Game Review - by James Allen
Ah, strategy games. The staple of the PC connoisseur, and still the bastion of computer gaming that hasn't been bastardized by the consoles. I like strategy games, so I look with great anticipation at Hegemonia (Latin for "Haegemonia"), a new 3D space strategy game developed by Digital Reality (responsible for Imperium Galactica II) and published by Dreamcatcher Interactive (responsible for The Legend of the Prophet and the Assassin; I'll never let them live that down). What could be better than a 3D space strategy game; there really haven't been many published save for Homeworld (well, maybe not that many GOOD ones published), so the genre is all but saturated. Let's dive right in to this promising game, shall we?
So, the colonists of the outer planets (namely Mars) are getting all pissed off at Earth (sounds like the US vs. England, eh?), and they decide to have a war. Lo and behold, along comes in a third alien species to spoil the fun (sounds like Warcraft III, eh?). Now, the Earth and Mars must unite to fight a common foe, and this is the basis for Hegemonia. Sounds good to me. In the game, there are two single player campaigns, one from the perspectives of both Earth and Mars. I didn't get a handle on how long each of these are going to be, though. There's also multiplayer, against both computer AI foes and real people from across the globe using Gamespy. There will be three different kinds of multiplayer games, classic skirmish, cooperative (like you see in some RPGs such as Neverwinter Nights), and objective-based. That should be enough to fill your life's voids that should be comprised of friends and exercise.
This is as good a place as any to discuss the solar system modeling in the game: it's pretty darn cool. In the press demo I got, the action takes place in our local solar system, although the final game will have around 35 to 40 systems, I'm assuming linked by wormholes (you eventually get to play in 10 at a time, like Conquest: Frontier Wars). All of the planets rotate, with moon orbiting around them, and all the planets orbiting (albeit slowly) around a central sun. That's really neat, and provides for a dynamic map, assuming the mission takes long enough. It's nice to finally be able to play a game in our own solar system, instead of far away in some fictional corner of the universe. There are some problems with scale (planets are too small and too close together), and the orbital patterns are circular and not oval, but they used artistic license to make the game playable in real time. Yes, features are good.
The sound sounds really good at this pre-beta stage, let me tell you. I love the background music, as it's the same quality and consistency that you'd find in any good space movie; it fits the atmosphere perfectly. The voice acting is excellent; the Earth commander you meet sounds a lot like Chekov from Star Trek. The weapon sounds, although basic, are very effective, with heaps of loud bass and crashes when blasts impact ships and the like. There is also a pleasant variety in the number of sounds, even in this early version of the game. There isn't much attention paid to sound these days, but it's nice to see a game feature it so prominently as in Hegemonia.
Hegemonia takes the pain of micromanagement found in some strategy game, eliminates it, and turns into a compelling 3D space game. There are a bunch of great ideas borrowed or adapted from other games that come to ahead in Hegemonia. Firstly, all ships are automatically added to groups of identical ships, so you won't have one or two ships all alone in some random corner of the galaxy. Also, when you produce ships, you make an entire fleet instead of one at a time. Each planet that you own or have colonized can dedicate its manpower to research or production. There are a staggering number of researchable improvements in the game, something that may overwhelm the beginner. You can research ship types, weapon improvements, and other fields. Your research points are fixed at the beginning of the scenario, so you must spend them wisely and have an overall plan in mind. There is a four-position queue for each planet, where you build ships or make planetary improvements like hanging gardens, turrets, or force fields. Your income is derived from taxation of your planets, mining of resources, or trade, and money is spent on production and upkeep.
Movement around the map is very easy, even with everything being in 3D. The overhead map is very useful, reminiscent of posters of the solar system seen in classrooms around America. All of the known universe is found here, and this is the easiest place to issue orders and watch the action unfold in 3D mode. You can tell each of your fleets engagement orders and also to target specific areas of the enemy; to disable but not destroy them, for instance. You can also spy on the enemy, gathering information on them to gauge your research and production paths. In another marriage of RPG to RTS, your units and leaders can gain experience through combat and carried over to subsequent missions, although the full potential of which was not seen in the demo. The gameplay in Hegemonia is pretty fun, and although not totally revolutionary, still provides for a solid RTS experience.
The graphics in Hegemonia are quite outstanding. Everything in the game looks really, really high quality. The planets are realistic (no doubt taking digital images of them and pasting them on), and city lights even appear during nighttime on the colonized nights, which is an unbelievable effect. The individual ships are highly detailed, and also have one feature that I enjoy quite a lot: each ship's engine trails are the same color as the side they belong to. I'm not quite sure why nobody thought of this earlier in the space strategy genre: since most of the ships are black or gray, it's very hard to see approaching ships against the general blackness of space, except in Hegemonia, as you can plainly see the trails and immediately identify the owner of the craft. Asteroid belts appear stupendous: a collection of rotating rocks and dust is an astonishing sight to see. The empty void of space is empty no longer in Hegemonia, as the rest of the universe is populated with stars, galaxies, and other swirls and streaks. Apparently, Hegemonia can cruise even on slow computers, which is yet another feather in the cap of the game. Truly outstanding art is present in Hegemonia.
I had never heard of this game before I got the press preview in the mail (along with a free hat...bribery works wonders), but I wish I had. Hegemonia looks like a really great 3D space real time strategy game. The graphics are absolutely amazing, and outstanding sound and capable features and gameplay don't hurt either. Keep a look out for this game in the future; it's planned release is mid-November, 2002.