These days, Mac gamers into real-time strategy have a decent field of titles to choose from. But, if you prefer your real-time conflict to take place not on ancient battlefields or alien worlds, but in the dark reaches of outer space, well, the choices are more limited. You could probably count them on one hand, even if you were missing a few fingers. Soon, however, an eagerly anticipated title will arrive to help fill this void: Homeworld 2.
Homeworld 2 is, clearly, the sequel to the popular space RTS game developed by Relic Entertainment, Homeworld. While the original title never (officially) made it to the Mac, its beefed-up successor soon will, thanks to Aspyr Media. As the game does follow a storyline, this may leave some gamers a little up in the air as to what’s going on in the game, so perhaps a brief recap is in order: in Homeworld, a race called the Hiigarans was exiled to a desert planet thousands of years ago. They discovered evidence of their lost home planet and decided to reclaim it. How? By using some mysterious buried hyperdrive technology they’d discovered, of course. So our Hiigaran friends (with the player’s help) build a fleet of ships and set out across the galaxy. By the end of the game, they’ve reached the world of their origin and set up housekeeping. In Homeworld 2, the Hiigarans are once again tossed into the gulfs of interstellar space while trying to defend themselves from the evil, nomadic Vaygr, thought by some to be emissaries of an angry god.
To tell the truth, though, very little of that is going to matter to you as you struggle to build a fleet and take on the Vaygr forces arrayed against you. This is a game that demands 110% of your attention -- there is almost always something going on that begs a reaction from you, usually involving enemy ships dropping out of hyperspace and into your lap like a nest of angry wasps.
All the RTS basics are present in Homeworld 2: a home base (mothership in this case), resource collector units (which gather raw materials for your fleet, usually from convenient asteroid fields), and dozens of fighting and support craft, ranging from tiny little interceptors to massive capital ships. Each ship type has its own uses, its own strengths and weaknesses, and part of playing the game well involves learning how and when to use these ships. The aforementioned interceptor squadrons, for example, are useful for breaking up formations of enemy ships of similar size; their relatively humble firepower makes them useless against anything much bigger than themselves. Bombers, though similar in size and speed capabilities, pack more of a punch offensively, and can gang up on larger ships to destroy them. As with other RTS games, you can research new technologies to give your fleet more powerful weapons and abilities.
Where Homeworld 2 really stands out from the RTS pack is in its setting -- i.e., in outer space. There are no beachheads to assault, no chokepoints to master, no high ground to defend. The battlefield exists in three dimensions, all around you. In a sense this is liberating, as you are free to move your ships around wherever you please without being hindered by a landscape. On the other hand, however, it’s more dangerous; the enemy can show up anywhere, above, below, or behind you.
Moving your fleet around and issuing orders is fairly intuitive. Instructions may be given either in a close-up, tactical view, or in a longer-range, strategic perspective. The camera view may be rotated a full 360 degrees with the mouse, and panned around with the keyboard. Pop-up menus make it easy to issue orders in the heat of battle, and construction and technological research is managed through pop-up windows on the right side of the screen. Once you’ve given your orders, your ships are generally fairly intelligent about carrying them out. The small ships will maneuver around their targets in swooping dogfights that look almost choreographed; the bigger ones will park themselves and let their massive armament do the talking. If they emerge victorious, they’ll either pick another nearby target appropriate to their capabilities, or stand down, depending on your initial instructions.