Homeworld: Deserts of Kharak - Review

Author: Claudio Chianese
Date: 2020-07-30 16:25:15
Do you know the magnificent sects? A western classic. And also a declared remake of Kurosawa's The Seven Samurai, which was set in a completely different era and a completely different place. But somehow it was understood that the film was that. Here, Deserts of Kharak is Homeworld taken by weight and transported from space to earth, from cosmic dust to desert sand. If you have played Homeworld, especially the remastered edition, which simplified the traditional micromanagement a little, you know exactly what to expect. That is, an RTS with a limited aspect of resource management, no structure to be built, armies that are preserved between one mission and another, and a large and nice mobile base bristling with turrets that functions both as a fortress and as a factory.

In short, a game that wants to keep faith with tradition. But can the transplant be said to be successful? Let's say yes, at least 80%, which is the final vote. There are shortcomings, but Desert of Kharak is a fun game, very accessible, with a campaign made as it should be. First of all, for fans of "video game trivia", it must be said that Deserts is a sort of rebranding of a product that Blackbird already had in the pipeline, namely Hardware: Shipbreakers, a title that re-proposed some Homeworld mechanics. When it became possible to grab the license, the developers didn't pass it up and renamed the game.

And they took the opportunity to tell the past of the saga: a minimalist story, which basically does not differ much from the canons of the genre (someone said Battlestar Galactica?), But is that rather pleasant to listen, which is rare for an RTS . There is drama and there is a sense of the struggle against the elements and against adverse forces. The interlude scenes, in particular, have style to sell.

Kharak is, as the title suggests, a desert planet, and it is also the scene of the war between the Kushans and the Gaalsien. While the two factions deal with them in the dunes, a mysterious wreck is discovered in the deepest desert and a scientific-military expedition is sent to retrieve it. The wreck is precisely the catalyst that will lead to the discovery of the sidereal journey, and therefore to the destruction of the planet by a hostile empire: the beginning of Homeworld, in short.

A story told during thirteen single player missions, which are also the heart of the experience. And, let's face it, they leave quickly. Not because they are badly made: in fact, there is a fair variety of situations and the progression keeps you glued to the screen. But, however good the sauce is, 50 grams of pasta always 50 grams remain. At the center of all missions is the colossal military vehicle, or carrier, which replaces the mother ship of Homeworld and plays the same role.

It produces units, upgrades them, and when needed turns into an artillery platform. Speaking of units, nothing striking: there are light armored cars, tanks, tanks with a railgun, a few planes, large land cruisers that also function as resource collection centers ... they are not many and they are not surprising, but they do their profession with dignity. Moreover, Deserts is not one of those RTS with the heroes, Warcraft style: decidedly moved to the front of the macro-management, the Blackbird title makes simultaneous combat between groups of units its workhorse.

And it is a great workhorse: the clashes, even when viewed at the maximum zoom level, are vivid, the light vehicles sprint around the carts, which instead are arranged in compact lines of fire. The effects of the blows on the sand, the smoke and the explosions are splendid, among the best that you remember in an RTS. They return a meaning, difficult to describe in words, of density and depth. The models are not particularly realistic, but perhaps it is a stylistic choice in order to get closer to the somewhat "blocky" look of Homeworld: effects and environments, however, are enough to make Deserts an aesthetic jewel.

I'm not someone who lets himself be seduced by graphics, but you have to give Caesar what is Caesar's: Blackbird has managed to do excellent things with an engine not even that impressive, of its own. The reasoned confusion of the fighting, with lasers flashing in the swarm of assault vehicles, is truly a tribute to the genre's inherent spectacle.

As I said, there is no particular emphasis on micro-management. In fact, the level of control is very limited. There are no real formations: the different vehicles behave slightly differently on the field and adopt specific battle orders, but they do so without direct player intervention. Instead, some activable skills appear (a momentary boost at speed, smoke screens ...) which, however, do not require particular attention. This does not mean that individual units are irrelevant: on the contrary, they are crucial. Every single destroyed vehicle is a vehicle that will not participate in the next missions. Except that, to safeguard them, we have to resort to the overview, carefully choosing the place of the clash and the correct mix of forces to counteract the opposing ones.

The place is particularly important. Kharak is a desert, but it is not a surfboard. There are dunes and hollows that can be used to interfere with firing lines and set up ambushes, and generally occupying the best ground at the start of the fight is quite useful. This is not the third dimension of Homeworld (which, let's face it, was also quite annoying to manage) but it is still an additional tactical element.

Now, let's clarify a point. I don't think simplification and "stupidity" rhymes. It can happen, but it is not mandatory. It is more than good when certain functions are automated, when some management detail is missing, as long as there is room to develop a wide-ranging game strategy. However, by often discussing with other fans, I realize that this can be disappointing for those who appreciate the styles of the past. So "be careful", as they say in Naples: Deserts is a game that does not go into too much depth. Not at all stupid, for heaven's sake, but simple enough.

And, to tell the truth, it is also easy. AI defends itself thanks to mission scripting, but left to its own devices it does not go much beyond the mass attack. At medium difficulty level, just play with a little forethought to march victorious to the end. Therefore, I would advise veterans to shoot the difficulty to the maximum, so as to have a discreet but still rather relaxed challenge on the hands.

On the longevity front, it will be necessary to see how the online community develops. But let's face it: the emphasis isn't there. There are only five skirmish maps, the two factions are quite similar, and just a couple of multiplayer modes, including one centered around artifacts to be retrieved around the map, reminiscent of the Age-style "relic victory" of Empires. All for up to six players.

I played Homeworld: Deserts of Kharak thanks to a Steam code kindly provided by the developers, completing the campaign in about ten hours and trying the skirmish mode. On a PC equipped with R9 290, some moments of lag occur, at the maximum of details and with many units on the screen, but, overall, nothing serious.