From the boot screen I was desperately hoping this game would take me back to my Command and Conquer days of the 1990s. I had skipped hours of Geology and 4th year Spanish mining Tiberian and I was looking forward to placing my GDI looking forces. Never having played a Homeworld game, I knew they were a reliable RTS series earning enough following to warrant a Remastered version of their first game. But I was hesitant seeing the screenshots. During every mission the land remains the same, sand everywhere. Deserts of Kharak really lives up to its name. I was waiting for a sandworm to jut out like an Alien emerging from Kane’s chest. If you are looking for diversity in your environments this game is not for you. What makes the game interesting is how Gearbox uses the height of sand dunes to influence your strategy. Some units can’t fire over larger dunes and as Sun Ztu taught us as well as a younger Obi Won Kenobi the high ground is always better. Outposts dot the desert landscape, according to the map at least, and you visit several on your continuing journey to find the Jaraci Object a mineral that is supposed to change the planet. Several automated robots roam around the stations and it’s interesting to see how the bases have been constructed in the middle of nowhere. Controls are pretty standard for an RTS, and if you’ve played one in the last decade you will feel right at home rotating the camera and selecting multiple units, but there is a small tutorial if you aren’t up to speed. The minimalist approach to the menu and pause screen was most inviting.
We learn that the world is at war and there is a resource in the planet that could help save it. The hero rover seems snatched directly from Commander Shepard in Mass Effect, and the first cutscene’s art style looks a bit like Borderlands which is also a Gearbox property. Over the course of several missions you see your Command Carrier directed by Science Commander Rachel S’jet enter into Gaalsian territory headed for the mysterious object. The first time meeting the Gaalsians via video call/broadcast you can taste the C&C Red Alert influence. The aircraft carrier on treads looking Command Carrier is a bit derivative but I liked it, especially when the on-board rockets and guns opened up protecting my smaller vehicles. I could see how it would easily get stuck in the large sand dunes out in the desert, but a little exaggeration is expected in Sci-fi.
I loved the camera perspective, especially when inside the base seeing all of the smaller robots moving around collecting who knows what, but I deemed everything to be a bit too tiny. Once I got into battle though, my perception changed. I needed to zoom out further and there wasn’t an option except to go to the scanner view, which was a bit too wide. The super-wide view felt like the zoom out on games like Anomoly where you could control units even as little dots. It works in most cases but like most good RTS’s my left hand was on the arrow keys while my right was on the mouse in order to keep up with my units.
Your missions boil down to balancing fighting, building units, repairing and resource collecting. In the first round I already felt overwhelmed by tiny continuously attacking units. The Powerful Rail Gun Tanks always attacking my veteran units which I try to horde like the last drop of syrup on a dry pancake. Losing a piece of myself with each of their tiny deaths. Once you find out that those units move with you from mission to mission, their loss is even more substantial. The intensity continued over to the later missions with vehicles seeming to pop over the dunes at inopportune moments and Sand Storms that destroy even the quickest units. Your Command Center can spit out new units but at the same time you are offered new engineering upgrades that can make the difference in a heated battle. What do you do with your limited resource: crank out two new battle tanks or upgrade your single unit with armor plating? And what’s better: 2 Strike Fighters that can fly over the battlefield at great speeds or a harvester to collect the remaining deposits. I always go with the Strike Fighter.
I had to double check my graphics option half way through the second mission, they were all set to ultra, however the GFX were not up to my normal 4K standards. The maps and smaller text seemed jagged and pixelated. Not to mention the cut scenes looked like upresed 480p. Unit detail however, was pretty realistic including the smaller dune buggy like units taking flight over larger dunes. But lighting effects on those units broke up under closer inspection. Zooming in doesn’t show much more than units and empty sand, lots of it. I kept the perspective zoomed out to keep the GFX looking their best, and because I want to feel like God.
A new RTS player should feel comfortable picking up this gameplay. Without having to build buildings and dealing with distant resources helps to keep the number of keyboard presses to a minimum. Hitting the space bar to zoom out to the sensor mode definitely allows a player to ease into the game. I would recommend a beefier tutorial explaining the different units but I didn’t feel there were too many to differentiate between. They did emphasize numerous times how dune height plays an important role in line of site and I personally needed that. I’ve seen large trees become invisible in other RTS games, it was nice to see the environment play a factor in unit placement.
I fell in love with Rachel S’jet and her story. The narrative was light and reduced to nothing but text and photo, but if felt real enough and just right for a fast paced RTS. I also loved my Command Center. Placing it on wheels and having the ability to collect resources and create craft on the move was unique. Whatever you do, don’t link your Command Center with your attack group, sometimes they have to split up. By linking them together the slow lumbering carrier will take its own route leading into enemy territory. On missions where I had to separate my main force from my base, I found myself hitting the F1 button to cycle back to my Command Center in order to do an update or protect it from incoming units. I desperately looked forward to lulls in fighting to have time to repair badly damaged vehicles and check my resources which deplete quickly.
Gearing up to attack the main enemy base or finish off the remaining units always makes me nervous. I save about 4 or 5 times before reaching the enemy. Every unit has to be just so, or I don’t feel confident enough in my attack. I don’t want to lose a single man, especially those that level up in the heat of battle. At first, I wanted my units to move in a single file line to hide their number but finding no Imperials on the planet I allowed the AI to spread out units evenly. It was fun to watch them lumber into place at varying speeds, feeling more lifelike. My carrier, the Kapisi, held its own while they attacked, having put all of my command points towards weapons, instead of shields or repair which is a waste. If it spawned grave markers I would have placed one down for every one of my brave fighters. They were a tough group of misfits; they will be missed.