Homeworld was one of those games that never lost its appeal with age. Even though I couldn’t play it on any modern computers, I could just look up old screenshots of it and instantly see why I loved it so much. The art style, the music, the atmosphere, the mission design, it all came together to form an experience unlike any other. When Gearbox announced they had acquired the IP, I was confused. The guys who made Borderlands bought Homeworld? This wasn’t some run of the mill IP grab; this was Homeworld. This was sacred ground they were dealing with, and they would need to treat the IP with the utmost care to make me happy. Thankfully, they did.
If you never got to play Homeworld back in ’99, you don’t have to try and find a computer that can run it to get the same memorable experience anymore. Gearbox have followed the most important rule of remasters: be faithful to the original. Just about every aspect of the game has been modernised without sacrificing the core elements. The graphics are sharper, the sound is crisper and the gameplay is just as good as it was all those years ago. All of this helps to reinvigorate the games and breathe new life into the story of the Hiigaran pilgrims.
Even to this day, Homeworld’s story is awesome. You follow the Hiigaran people as they transport what remains of their populace to their future home planet near the galactic core. As they travel through the terrifying emptiness of space, they encounter hostile forces, new allies, and mysterious ancestors that unveil more about who they are and where they came from. The length of the story isn’t huge, but the implications and discoveries are so far reaching that you can’t help but feel swept away by the scope of lore on offer. Of course, the story wouldn’t work nearly as well if it weren’t for the eerie atmosphere of the game.
One of the things that can become diluted with a remaster of a game is the exact feeling you had when you played the original. The way that the minutiae interact with each other and cultivate that unique mood and atmosphere of a game can get lost in the new shininess, but not here. That same old spiritually enlightened vibe and distressingly calm mood has been kept intact, and despite the changes, it still feels like the same Homeworld I played years ago. The changes have a minimal impact on the feel of the game and are there just to make it more suited to modern systems… Mostly.
The remastered collection is most definitely a faithful take on the classic games, but some of the changes are bit more noticeable than others. While Homeworld 2 is functionally identical, the remastered original Homeworld no longer includes fuel as a mechanic, which is a pretty big deal. Managing the fuel of your ships was integral to success, and without it, the game’s difficulty plummets. I honestly don’t remember when I wasn’t swimming in resources because I didn’t need to bother building any support ships. You can still go back and play the classic version, but considering how much of the game remains intact in the remaster, it seems odd that fuel would be omitted. The decision might be because aspects of both games have been standardised.
Most of the changes made to the games come in the form of cross-game standardising. What I mean is that both games’ UI are the same, the multiplayer allows races from both games to be played in either one and (most importantly) Karen S’Jet has the same voice in both. The thing is, I wouldn’t call any of these changes bad. Apart from the omission of fuel from the first game, everything feels like an upgrade, but nothing has significantly changed to distort the fundamental experience. I would have liked if the core UI from the classic versions were upgraded instead of redesigned to keep both games distinct, but the redesign is far from bad. Besides, it’s still a game of strategy over micro.
The games play the same as they did 15 years ago, with success hinging on forethought and smart tactics. The camera still works by focusing on ships, there’s still no minimap, and the pace is still fast enough to keep you tensed up as your destroyer warps in. The iconography of the game has remained as well, so you can quickly identify what classes of ship your enemy are building and counter them accordingly. The UI changes mean that you can see more of the screen too, unlike the sometimes obtrusive menus of the classic versions. The same niggly features remain (like trying to move capital ships in asteroid fields without them flying a kilometre below them), but when dealing with sacred ground, any change is still a change. These are easily overlooked when you consider how well the graphics have carried over into modern times.
The game is still good, of that we can be sure, but the graphics are so much better! Gone are the blurry textures of the classic versions, now you can marvel at the awe-inspiring glory of high-resolution ships! If Homeworld looked good back in 1999, it looks effing spectacular now. The skyboxes and lighting are just glorious to look at, and the upgraded ship textures are drool-worthy. I was amazed when I saw old screenshots, but the remastered version just blows my mind with it’s visuals. And then there’s the sound, my god, the sound!
One of the big parts of Homeworld for me was the sound. Not just the music or voice acting, but all the sounds of the game and how they crafted the mood. Well, everything sounds better now, from the music to the subtle beeping of resource collectors. It still sounds like you’re underwater in the ocean of the void, but everything sounds crisper and more detailed in the remaster. It’s a subtle difference, but one that I wholeheartedly appreciated getting the HD treatment.
We all know Homeworld is a great game, and Gearbox has done an exceptional job of bringing the classic IP back into the limelight. The redesigned UI works well, the graphical upgrades are majestic, and everything you’d hoped for is in there (unless you wanted Cataclysm, but there’s a very good reason for its absence). I guess I should have had more faith in the dudes who made Borderlands; turns out they’re not just great at making FPS games. I’m left feeling a lot more confident about Shipbreakers, which is clearly in good hands.