Homeworld: Deserts of Kharak ReviewPrice:
Deserts of Kharak has seen a fascinating journey to release. The game began life as independent project Hardware: Shipbreakers, an action RTS developed by Blackbird Interactive. Last year, it re-emerging as Homeworld: Shipbreakers after Gearbox assumed the role of publisher and handed Blackbird right to use the Homeworld license. A few months later it assumed its final form Homeworld: Deserts of Kharak, the official, planetary based prequel to the classic RTS.
The resulting game is equally intriguing. Deserts of Kharak is undoubtedly a worthy precursor to Homeworld, sporting a beautifully structured campaign that blends laconic, foreboding storytelling with a series of dramatic and nail-bitingly tense missions. Yet I also worry that the transition from spiritual successor to canonical prequel has come at a cost; that some of the ideas that were central to Shipbreakers have been reduced in favour of embracing the structure of Homeworld.
Deserts of Kharak focuses on the search for the mysterious artefact that eventually becomes the Mothership in the first Homeworld, known to the people of Kharak as the Primary Anomaly. The planet is dying. The desert spreads across its surface, suffocating life, and civilisation breaks down into warring factions. One such faction, the Northern Coalition, dispatches an expedition to locate the artefact site, in the belief that it holds the key to saving Kharak. So commences a great trek across the parched planet, one which brings down upon the Coalition the ire of the Gaalsian, who view the Coalition's scavenging of shipwrecks as heretical (despite plundering those same resources themselves).
Split into 14 tightly paced missions, the campaign takes the essential structure and systems of Homeworld, and transposes them into a terrestrial setting. The menu, UI, tactical map and even voice-acting all strongly evoke Relic's spacefaring masterpiece. Each mission is carefully designed around a specific tactical challenge, such as defending a series of dispersed wreck sites, or assaulting a fortified enemy base. Also like Homeworld, the games likes to keep you on your toes, rarely giving you much space to breathe and regularly forcing you to deal with multiple problems at a time.
At the centre of the expedition is the land-carrier Kapisi. A giant military base on tank tracks, the Kapisi is Kharak's version of the Mothership. It's your base of operations, producing all smaller units, and researching new ones, but can also enter battle itself although it is slow-moving and vulnerable to a dedicated assault.
Smaller units are based upon their spacefaring equivalents too. Salvaging units are slow and largely defenceless, gobbling up resources using a particle beam. They're best accompanied by a support cruiser, which enables your little robo-scavengers to drop off resources quickly while providing some defence against small skirmishes. Light assault Vehicles, meanwhile, form the basic building blocks of your mechanised army. Essentially dune-buggies with mounted machine-guns, they're cheap, quick to produce, and useful for swarming enemy positions, although they won't last long in protracted combat.