by Preston Dozsa
previewed on PC
Before sitting down and getting a hands-on experience with Homeworld Remastered Collection at PAX South, I had neither seen nor played the original two Homeworld games in my life. But having watched both the original and remastered side by side, I wish I had discovered the series sooner.
For the uninitiated, the Homeworld franchise is an RTS set entirely in space, where you command a singular gigantic Mothership and the smaller ships it builds as you travel through space to find your home planet.
The remastered collection had Gearbox Software perform a visual and mechanical overhaul to Homeworld 1 and 2, bundling them together with the original versions of the games. Placing both versions side by side allows one to see the massive changes that Gearbox has undertaken to breathe life into a franchise that started all the way back in 1999. The flat, monotone hull of the much beloved Mothership is now a beautiful, detailed ship of epic proportions, with components that move individually and look like they came straight out of concept art. The smaller ships still look similar, but whereas - for example - the original’s scouts looked like triangled blocks, the remastered version looks like an actual ship with curves and smooth cockpits. Space looks suitably epic, with colourful star systems and choked asteroid fields giving off the feeling that you are insignificant against the infinite void.
The interface between the two versions is greatly improved, as the original Homeworld’s interface is clunky and unorganized, the remaster features very little clutter and in the half hour I played became easy to navigate and understand. There was the instance where I nearly failed an objective by dismantling a resource collector, but much my relief I could cancel that order before the task was completed.
I got to try out a simple dogfight between the two factions of the first Homeworld, complete with ships ranging from interceptor fighters to destroyers to my personal favorite, the battlecruiser. In the epic fight, which I lost the first time before managing to pull ahead with a come from behind victory, it was great to watch how ships moved. Smaller ships left trails in their wake, a feature that was according to the developers a much loved aspect of the original, except now they are actual curves instead of straight lines. Bigger ships were simply awesome, and I loved how powerful they looked and felt whenever they shot off a missile or laser blast from one of their towering guns. What was most noteworthy to me were the signs of damage each ship exhibited throughout the fights: one of my destroyers lost the pristine shine of its hull to a pockmarked mess with depressions and impact craters before finally exploding.
It’s not just in the graphics and mechanical aspects that Gearbox has improved Homeworld. One of the developers shared a story with me that in the second game, the original developers had to replace the voice actress for the Mothership, which upset fans of the original. While remastering the game, Gearbox brought back the original voice actress and re-recorded all of her lines because they knew that was what fans of the franchise wanted. Speaking of the audio, the developers also updated and redid all of the audio tracks and sound effects, after they uncovered the original audio tapes out of the back of one dev’s closet.
Alongside the remastered games and their original versions, the collection will include a key to participate in the Steam beta for the multiplayer portion of the games. However, Gearbox is not separating the multiplayer between the two games, instead incorporating both into one package. This involves taking the factions present in both games and integrating them into the same system, which has been very difficult according to the developers on hand. They want the input of players as they’re rebuilding multiplayer, which is why the multiplayer mode will launch as a beta alongside the single player game.
At the end of my session with Homeworld, I was surprised by how well the franchise holds up years after its debut. After it’s dormancy while under the care of THQ, it looks like fans of Homeworld will have something to smile about when the game launches next month.