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Sci-Fi: Spaceships RTS Games
This is the space fleet building genre, although on odd occasions something different and interesting will turn up.

Galaxy Andromeda (stillborn)
formerly Imperium Galactica III

Intense capital ship action with the works
Holy shitsu! Imperium Galactica has always been characterised by (excessive?) graphics and tons of special effects. Compared to its rather unsatisfying predecessor, version III has at least produced some mind boggling imagery, a sense of scale and graphic clarity that's amazing. Imperium Galactica II was a real time 4X turn based game translated into real time one - not an easy thing to do at the best of times. It felt a bit clumsy and weighed down by intrusive menus, gratuitous effects doing circus tricks and some rather ugly and blocky design work under it. (See also Hægemonia). Version III, by Hungarian developers Mithis Games, feels like a completely different game. Probably because it is - or rather, was: Galaxy Andromeda's development has been discontinued. Wait - it might be resurrected as Nexus: the Jupiter Incident! visuals are smooth and crisp, readable, atmospheric and grandiose. The giant space vessels look most splendiferous.

So far though, it looks mightily impressive and the final product (pushed forward for an early 2003 release) promises to be a colossal epic. You get to colonize stars systems, manage colonies, and customize whopping great warships with all kinds of juicy weapons and gadgets. The actual demo as a result is a bit incomprehensible for the uninitiated and there's a rather steep learning curve. You get dropped into the middle of a huge capital ship fight and have to work out the controls on the fly. It feels like Homeworld, but with a strong EVE-Online flavour.

There's a huge amount of control and detail associated with each ship. You could toggle between different types of weapons, shields, missiles, manoeuvres and targeting options. Trying to juggle a fleet of them require lots of pausing! The right weapon will be blocked or countered with the right force field, and I found ships blazing away at each other for what felt like an interminably long period of time before running out of effective ordinance. Like all full tilt sci-fi games, the weirdly named technologies aren't as obvious to understand as regular real world ones. Have fun.Back

Homeworld (1999)

Homeworld was the first truly three dimensional RTS game, ever. Set in outer space, you can deploy your space forces in any direction, up, down or sideways. Squadrons of tiny fighters duck and weave amongst hulking capital ships and frigates. The sense of atmosphere and ambient soundtrack, supporting an epic single player story render it a classic. The long exiled Kushans struggle to reach their homeworld, Hiigara, in the face of the fiendish Taiidani Republic and their allies.Back

Homeworld: Cataclysm (2001)

Cryogenically frozen, September 2003. Thawed out December 2003.
One particularly flu-ridden day saw the creation of the Homeworld: Cataclysm page. It never really went anywhere, except to add a startlingly red page in the middle of a profoundly blue Homeworld section. Cataclysm is pretty good, extending Homeworld's gameplay but at the expense of some of its atmosphere. The Hiigaran's Somtaaw faction accidentally unleash a monstrous infectious entity known as The Beast, and struggle to contain it. There's some beaut custom mods for it, though.Back

Homeworld2 (2003)

The big sequel to Homeworld, extending its gameplay features and (not quite) ignoring Cataclysm. The Hiigarans, happy and snug in their recently acquired Homeworld, are beset by the nomadic crusaders of the Vaygr, lead by the despotic leader Makaan. Astonishingly rich graphics and sound, a more strategic sense of play and a rapidly emerging collection of interesting mods are the order of the day. Its single player campaign wasn't anywhere near as good as the first one, alas.Back

Nexus: The Jupiter Incident (2004)

A big spaceship tactical strategy game that runs in a similar vein as Homeworld. Its Hungarian developers, Mithis, refer to it as a TFS, or Tactical Fleet Simulator. Nexus is a lot more detailed, getting right into the fiddly details and hardware that all capital ship fans salivate over. Weapons, engines, energy fields, you name, it covers it. Jumping in blind will confuse the casual gamer, which usually means there's a lot of depth and richness to learn on the inside if you're willing to invest some time and effort in it. Already there's a number of custom mods appearing on the scene. Nexus is the game that rose from the ashes of the abandoned Galaxy Andromeda and sports a sumptuously dark, baroque look. This graphically heavy look is typical of most space fleet genre games .Back

O.R.B. (2002)

A Carrier gets, um spectacularly disabled.

