Teaching an old classic new tricks.
Like Homeworld before it, Cataclysm (a standalone expansion) manages to launch you into the infinite regions of space, smack dab in the middle of a first-rate science fiction saga. There are nebulae, asteroid fields, planets, stars, debris, and of course, hordes of enemy ships bent on blowing you to hell and back. And every element – the story, the ships, the interface, the effects, and the wonderfully surreal and atmospheric music – blends together to suck you in like a black hole.
Cataclysm is set some 15 years after you led your people to your lost home planet of Hiigara in Homeworld. Though you’ve reached your goal, things are far from peaceful. Those dastardly Imperialist Taiidani and their Turanic Raider pals are still making life tough for the new Hiigarans. You find yourself on a lowly mining vessel as the leader of the Hiigaran Kiith (sect) called the Somtaaw. The discovery of a mysterious alien probe with disturbing Borg-like qualities kicks off a series of events that put you directly in the path of a murderous new alien force and Hiigara’s – if not the universe’s – destruction.
The story is captivating, even if it borrows heavily from such sci-fi staples as Battlestar Galactica, and especially Star Trek. Known as “The Beast,” Hiigara’s new principal antagonist has many things in common with the Borg — and that’s hella bad news for the Hiigarans. Without giving too much away, think “assimilation” and “collective.”
While technically not an add-on, Cataclysm has all the features of an add-on. You get 18 new types of ships to command, as well as 25 new technologies, an all-new 17-mission single player campaign, and of course a variety of subtle improvements to the game interface. However, the inclusion of the original Homeworld game would have been a nice bonus for the many gamers that missed out on it the first round.
Graphically, Cataclysm is ahead of other strategy titles released in the same timeframe. The textures are rich, and the pyrotechnics and weapon effects are the RTS equivalent to Industrial Light and Magic’s work in the theaters. You have unparalleled control over your view, as you can pan the camera 360 degrees and zoom in and out for that perfect perspective of the action going on anywhere in a given mission. When two big fleets go at it, it’s as if you’re in the climatic scene of Return of the Jedi.
If you’ve not played Homeworld and are used to RTS games taking place on solid Earth, get ready to forget most of what you’ve learned. Gameplay essentially revolves around your command ship, which you must protect at all costs while collecting resources, researching new technologies, and building up your fleet. This time, your command ship takes the more traditional form of a large mining vessel, which can be moved and upgraded with a variety of support modules, as opposed to the more static, boomerang-shaped Homeworld Mothership.
The missions themselves feature a steady mix of exploration, search-and-destroy, salvage, capture, and escort goals. Each mission reveals a bit more of the plot, and each typically features a myriad of tasks to complete. Some of these objectives are critical to advancing to the next mission, others are merely a good idea to do if you want to advance the tech tree and make your life easier down the road.
Homeworld vets should be pleased with the gameplay tweaks Cataclysm brings to the table. Fog of war is now implemented, meaning you’ll only be able to “see” into space as far as your ship’s sensors can reach. In Homeworld, you had to jump back into the game to each individual unit or unit group to do this, which was time-consuming. A time-acceleration feature has been added, cutting down on the boredom of those long treks from Point A to Point B. And slipgates now allow you to “jump” from Point A to Point B within a mission, the catch being you won’t know where Point B is until you make the jump.
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In addition to gas clouds, asteroids, and general space debris, there’s a new resource to gather (and fight over in multiplayer) — crystals, which are more dense than any other resource but are extremely volatile and difficult to harvest. In the “nice touch” category, you can customize the color of your fleet and take screenshots, which will be used as background wallpaper when you load a multiplayer game.
Of the 18 new ships, perhaps the coolest is the Somtaaw “Leech,” which as its name suggests is very small — so small, in fact, that it escapes sensor detection — and is able to latch onto the hulls of capital ships. Once fastened on, a group of Leeches can be used to spy on an enemy fleet, help your command vessel target enemy vessels from long range, and to “leech” resources from the enemy ship’s hull and return them to your command ship. New technology ranges from The Beast Infection Vaccine to Cloaking to the awesome Siege Cannon Weapon.
If it sounds like I really enjoyed Cataclysm, that’s because I did, and for good reason – it’s truly a great game on its own and a fantastic addition to an already addictive gaming formula. Every detail, from story to gameplay mechanics, the manual and cinematic design, have been well thought out and implemented, making for a well-rounded strategic romp in space.
System Requirements: Pentium II 233 MHz, 32 MB RAM, 250 MB HDD, Win98