Halcyon 6: Starbase Commander
Massive Damage Inc.
4X science fiction games have been around for longer than most people think. 1993’s Master of Orion was the defining game for the entire 4X genre (explore, expand, exploit, & exterminate), while Master of Orion 2 was arguably the best 4X game ever made. Ever since those days, gaming developers have tried to recreate that same magic that we enjoyed in our younger years of gaming. That sense that we were at first all alone in a cold, cold universe, only to branch out from your sole starting planet and realize that there were other alien species—some benevolent, and some not so nice.
And who can forget those giddy feelings that we experienced after we’d won our first epic space battle? Or, sat back and gazed at our burgeoning empire and imagined that the fate of your system planet’s populations relied solely on you in order to survive?
Things didn’t look too good for the 4X genre for some time. But then, along came a little indie game called Sins of a Solar Empire (Stardock Games), which stirred up a bunch of interest in the genre once again. Since then, we’ve seen the fading genre reawaken, and have been able to enjoy all sorts of excellent 4X titles. From the fantastic, turn-based Galactic Civilizations series (again StarDock) to the real time modern masterpiece, Stellaris (Paradox Development Studios), the 4X playing field seems to be getting ever more crowded each year.
It was only a matter of time, in our current retro-revivalist frenzied times, that the gaming community would be treated to a low-fi space strategy game. Massive Damage Inc. had the brilliant idea of creating a 4X game that harkens back to the classic days of yore. Its pixilated graphics go a long way in conveying the sense that you’re playing a game from the early 90s. But does it have enough interesting and unique content to not only stand on its own, but also make a mark for itself?
The main backstory for Halcyon 6 revolves around a mysterious precursor artifact that humanity one day stumbled across. After partially learning how to control the device, they began to harness its power by building an entire starbase around it. Before they can get far with their efforts, however, a savage, warlike race known as the Chuul show up and start attacking the puny humans. The beginning of the game and backstory is told through an engaging tutorial that helps players to get used to some of the game’s basic mechanics.
After warding off the initial alien threats, players are presented with a whole plethora of choices. Which officers do you choose to command which starships—a crusty engineer with enhanced ship-healing capabilities, or a young commander with excellent combat ratings that are untested in actual battle? What research branches should you exploit first—ones that will benefit your bases scientists and give them bonuses to further research, or should you unlock a powerful weapon that can obliterate certain types of enemy ships? Halcyon 6 really throws a lot of hard choices at you from early on, and you really feel as though the fate of humanity lies in your hands.
The bulk of Halcyon 6’s actual game play is spent exploring various systems and planets, eradicating native species in order to harvest their planet’s resources (which are sometimes accompanied with various moral dilemmas), and transporting said resources back to your home base. From there, you can build up your starbase and its environs in a re-envisioned, pixelated version of the X-Com series. You even have to clear out blocked areas in order to be able to utilize them for construction, just as in that now classic series. In a fun twist, however, you’ll sometimes encounter hostile critters lurking in these spaces, resulting in some of laser-infused showdowns.
As you progress throughout Halcyon 6, you’ll learn more about the dastardly Chuul, and what their nefarious motivations and plans are all about. Meanwhile, the game’s numerous aliens (as well as pirates) will occasionally hail you for some sort of diplomacy or another. Sometimes they’ll show up and want to threaten your very existence (unless offered some sort of compensation). Other times, they’ll offer you various tasks, such as helping them battle enemies in a particular system. These factors really help with immersing players in the game’s universe, and Halcyon 6 can eventually begin to feel like a living, breathing (wait—humans can’t breathe in space!) universe.
Halcyon 6’s combat system is where the game trips up a bit. Instead of the massive space battles that take place in such series as Star Trek or Star Wars, where tiny fighters dart in and out amongst destroyers and gigantic capital ships, Halcyon 6’s scale is very scaled back. You are limited to up to three ships for combat engagements. That’s right—only three. Sorry, but if you’re expecting those exciting and epic space battles that you might have seen in the Babylon 5 series, you won’t find anything close to that in this game.
Also, each ship is limited to a handful of capabilities that are determined by their commander’s traits. Some of these involve direct attacks, such as powerful beam weapons, while other are buffs or de-buffs, such as boosts to friendly shields, and eroding enemy capabilities, respectively. While learning how to utilize these powers, and figure out how to stack them for synergistic purposes and outcomes, can be fun at first, eventually they can get to feel laborious and tiresome. The ground combat is an even more uninspired version of the space combat, so things can eventually grow tedious mid to late game.
All of my regular readers already know that I’m not a huge fan of pixelated graphics, but Halcyon 6 acquits itself quite well in this arena. It really conveys that sense of retro-ness that transports you back to the hallowed days of classic gaming. It also has some brilliant and fun ship-to-ship combat effects that will sometimes light up the entire screen of your gaming PC or gaming laptop.
Halcyon 6: Starbase Commander is an excellent effort by a burgeoning indie game developer. It captures that one-more-turn addictiveness of those old-school science fiction games that we all love. It also combines game mechanics and elements from disparate sources but does enough to possess its own unique style and atmosphere. Some gamers might be put off by its rather limited combat system, but for those who are more concerned with base-building and exploration, Halcyon 6: Starbase Commander may just be the ticket.
Halcyon 6: Starbase Commander is presented in some stylized pixel-based graphics that are quite good. However, you have to have an equally fast gaming PC in order to play it at a decent framerate. So, you may just want to invest in a decent gaming rig:
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