Published by Strategy First, O.R.B. (Off-World Resource Base) at first glance is a full 3D strategy space game that vaguely resembles Homeworld. After many years in development O.R.B. sets its missions between two survivors of an ancient galactic war in a single solar system. The two cultures, the warlike Malus and democratic Alyssa struggle for supremacy and finite resources by annexing the space between them. This is hardly the Homeworld replacement it was touted to be - more like a stopgap. This title has been under development for several years but very little of it seems to have been spent on some basic ship design. e.g. check out the spectacular (pardon my sarcasm) image of a carrier being disabled, left. If you're into rather impressive planetscape's where you can marshal fleets of tin matchboxes with headlamps you're in for a bit of a treat. The Malus's version of the actual Resource Base unit itself is little more than a primitive beveled box with an indistinct brown metal texture on it! Texturing is bland, indistinct and has no relation to scale. Space station windows "crawled" badly even with anti-aliasing on my graphics card cranked all the way up. While there are a couple of nice interface touches, automated resourcing and supply, some very beautiful backgrounds, lots of vapour trails, dogfights, beam weapons and other stuff, this all feels rather clunky and somewhat uninspired. I know I know, its about strategy and all that, but well... ah... [grimaces]

Actual unit AI can be twitchy and unreliable in the middle of a fight - and while you can assign "doctrines" to set behaviour there's no formation control. Ships won't necessarily make the smartest or most efficient moves and some battles turned out to be a frustrating case of pot luck more than anything else. I even had several ships ignore my commands and persist in chasing superior forces, winding up destroyed instead of safely retreated - very galling. This is compounded by the painful slowness of some units traveling across some very big maps, especially essential units like Freighters and Carriers that could up the pace a little if they could deliver resources or fighters in a more timely fashion. If the unit AI was more trustworthy then the long delays would work really well - this would be an RTS where you could finally take the time to think things through instead of running around like a headless chicken.

I found games could very quickly become annoying non-battles interspersed with very long wait times. O.R.B. does allow you to zoom out to take in the whole map, and much organising is down in this largely orthographic perspective. You can park ships inside bases and there's one or two other things that might tickle a strategist's interest but the single player mission plods and has no real surprises or sense of climax. Skirmish mode doesn't seem all that engaging, either. I had at least some reasonable expectations after the incredibly long gestation..Back

Outforce, The (2000)

Swedish developer Starbreeze's Outforce is probably the nearest thing to a Total Annihilation clone that I've seen. The Outforce is set in 3D outer space, but still uses a top down 2D perspective. While there's wonderful scrolling parallax with the colourful backgrounds and you can zoom right in and rotate the view around, this is strictly 2D with 3D units. So much so, you can build regular fences to keep out spacecraft! While Total Annihilation played around with land, sea, and air, the Outforce is all spacecraft and floating (i.e. static) structures, so comes across as being simpler. It plays with the wild visual style and exploding firecracker action of an old arcade shoot-'em'up. Units die faster than Space Invaders. While it doesn't offer that much new, it will keep you entertained.Back

Star Trek: Armada 2 (2001)

Star Trek: Armada2, developed by Mad Doc Software and published by Activision. For all you Star Trek fans, this is a Homeworld style RTS space game. The single player mission gives you three races to play with, but multiplayer gives you six: the clean cut Federation, the agro Klingons, the treacherous Romulans, the expansionist Cardassians, the only decent villains they ever had in the entire franchise - the Borg; and even Species 8472, the non-humanoid (non-humanoid? In Star Trek? wha--?! no funny foreheads? gasp! >faints<) aliens that gnaw on Borg drones' bones for kicks. There's about 100 ship types to play with, including some hero vessels, (one of which will almost certainly start with the letter E), various weapons and shields, directional damage, resource trading, and even different classes of nebulas to hide in, mine resources from or get cooked by. The screenshots look suspiciously 2D, but this plays in a 3D environment with 3D formations to go. Hm. It's so-so.Back

Sins of a Solar Empire (2006)

A real time strategy 4X game developed by Ironclad and distributed online by StarDock. Stardock is known for their Galactic Civilization series, while Sins is Ironclad's first ever title.

