As a brief disclaimer, I do not play all that many RTS games (the exceptions being the ubiquitous Age of Kings/Conquerors and Starcraft) favoring instead more traditional strategy games. Consequently, I did not play the original Homeworld entry, and will focus solely on the second installment.
Homeworld: Cataclysm (hereafter, H:C) has a rich storyline, well set out by the extensive manual. The focus of the game is the single player campaign, of which there is unfortunately only one. As a relatively minor member of a race attempting to rebuild their homeworld (the arrival at said homeworld being the basis for the first game), you begin the game in command of a mining ship with minimal resources. As the storyline builds, you gradually upgrade your mining ship and command larger and larger forces.
Gameplay takes place in a fully rendered, true-3D section of space. You may either view the action in the standard view (in all its graphical splendor) or from the strategic view, which gives you a utilitarian view of all the action, zoomed out without the graphical detail. The graphics in the standard view are outstanding to say the least. The animation is smooth, the mapping is detailed, and the backgrounds are stunning. Graphically, H:C is in a league by itself.
H:C is a fairly complex game, given that it is actually played in three dimensions. Luckily, there is a thorough tutorial that will carry you through every aspect of basic gameplay. As a newcomer to the system, the tutorial certainly helped me get a handle on maneuvering in a three dimensional environment and getting the camera focused on the proper location. The tutorial also gives you a fair degree of practice using the movement system, which takes some practice before you are proficient with it.
The campaign, which is the real focus of game, has a number of features that will endear it to fans of more traditional strategy games. Since you build your forces from one mission to another, your performance in one mission has a direct bearing on the following one. While this doesn’t matter much on the easier settings, it can make a huge difference on the harder ones, although I was never in a hopeless position at the start of a mission. Since units accumulate experience, it continuity allows you to really focus on developing individual units and gives you an incentive not to through them away. Also endearing to strategy gamers is the ability to give orders and examine the map while the game is paused. This can make all the difference in a larger battle in which you have forces fighting in three or four places at once.
The game does have several flaws however. Given the scope of the playing area, it is frequently impossible to issue meaningful commands to units in the standard view – even zoomed out, it simply takes in too little area. I found myself generally issuing all my orders in the strategic view, going to standard view to observe the action and check the status of my units, and then going back to the strategic view to observe the situation. While this method of playing doesn’t distract from the entertainment value of H:C, it does take the focus away from one of the game’s strongest points, the graphics.
Another drawback is that the total number of supply units you possess, rather than the resources you have available to construct ships, effectively limits the size of your force. Consequently, I almost universally had far more RU’s (resource units) than I had any use for, and often not enough ships. It is a bit disconcerting to have to scrap a unit that has been with you a while simply to build a new unit that you have just developed the technology to produce. While you can increase your total number of SU’s (support units) to allow you to command more units later in the game, it can be a real drag early on.
Also on the negative side, there is only one single player campaign. While it is a great one, it does leave you looking for more. H:C would also benefit from a series of stand-alone scenarios.
Overall, Homeworld: Cataclysm is an outstanding game that belongs on the desk of both the RTS fan and the strategy gamer. It earns 4 out of 5 GiN Gems for drawing turn-based strategy gamers out of their lairs for an interesting RTS experience.