Back in 1999, Sierra introduced Homeworld: the first completely 3D RTS set in space, telling a story of two factions fighting over space and dignity. In 2001, Homeworld Cataclysm brought a new faction, better graphic and sound additions. Now, in Homeworld 2, comes a refresh of the original, a space RTS of epic strategic battles in space.
As the story goes, you are the Hiigara, a peaceful remainder of the past factions and wars, doing your best to thrive in economy and authority. Whilst being a part of a faction, there once was an enemy, called the Vaygr, who opposed you. You've fought occasionally, while looking for Cores in order to construct Motherships. Then, after finding another Core, the Vaygr turned mad and attacked the Hiigara with an insane fury. As a survivor of an attack by the newly constructed mothership, you help to fight back this invasion through many missions, each telling more background and history on HomeWorld. The background story is impressive, especially because of the cinematic scenes and voice-acting of the narrator, but that's for you to discover.
As a completely 3D RTS, HW2 has an extreme amount of tactical challenge; for one, you have to worry about being attacked at any angle be it up, down, or sideways. Luckily, there is an interface screen where you can see the whole map and control all of your forces, whilst seeing any enemy or ally in your sensors' range. With strategy, come units – and in space, there are no soldiers or tanks, just flying warships with engines and ion cannons. From tiny scout ships to 1/5 planet sized motherships, there's a lot of units under your control, each with its own unique abilities, speed, advantages and disadvantages.
The AI takes advantages of the good and bad points of all units. With all frigates and destroyers, comes an army of fighters and corvettes. Although most of the time, they just do direct attacks, the AI does a lot of defensive measures for itself, like walls of gun platforms for protection – and more than 2 motherships. Once, in a long game against an Easy opponent, while I was busy taking out their main base, it has built a new base, high up in space (and away from me), building a new army. I would say that this is a very smart AI, although as with the AI in skirmishes, there is scripted and unscripted AI in the Campaigns.
As with every RTS and strategy game out there, there are resources to be collected and turned into units and upgrades. One kind of resource, called Research Units, is turned into 5 categories of over 40 different ships (divided into two races - the Hiigarians, and the Vaygr).With such a vast selection of ships, come multiple tactics for each and every one of them. From Minelaying to Cloaking, each has some sort of ability that will help your forces. With tons of unit / weapon upgrades to research, gigantic battles take place, and the main campaign should keep you occupied for a while.
In space no one can hear you scream. Magnificent explosive sound effects fill the battlefield: ships exploding, ion cannons running through frigates, all of this is rendered in beautiful sound. Imagine listening to battles above and below you; with EAX you can listen to this like it really IS above or below you, and this is one of the few games so far that uses surround sound to full advantage. Music accompanies space with eerie space effects, which make you feel lonely and afraid – very good for the setting. A voice (a woman for Hiigarians, and a deep voiced guy for Vaygr) tells you when you're under attack, or when a battle is happening, and when a unit is complete. Overall, I was very impressed with the sound, especially with the EAX enhancing it.
Space, the final frontier of graphics (for now..), with stylish ships armed with weapons of mass destruction, commandeered by thousands of people fighting for their rights. Whether it is a scout, an asteroid, or a mothership, it is completely 3d and well textured. Huge ships (Capital Class) are so detailed, that they introduced destroyable subsystems. Subsystems are parts that let you build fighters or frigates, and now in this sequel, they are shown built outside of the ship, and are targetable by all enemies. These systems include Engines, Frigates, Fighters, Corvettes, Resources. and more (depending on what you construct.) and each look unique on the ships.
All of the ships have so much detail, that you can see tiny window lights, scratches, and vents (and so on) on all of the ships. Watching Ion Frigates conjure up extremely powerful beams of energy and blast right through ships, is without a doubt, amazing. My mother was even so impressed, that she had me take a screenshot of this game, and use it for her background. I definitely enjoy looking at this game, with all of the extreme detail.
From my experience of playing against online opponents and many skirmishes against the computer, the multiplayer is outstanding. The skirmishing was so hard (Even on easy mode, but thats if you're more slow than fast.) that I ended up learning and honing my skills enough to be 3 to 1 on them at research and ships.
The available online options can be played via LAN or Gamespy Arcade, while both sides are selectable. Multiplayer is really great fun, and in the long run might even represent more of a challenge than single player.
While it might not be groundbreaking, this game has style and a developer that is capable of showing off what he can do – and that's more than enough to redefine space RTS games once more. The long campaigns, tutorials to help you learn how to play, and the skirmishes/multiplayer online will keep you coming back for more. As a fan of the original Homeworld, buy this game if you love sci-fi, space, and strategy.