Work In Progress. MUST work on this entry.Back

Sword of the Stars (2006)

The debut effort by developers Kerberos Productions, this is best described as an "action 4X Strategy game" crossed with a bit of Homeworld. It uses a turn based strategy game for the big picture, resolving actual combat with an interactive, 3D environment. While controls are certainly cruder and simpler in the battles than in Homeworld, its still a worthy game. The overall style is fanboy comic book, and this title looks cheap and cheerful without actually feeling cheap and nasty.

There are only four (four?!) races, which is an extraordinarily small number for a 4X game! (But a smart move on the developers' part!) Nearly all the attention, upgrades, techs and detail are in the shipping and moving them around your 3D star map. Unlike many 4X games - there are only four classes of hull size (as distinct from say, ooh, the usual dozen) ranging from smallish to... big. Hull sizes seem to be about three times bigger with each jump. Weapons start off modest and a little clunky, and slowly evolve into keen instruments of destruction. The ship designer and production system is almost effortless. Its so simple to upgrade your shipping and not lose track of anything.

Planets are simply there to be colonised and to build ships. There's virtually no colony micromanagement: you establish them and simply wait for them to mature as the turns fly by. All you have to do is make sure your economy doesn't melt down and go deep into debt. Blow your budget too much and you'll lose ships and colonies through lack of funds. Established worlds can be fortified and defended to the point where they seem impregnable to anything other than a teched up, big scale invasion fleet. Even if you're on your last planet, it can take dozens of turns for an attacker to try and bludgeon you to extinction. The galactic economy is simple to manage, using a cute pie chart system; the lack of obsessive detail and the streamlined interface make this a welcome change to the turgid nightmares of something like Masters of Orion III.

Most of the strategy lurks in moving ships around the star lanes, and organising of your fleets. Fleet management is a snap, although it lacked one or two shortcuts that could have cut down the number of number of mouse clicks. But this is a quibble. Positions of fleets, their relative strengths, their state of obsolescence, fortifying stars on junctions, reinforcing choke points and supply lines, and simply timing the ETA of all your reinforcements is about 90% of this game. Its what MoO3's shipping, fleets and battles should have been. Its wonderfully free of clutter, and streamlined enough for you to be able to control everything by hand without getting lost in reams of data.

The real time battles themselves are no where near as deep as something like Homeworld, and even things like how many ships you can field on screen at once are regulated by researchable techs and other improvements. Early fights are very clumsy, until you can field ships with superior engines and agility, and produce weapons that shoot straight and bite hard. While most of the fighting takes place on an ecliptic, ships can and do fly over and under each other. It could probably do with a bit more polish, but its more than adequate for what's required.

Overall - its a great 4X game. Its just the thing to get into, without having to turn into a sociopathic obssessive. All the messy details have been optimised and tucked out of the way; the strategy of moving your ships and production around, combined with real time tactical play make this a fine little game. Its probably one of the best 4X games out. Ever.

Expansions:

Sword of the Stars: Born of Blood (2007)
Adds a fifth alien race, the Zuul, plus the usual extra bits of equipment and shipping. SotS makes a big selling point of only including sides to play that can offer something unique to the game.

Sword of the Stars: Collectors Edition (2007)
As you might have expected, this bundles the original and the first expansion in one package.

Sword of the Stars: A Murder of Crows (2008)
Adds a sixth race, the Morringi, plus the usual extra bits and pieces.Back


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Last modified Sat, Dec 6 2008 by Lindsay Fleay