Last year, Relic and Sierra put out what would become
one of the most interesting games of 1999. From a visual
standpoint, the game was a stunner, graphically portraying the
vastness of space while simultaneously creating scaled battles in
all their glory. With its hauntingly fitting soundtrack and worldly
visuals, it created a great environment and jolted the typical real
time strategy genre. From a strategic aspect, it didn't overly
expand, but it showed how different a game could feel, by making
an entirely 3D game that wasn't bound to the typical overhead
ground based RTS's of the past.
Relic has passed their torch off to Barking Dog to create
Cataclysm. This borderline sequel/expansion creates an entirely
different story, one that feels much more coherent and interesting
than the original. Much credit needs to go to Barking Dog for not
just making a plain expansion pack adding a weak story and a few
new ships. They went all out creating an entirely new scenario
with entirely new ships (at least for you, many of your enemies use
leftovers from HW).
Taking place shortly after the end of the original
Homeworld, and given command of a sect of your people from
your new homeworld of Hiigara, you enter into Cataclysm. A
mining ship forms your command center as you roam through
space processing resources to assist you in your actions against
the other sects. Happening upon a piece of space debris, you
unwittingly unleash a biomechanical race on to your people.
Pushed to the wall by this new menace, you will also be under
constant attack from space pirates and the Imperial loyalists bent
on retaking Hiigara.
Earlier I said it was a borderline expansion/sequel. It's
hard to really place this as either one. It's standalone, so you don't
need the original Homeworld, and it has just as many missions as
the original (YES Homeworld had 2 campaigns, but both sides had
the same missions). While the game engine remains the same,
much work has been done to improve the interface and update the
graphics. The interface has gotten a significant level of refinement.
It's been set up with a proper menu system accessible through a
right mouse click and much of the visual clutter has been removed
in favor of a more open screen. Homeworld itself was a visual
masterpiece, but Cataclysm seems to improve much of what was
seen in Homeworld. The texturing and modeling seems to be more
detailed and the new units are all extremely well done. The pilot
view that was added to later patches of Homeworld is also
included in Cataclysm for all of you that might have missed that
nice, though pretty much useless, view.
The soundtrack once again helps to create the desolate
emptiness of space, but it just isn't up to par with the original. They
tried to make it a little harder to encompass the battles, but I liked
the worldly sound of the first game. It just put you in the proper
mood for the game. There's just something missing in Cataclysm.
It's not bad, it's just not up to par.
Changes to the gameplay have been somewhat
dramatic. It gives it more of a realistic appeal. There is a better
upgrade system in Cataclysm. Instead of getting more and more
unit types, you get upgrades to existing units, from better armor, to
better guns, to special abilities. Completion of research doesn't
automatically upgrade your existing ships, so they need to be sent
back for upgrading. This just adds more levels of complexity to the
game. One of my biggest gripes about HW was the lack of
complexity. You just build and go, research this to get that, build
bigger stuff. It's not particularly complicated. There are some
limitations in Cataclysm, with the primary being the introduction of
support units. You're limited on how many ships you can have.
Each ship requires a certain amount of units and once you run out
of units, you can't build any more ships. It's a little bit better than
the original with its ship type limitations, but it seems like Barking
Dog made the maximum amount of support units a little too low.
At max I only had a small fleet of large ships consisting of two
dreadnaughts, two destroyers, and eight frigates, plus a handful of
fighters. That just seems a little too small, although your ships are
far more powerful than most everything the enemy throws at you.
They just throw it at you in far greater numbers. A fog of war
system was also added to Cataclysm, taking away the ease of
knowing where your enemy always is. A great new feature is the
introduction of a time compress option. How many RTS games
have come out before with one of these? None that I can think of.
Just think of how fast you could have gotten through some of those
Warcraft missions if you could crank up the time and get your
grunt rushes over with. Another major addition is a waypoint
system. Waypoints are very handy in an RTS and being that this
one is on all three axes, the introduction of a waypoint system
makes navigating a walk in the park. The waypoint system is even
advanced enough to be used for patrolling a path and then
returning and starting over, making recon sweeps simple and
easy. Another interesting feature is the addition of difficulty levels
and the ability to change the difficulty during the campaign. I had
to turn the difficulty down after I hit the seventh mission (I'm still
trying to come up with a strategy that works decently on this
mission). It's very difficult on the Normal settings, but not
impossible. I didn't try anything higher than normal because it's
hard enough as it is. The differences between difficulty levels
pertain to the amount of resources units cost as well as how good
and how many the enemy is.
Research has also been more clearly defined. Instead of
science ships that can research anything, you now have defined
modules, each having its own research tree. It makes researching
a little more even, since you can't as easily focus researching into
one area. Research ranges from new units to unit upgrades to
game advancement knowledge.
The new biomechanical enemy makes for a great story,
although it can easily be thought of as a Borg rip-off, with its
"infection" of ships and converting the crews into parts of the ship.
An ancient evil of far greater power against you the lowly mining
peon and your quest to find a way to overcome is somewhat of an
overused plot base. Cataclysm has the same basic plot as most
other games, but with way better implementation.
The new ship designs make the game a bit different
from the original. Homeworld really had a lack of special ships,
most of them being various sizes of gun platforms. While
Cataclysm has its share of straight run and gun ships, its well
mixed with specialty items as well as giving some of the regular
ships special features. One of the new special ships is the Leech
class. These ships are undetectable by sensors and stick to the
sides of ships and slowly damage them over time, a nifty little ship
for all you stealthy miscreants. Another new ship is the mimic. It
creates a holographic image and can pass itself off as an enemy
ship or even an asteroid. These make for good spy ships as well as
its improved kamikaze attack. The Sentinel class adds the ability
to surround your ships with a force field for an added defensive
improvement. Other ships include the Hive Frigate, a vastly
improved Drone Frigate, the Multi-beam Frigate, a vastly improved
Ion Cannon frigate, and larger capital ships that once again are
The multiplayer aspects left me somewhat disappointed.
There really aren't any new features here, but the new multiplayer
maps are quite good. I don't really like how you can only play with
the new unit types. If you add computer players into the game,
they will play as the Beast, pirates, or the Imperials, but you
yourself can't play them. There also isn't any way to play with
original Homeworld games either.
The improvements to the game are just phenomenal. It's
very hard to take an already impressive game and improve it, but
Barking Dog has done a superb job of taking Homeworld further. I
am very impressed by this pseudo-expansion pack just due to how
much the game itself has been improved. I thought Homeworld
was an excellent game, but the game play was a little slow at
times. The story in Cataclysm helps make the game more
interesting. There's very little to criticize here and if you liked
Homeworld, you'll eat Cataclysm right up. The in-game cutscenes,
once again, show events unfolding while you're constantly
receiving new information on what tasks you need to complete
and how to do it. Offering a story with small amounts of what makes a
story good, from plot twists to suspenseful moments to the final
climatic battle of biblical proportions, Cataclysm delivers fully.