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Space. The orbital construction facility Tanis. The Hiigaran engineers are running through the final checks on the mothership Pride of Hiigara. The hyperspace core is in place, production facilities are operative, resource processing facilities are fully functional. And then comes the desperate transmission "Vaygr bombers incoming, all pilots to stations immediately."
Homeworld 2 is the second part of the story of the Hiigaran people. Having completed a long and difficult journey back to their home-world in the first game, you would think life would be pretty good for them. They have their planet back, they are one of the most technologically advanced peoples in the galaxy, and they are at peace. But then comes the rise to power of a new threat, the Vaygr.
The Vaygr are a ruthless and warfaring race, set for galaxy-wide domination. Having taken over a number of systems in the outer rim, and cannibalised a fair amount of technology from them, they feel it is time to challenge the most powerful people, the Hiigarans. The first step is to launch a surprise attack against the mothership, in an attempt to capture the hyperspace core. There are three cores in total, relics from an ancient race, and combining the three will lead to ultimate power for the leader who manages it.
The second wave of Vaygr strikes is against Hiigara itself, besieging the planet and bombarding it from orbit. It is up to you, as commander of the Pride of Hiigara, to search for a way to
rebuild the Hiigaran forces, raise the siege and save your people.
As commander, you will have to organise your resource gathering operations, schedule research and subsystem development, and build a variety of combat vessels. There are five different types of ship available.
Fighters are small, fast moving craft which are built and operate in squadrons. They fall into the two groups of anti-fighter craft and bombers which are effective against frigates and capital ships.
Corvettes are slightly bigger and better armed than fighters, also flying in squadrons. They are most effective against fighters and other corvettes.
Platforms are immobile gun turrets firing either standard projectiles or ion beams. Vulnerable to small ships, they can be lethal against capital ships, and are a cheap defensive option.
Frigates are larger well armed ships, and the main element in most fleets. Equipped with a variety of weapons, including torpedos, ion cannons and devastating anti-fighter flak cannons, frigates can be used to counter all kinds of threats.
Finally, capital ships are the largest, toughest and most lethal ships in the game. The immense Battlecruiser is capable of sweeping aside all opposition, and the only way to defeat it is with one of your own.
Graphically, Homeworld 2 is stunning. If it weren't for the necessity of giving orders occasionally I would spend my entire time zoomed in on one of my fighters, ducking and diving amongst the bigger ships. All the models are sleek and impressive, combining style with an appearance of deadly menace. The sight of an entire fleet of your ships in elegant formation swooping on an enemy base is awesome to behold.
Another impressive part of the graphics is the special effects. Ion Cannons, homing torpedos, flak strikes and plain good old explosions, all look suitably devastating. When two strike forces engage, the space is filled with projectiles, flashes and mayhem.
The User Interface looks good too. It definitely captures the feel of a futuristic data display, with semi-opaque screens and lots of nice, simple icons. Best of all, it can be easily tucked away out of sight when you want to get a full screen view of the action.
Unfortunately the gameplay is not quite as hot as the graphics. The fact that space is three dimensional makes a isometric camera impossible, and also giving movement orders more complicated. Homeworld handles the latter by allowing you to choose how far to move in the horizontal plane you are in, and then how much above or below that plane you want to go. It is a reasonably effective system, but one that takes a little getting used to. Most of the action happens in roughly the same plane though, so it works quite well.
The camera is a much bigger issue though. You can only zoom out by a certain amount, and the height of the camera is determined by whatever object you are focused on, so often there are ships above the camera that you just cannot see.
The game has three different play modes. The campaign tells us the story of the Hiigaran struggle to save their homeworld and unite the three hyperspace cores. Each of the 15 or so levels has an interesting individuality, which does reduce monotony of building up a fleet and just attacking the enemy. In one, you have to destroy the nuclear missiles being launched against the homeworld. In another, you encounter the remnants of an ancient civilisation. The campaign is challenging and takes a certain amount of strategy to complete some of the missions. Overall you can get a good amount of play out of the campaign.
There is also a Vs. CPU mode where you can play a number of levels against up to 5 AI opponents. The computer is an effective opponent, beating the Expert difficulty setting takes some practice. You can also play as the Vaygr in this mode and the multiplayer, which gives you a different group of ships to master and adds greatly to the replay value.
Finally there is a multiplayer mode, where you can compete against other players, either online or across a LAN. This mode is basically the same as the one against the computer, but you get the added satisfaction of playing against a human intelligence.
Overall I have been very satisfied with Homeworld 2 as a game. There are not many space strategy games out there, and this tops the list. It has its flaws, but what game doesn't, and most of the time you will be too busy drooling over the pretty pictures to care. It has stood the test of time on my games shelf, and I still play regularly.