The end of the world was nigh.
Gearbox is known for its raging successes (Borderlands) and its embarrassing failures (Aliens: Colonial Marines and Duke Nukem Forever). When THQ faltered and sold its IPs, Gearbox purchased Homeworld – deciding that they wanted to publish a new game. Wisely, Gearbox handed the intellectual rights over to developer Blackbird Interactive, a group populated by members of the original Homeworld development team. What resulted is a positively solid effort that brings no shame to the Homeworld name.
Homeworld, for those who are unfamiliar, was an RTS game for the PC, originally released in 1999. The new iteration is no different, focusing more on the micromanagement of individual units rather than building an economy (think Command and Conquer rather than Star Craft). Depending on your personal tastes, this is either the right strategy game for you – or the absolute worst. In this review, I will separate the biases that come with personal preferences of the RTS genre and give as factual a review as possible.
As I stated earlier, Gearbox made the wise move in allowing Blackbird Interactive to develop the reborn IP. Having team members from the original production crew shows in the final product. What you get in Homeworlds: Deserts of Kharak is a 13 mission solo campaign, a multiplayer mode, and a skirmish mode. Each mode delivers potential hours of gameplay as is common with most RTS.
In Kharak, the player views the story from the eyes of Rachel S’jet, chief science officer of the humans struggling to survive on the arid world of Kharak, about a hundred years before the events of the original game. Rachel’s brother and his crew have been lost in the deserts while in search of important relics. Rachel, under the command of the captain of the Capisis, search for both survivors and the relics. The campaign takes place over a series of 13 missions that each grow ever-so-slightly in difficulty or uniqueness until the final few missions. The idea of Kharak’s gameplay in the campaign reminded me a lot of the original StarCraft, particularly when I needed to defend the Kapisi for about ten minutes while the Gaalsien continued to send waves of units against me. But, again, the campaign doesn’t particularly become even remotely a challenge until the last few missions.
Outside of the campaign mode, Kharak offers both a multiplayer and skirmish mode. Essentially, these two are the same. They just divvy up the gameplay between human and computer opponents. The modes you can set for skirmishes included team battles, free-for-alls (for both of these, you can choose to eliminate all units or all command centers), and/or artifact retrievals (and then you can set how many artifacts must be obtained to win). Skirmish worked out well, as who doesn’t love teaming up against bots and conquering the map? The issue, however, was with multiplayer. I tried on numerous occasions to find an opponent in order to successfully complete this review, but I was unable to ever be matched. I waited for minutes in matchmaking as the game continuously expanded its search criteria. Unfortunately, I never found a group to play in ranked or unranked multiplayer. Even when I checked the public games list, I only ever saw one group of three players who abandoned the game before I could join.
Visuals in the game were pleasantly surprising, though. The art style of Homeworld: Deserts of Kharak was very similar to the film adaptation of Philip K. Dick’s A Scanner Darkly. In other words, it looks like the character models in the cinematics were shot with live actors and covered over in editing with comic book style filters. The end result is a cool combination of computer animation and live action comic-esque characters. The game itself ran fairly smoothly on my aging PC, and it also ran on ultra settings with few hiccups. That said, it plays extremely smoothly on medium and low settings. If you have a pretty solid PC, this game will be pretty. The desert world of Kharak has a lot of visuals to be seen.
Voice acting in Homeworld was all right. The majority of the characters sounded fine, if a bit uninspired. It was like every character was completely shell-shocked numb. I understand that Rachel’s brother went missing with his crew. So, that could be construed as devastating to her. But even in the heat of battle, characters like Rachel chime in sounding very monotone. It’s not bad by any stretch of the imagination. It’s just not very good, either.
The verdict? Homeworld: Deserts of Kharak offers a decent campaign that truly becomes interesting in the final missions. It is accessible to fans of the RTS genre. Those who have yet to play the original Homeworld can find a lot to enjoy here. With the skirmish option, the inactive multiplayer can be almost forgiven–if you have friends who own the title (and if you don’t, you surely could gift it to them!). With cool cinematics, potentially impressive in-game visuals, mediocre acting performances, and an interesting local but defunct online multiplayer, Homeworld: Deserts of Kharak falls short of ideal but lands in the successes of publisher Gearbox.