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Homeworld: Deserts of Kharak review: A classic resurrected

Hayden Dingman | Jan. 20, 2016
We go hands-on to test whether 2003 translates to 2016.

Deserts of Kharak retains this concept. Protect your units, because you’ll start each mission with whatever survived. No help is on the way. Sure, you can jump back to the main menu and start any mission with the Default Fleet if you’ve dug yourself into a hole, but playing the “right way” means you’re alone, a bastion of science and order crawling through canyons and skirting sand dunes. Self-sufficient—barely. Making what you need, when you need it—hopefully. Scavenging—when there’s time.

Your efforts are hindered by the Gaalsien, a race of people who live out in the desert and are determined to protect the Primary Anomaly from tampering. They’re set up like raiders or outlaws, and yet their hovercraft technology surpasses your own. They’re a formidable threat. And a mystery.

Homeworld: Deserts of Kharak

It’s a decent albeit predictable story, made even more so by the fact that this serves as a prequel to Homeworld. Any lore junkie knows where Deserts of Kharak is headed, so there are few surprises along the way. Still, the world of Kharak makes for a strong setting (at least by RTS standards).

As for the main question, “Can you set a Homeworld game on the surface of a planet?” I think so.

It’s in the small touches: The way your little dune buggies whirl around enemy troops, a deadly cloud of interweaving ships looking for an angle. The web of green and red lines that stretch out from your units after a move order. Or the unfettered scale of Kharak, your army rendered in miniscule amidst dunes that stretch to the horizon, broken only by the small plumes of dust that kick up from your wheels.

It moves like Homeworld, it sounds like Homeworld, and—even when you swap stars for sand—it looks like Homeworld. The game feels like Homeworld. Which is no small feat.

Homeworld: Deserts of Kharak

Deserts of Kharak even pays homage to six-direction movement, factoring terrain into combat. Taking the high ground bolsters your sight lines and allows you to do more damage. It’s not a perfect one-to-one substitution but does make for an interesting system, although I found it sometimes hard to position my troops where I wanted them—Homeworld’s always been better at control on a macro level. Deserts of Kharak kept that “feature” too.

Bottom line

I imagine the day Gearbox gave Blackbird Interactive permission to use the Homeworld name was triumphant, but also terrifying. Triumphant because the project involved a lot of the original team members and they got to resurrect their mothballed series. Terrifying because doing so meant making a successor to—seriously—one of the best strategy games ever made, and doing so after twelve years of rose-colored glasses.

 

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