Some fifteen years after its original release, there are still very few games like Homeworld. Precious few developers have had the chops or the ambition to create another real-time space strategy game of Homeworld's scale, and fewer still have been willing to use the all-important z-axis, which sits at the core of the original's gameplay. For that reason, Homeworld Remastered Collection still feels fresh and unique even today, especially now that it has received a fresh coat of paint.
Gearbox's remake dramatically updates the visuals of the original games, bringing with it 4K support and vastly more detailed models. The battles are gorgeous — a pyrotechnic display that can be viewed from any angle, and can be zoomed all the way up to individual fighters. If you haven't seen it in action yet, I urge you to find a video. It looks glorious.
Homeworld Remastered Collection's graphics build on the legacy of the original, which itself was quite a looker when it came out back in 1999. Conceived during the golden age of real-time strategy, when StarCraft and Command & Conquer were in full bloom, Homeworld turned heads with its 3D starship combat. True, navigating a 3D plane could be a tad disorienting, especially since 3D cameras weren't exactly widespread at that point. But its sheer novelty won it many avid fans.
Playing Homeworld today, I'm struck by how much it reminds me of the Battlestar Galactica remake, which was still six years away when the original game came out. On top of the obvious parallels that can be found in a large mothership trying to make its way to a new world, Homeworld's soundtrack has an almost tribal feel that forcefully brings back memories of BSG everytime I hear it. There are a lot of things that I hate about that show, but its space battles remain a definite high point. They remain some of the best battles I've seen in sci-fi, so I'd say comparing them with the battles in Homeworld is a definite compliment.
In addition to its unique combat, the original Homeworld also brought with it a number of other novel ideas. Among other things, it included a persistent campaign in which units carried over from mission to mission, which really served to drive home the sense of being wandering space refugees. It also presented its story in a minimalist fashion that feels decidedly modern even today, primarily advancing the narrative through in-engine cutscenes and radio chatter. PC games were in the process of making a major leap in 1999 — its contemporaries included System Shock 2 and EverQuest — but Homeworld in particular stood out as a game that was ahead of its time.
For the most part, Gearbox has managed to carry over these strengths intact. The Homeworld Remastered Collection includes Homeworld and its sequel (no Homeworld: Cataclysm), as well as the original versions of both and a multiplayer mode. With their remastered visuals, they are even more striking today than they were 15 years ago. I wish there were more like it, but the closest we've really gotten is Sins of a Solar Empire, which also has some great space battles but is otherwise very different from Homeworld. Having both Homeworld and its sequel remastered is a real treat.
Having said all that, this is the part of the review where I have to point out some of this collection's flaws, which are especially glaring if you're a fan of the original games. Among them, the pathfinding A.I. is inexplicably really bad in the remakes, making some missions particularly onerous. You'll just love watching your fighters crash merrily into asteroids in Mission 6 of the original Homeworld, for instance, making what has always been an irritating mission even more troublesome. Formations are another issue. In the original, they were integral for, say, setting up a wall of concentrated fire that could be used to quickly knock out a group of fighters. They still exist in the remakes, but formations will break apart almost as soon as combat begins, rendering them largely useless. That's on top of bugs like friendly A.I. continuing to fire on an enemy ship even after you've grabbed it for salvage — a major problem in a game where you really want to salvage everything you can.
Interface issues are at the root of most of my issues with Homeworld. Its minimalist UI often struggles to keep pace with the complex nature of its 3D engine, requiring a relatively sophisticated understanding of its various hotkeys to really play efficiently. Changes to the A.I. also make it difficult to queue up certain actions, making it onerous to use units like support frigates to heal ships in the heat of battle.
Most of these issues rear their head at the highest levels of play, which will frustrate those wanting to play competitive multiplayer. For those coming into Homeworld fresh, though, they don't significantly detract from what is otherwise a very enjoyable collection of space strategy games. It's easy to forget the somewhat clunky interface when a battle heats up and you're transfixed by the sight of interceptors and bombers darting around dueling ion cannons.
As I said before, there just aren't a lot of games like Homeworld. Few developers and publishers have been brave enough to tackle the real-time space combat genre over the past 10 to 15 years; and still fewer have done so with the panache of Relic, which later went on to develop Company of Heroes — arguably the best strategy game of the 2000s. There's a lot to love about Homeworld, and though Gearbox's update isn't perfect, its close enough to be worthwhile.
With luck, Homeworld Remastered Collection will be the start of something great. With space combat games on the rise, and a new prequel titled Homeworld: Shipbreakers due sometime in the near future, there's reason to hope that there will soon be more just like it. It remains relatively unique for now, but that hopefully won't be the case for much longer.
It's a real pleasure to play Homeworld Remastered Collection, especially given the rarity of real-time space strategy games, and Gearbox Software has done a great job of upgrading the audio and video. The gameplay in particular holds up very nicely, and proves that the original was well ahead of its time. Unfortunately, it's held back a bit by its clumsy interface, and formations are currently quite broken, which will hurt its standing with long-time fans. But all that said, it's hard not to love Homeworld Remastered Collection's striking and memorable space battles, which have very much stood the test of time.