In the opening moments of 1999's Homeworld, you get to see the end of the world. Watch helplessly as an entire planet, and everybody on it, is burned to a cinder.
In most other games, such a cataclysmic event would be either brushed awkwardly under the rug and used as a MacGuffin to get you out the door, or form some kind of cinematic money shot.
Homeworld, beautifully, does neither.
It instead realises that the end of the world is an event perhaps more distressing than any other. That going up in flames is not just an entire planet, with its landscapes and animals and oceans and rivers, but its people as well, and everything they ever built and strived towards.
So Homeworld rubs your face in it.
Developed by Relic, they of Company of Heroes and Dawn of War fame, Homeworld is a 1999 PC strategy game that managed something few titles have before or since: take the endless 3D expanse of deep space and turn it into a functional video game battleground.
While this won it a loyal following, just as important was the game’s unique visual style, which was heavily inspired by the work of legendary science-fiction illustrator Chris Foss. The iconic shapes and bold colours of Homeworld’s units not only helped them stand out against the black (and deep reds and blues) of space, but helped them stand out amongst other sci-fi works in general.
What really made the game memorable for me, though, was the way it kicks off.
The story (which borrows heavily from Battlestar Galactica) begins as you see it in the beautifully-crafted 2D cutscene above. With your race’s great mothership completed, you venture into space and find the remnants of a destroyed vessel, suggesting a hostile alien presence. Racing back to your home planet with the news, you arrive to find...
...total annihilation. Hesitant, emotional communications. And the haunting sounds of American composer Samuel Barber’s Adagio for Strings/Agnus Dei. It’s a gut-wrenching moment, and if you ever really needed a game to give you purpose to head out and kick some ass, this gives it to you in spades.
Have you ever seen a game kick you in the stomach that hard and that early on? I don’t think many games these days could, they’d be too focused on a snarling man’s face or showing us the devastation up close to realise that by staying at arm’s length, and indeed missing most of it, makes it all the more anguishing.
I’m not going to spoil the end (or even the middle) of Homeworld here, in writing, as seeking it out (as well as it’s excellent expansion Cataclysm and the sequel, Homeworld 2) should be a top priority for any PC gamer who loves space and has never played them.
What I will share in the rest of this gallery, though, are more cutscenes (though be warned, these of course will contain spoilers) from the series. Sadly, developers Relic have given up on their trademark 2D cinematic style in more recent games, but it was used to perfection in the Homeworld series, and thus deserves a little retrospective attention.
If you have played the games, or watch these clips and get up to speed, it’s interesting how Homeworld’s story is so inspired by the original Battlestar Galactica, and yet the recent Galactica re-imagining seems so heavily inspired by the introductory sequences of Homeworld 2!