerful. So when I heard that there was a stand-alone follow up game in the works, I was pretty darn excited. The fact that Barking Dog Studios was developing the game instead of Relic didn't matter to me because there was going to be another game in the same universe. But when all is said and done, did it end up mattering that a different group of guys was making the next Homeworld story? Not really. You can see the differences in style, but the game is still intact overall and is still a good bit of fun.
The story takes place shortly after the first game ended and the Kushan have taken their homeworld of Hiigara back from the Taidan Empire (you can view the opening video in full below in the media section). The Empire has fractured after the loss and is fighting with itself and others in an attempt to gain back power. Meanwhile, the Kiith (along the lines of a clan) have returned to their old pecking order leaving the smaller Kiith to fend for themselves and purchase technology that others gained for free from the Kiith council. You play one of these small mining Kiith called the Somtaaw. You control one of the Somtaaw's command ships that is minding its own business out in space mining asteroids one day. A distress call from the Hiigara is received and you are called to help with a battle raging with one of the Imperial factions in orbit over the homeworld. That is where you start the game and things only get crazier after that. The main plot of the game revolves around a discovery that you make in one of the early missions of the game when you run across a derelict escape pod. Inside the pod lies one of the most dangerous forces that the universe ever birthed. The entity later referred to as The Beast resides therein and during scientific experiments your ship accidentally releases it from slumber. The Beast functions by subverting all biological and technological systems immediately converting them to its purpose. It does this to half of your ship and before the whole thing is taken, the infected half is discharged into space. It is at this point, just a couple of missions into the game that things start to get really dangerous and interesting.
The first thing you'll notice is that the game runs on the same beautiful engine as the original and it is used to the fullest with beautifully detailed ships and lush planets and backgrounds. The game is a good deal better looking if you have 3D acceleration, but it can run in software mode. Ships in the game are a bit more ergonomically designed. I really can't decide whether this detracts from the game or not as I thought the strangely designed and often lopsided looking ships in the first one were beautiful and fit perfectly with the overall feel of the game. Ships in Cataclysm are a bit more symmetrical and "just so" than they were in the last one. They really are beautiful when it comes down to it but may be just a pinch too perfect.
The one thing that disappointed me about the game is along the same lines as those too perfect ships. The game really doesn't have the same kind of "daunting task" atmosphere that was really just so perfect in the first one. It may be that everything in the original seemed so believable, whereas in Cataclysm there were some ship powers and soundbytes that just seemed a bit unbelievable or off.
Most of the sound in the game is really top notch however. The music is once again extraordinary and really gets you involved in the game more than most other scores in other games are likely to and the sound effects are also top notch again. Some of them are borrowed from the first game, but that was to be expected. Some of the voice acting in the game just sounded a little strange to me though. It may be the Canadian accents some of the pilots have, or that they tried to have a little more fun with the pilot voices, but something was strange and didn't quite fit with a couple of them. But that was really a minor thing in the overall experience.
For any of the Homeworld fans out there, you will notice a few changes to the interface. You may not really think all of them are important, or really good for that matter, but none of them detract from the experience of the game. One of these was the new fog of war, which aside from hiding resources really did nothing for me. It wasn't necessary, but again, it really didn't detract from the game except for being a little distracting when using the sensors manager at times.
There are a couple of new goodies that will make your experience more enjoyable most notably the time compression feature that allows for you to speed up the game to eight times faster than normal. This significantly reduces the time it takes to harvest the rest of the resources in a given level. Thank God, cause that really put a damper on some of the enjoyment of the last game. Some other little features that you'll probably enjoy in the interface are the connected research, build, and systems managers. The sensors manager also allows for a bit more interactivity. Now you can assign units to attack others while still in the sensors to cut down on the need to switch in and out of screens. A great waypoint system also makes its way to the game and really comes in handy. The camera control is the same as the first game, which is excellent, and even adds a new focus feature that allows you to focus on enemy ships as well as your own.
Once you have the camera control and interface down, which is all learned through a very good tutorial, you'll be thrown into the middle of the same gameplay that you fell in love with in the first game. It is so similar that it will feel like old hat to veteran players. But it does have new ideas and gameplay features that will peak your interest. First off, almost every unit that you play with in the single player game will be new to you. From the lowly recon units to the mighty Dreadnaughts, you'll have a bunch of new toys to play with that will add a lot of new strategic choices to your game. The units also come with special weapons that will keep you from overloading on one particular type of unit as well. For example, you can research linking technology along with E.M.P. Weapon so that your fighter Acolytes can use the E.M.P. weapons that will render enemy units temporarily ineffective. One of the more interesting, but also more contrived, units in the game is the Mimic. It has the ability to change into whatever unit you assign it to, including asteroids. This allows for interesting spying opportunities as well as Kamikazee runs that your enemy won't know are coming.
One of the bigger unit changes in the game is the consolidation of the Harvester, Salvage, and Repair units into one Worker unit. Instead of having to manufacture all three, you need to research all of the technologies and upgrade your Workers. Upgrading also comes into effect after researching new armor and weapons. Your units will be useless during the upgrade, but it's worth the time.
Even though I didn't like some of the new unit additions, the technologies and new technology tree do add a bit more strategy to the game, especially when it comes to the multiplayer facet of the game. The technology tree works much different this time around as you don't actually need to research a lot of little things to get the bigger things. Your command ship gets five different modules that each develop technologies independently from the others. These are the hangar, engineering, armor, advanced engineering, and weapon modules. Each of them houses their own teams that can research areas that pertain to them such as the hangar is able to research the different ship drives and the weapons module only concentrates on acquiring new weapons. In the single player game, you get each of these one at a time, but in the multiplayer game, all of them are available for construction right away.
So depending on where your interest lies, you can go after better weapons, crystal harvesting, infection vaccines (found in multiplayer only to combat the Beast infecting weapon) and the like. The aforementioned crystals are a new perk in the game so this is actually a viable option in a long game because if you can grab the crystals, which weigh in around 2-10 thousand resource units (as opposed to a load of harvested stuff that is around 1,000 ru), you can have an upper hand in the later parts of a contest.
You may also play as The Beast in multiplayer, which adds a bit of variety and new strategy as they have a conglomeration of different units from the Somtaaw, Kushan regular, Taidan, and Turnanic Raider fleets. There are is a lot more opportunity for different tactics in Cataclysm than the original, but the multiplayer options themselves are still pretty much the same.
So after all is said and done, the game delivers a very enjoyable experience that I highly recommend to everyone that likes strategy games, and even those that have never played one. The excellent tutorial and the addition of a difficulty level that spans five different difficulties should help those of you that need help getting into the game and challenge those masters of the galaxy with a very hard battle to rid the universe of The Beast. It is a very solid game that will draw you in and will beg you to play "just fifteen more minutes." It may not be an official sequel but it does an excellent job as a "stand alone" side story in the Homeworld universe.
People who downloaded Homeworld: Cataclysm have also downloaded:
Homeworld, Homeworld 2, Imperium Galactica 2: Alliances, Age of Empires III, Galactic Civilizations II: Dread Lords, Diablo 2, StarCraft, Dune 2000
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