Homeworld Remastered Collection Hits February 25

In space, no one can hear you squee.

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Homeworld Remastered Collection, the bundled remakes of real-time strategy games Homeworld and Homeworld 2, will hit PC on February 25, Gearbox Software announced today during a panel at PAX South.

The collection goes beyond a simple twosome of remakes: within the collection are not only the Homeworld and Homeworld 2 remastered versions, but the original classic versions of both games as well. Additionally, the developers have merged all playable races from both games and added an online multiplayer component called the Homeworld Remastered Steam Multiplayer Beta, a service in live development designed to bring those once played Homeworld online, well, back home.

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Getting my hands on a demo build left me a little dazed. The work put into the remastered versions is immediately evident. Edges and textures haven't been smoothed out, they have been completely built anew. The game hardly looks like the 1999 at all, save for familiar situations and the sound. Jagged edges of ships have been replaced with smooth, glistening surfaces, with starlight reflecting differently off painted hulls and bare metal. Projectiles leave trails of smokey whiteness in their wakes. Lasers trace glowing lines of light, tracing paths of annihilation from attacker to target in the darkness. Seeing footage of the original and new versions side-by-side makes the beloved classic look fairly dull compared to its shiny new release.

Homeworld and Homeworld 2 were originally developed by Relic Entertainment. The Vancouver studio was purchased by publisher THQ in 2004, bringing the Homeworld franchise under the THQ banner. When THQ filed for bankruptcy in late 2012, and after a lengthy process of selling off the company's assets it was revealed that Gearbox had acquired the Homeworld IP. At the time, Gearbox promised that whatever Homeworld content it made in the future would strive to retain the game's tone in its "purest form." Since then, it handed developed on the IP over to Blackbird Interactive, a studio formed by ex-Relic employees working on Homeworld's spiritual successor, Shipbreakers.

In that promise, Gearbox has succeed. Homeworld Remastered is the Homeworld of yesteryear in gameplay and scope. In my demo, I attempted to enter the Garden of Kadesh, only to be turned away by its protective forces and immediately thrown into an elaborate battle. Ships were strewn across the screen, like tiny toys floating in an endless ocean of glittering stars. The nebula in the background was a fiery red, glowing white-hot in its center and reaching out into space towards my fleet in wispy pink spirals. I highlighted a handful of my ships, clicked on the nearest enemy carrier, and let the shots fly.

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One of my battleships flew over another of my battleships, and I saw the top battleship's shadow pass along the bottom ship. Then to my right, a ship burst, exploding into a red and orange flower of light and flinging debris in all directions. Those clusters of debris remained there through the entire battle, a reminder of a failed defense. "Purest form," indeed; this moment defined my time with Homeworld Remastered, assuring me that Gearbox's collection is more than a re-release with a quick HD coat of paint. The heart of the games themselves have been left untouched and transplanted into a new body--a shiny body that requires you upgrade your PC specs stat.

During voice over recording for Homeworld 2, complications with the Canadian actress who voiced Karan Sjet--your Fleet Intelligence--in the first game, Heidi Ernest, led to her role being recast for the second game. For Homeworld Remastered Collection, Gearbox went back to Ernest and had her record all mothership dialogue for the new Homeworld 2. Additionally, composer Paul Ruskay had the original recording tapes for the soundtrack, allowing Gearbox to re-implement Homeworld's original soundtrack for the collection.

Gearbox appears to have gone beyond the call of duty in bringing us an updated version of Homeworld, rebuilding the entire thing from scratch and unifying the experience through familiar sounds and the promise of online presence.

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As for that online presence, the multiplayer beta component features all new networking code and graphics. The beta will be available day and date with the collection's release, but Gearbox wants players to understand that there's still a lot of fine-tuning to be done. With the takedown of the GameSpy servers, there was nowhere the team could go to inform how to setup and balance the multiplayer network. Balancing and tweaking for Homeworld's online multiplayer will be done live, with assistance from players willing to dive in.

We don't often think of studios treating IP with respect when re-releases come around. But it's the only thing I can think of when I look at Gearbox and Blackbird's new Homeworld games. The loving detail that has gone into putting evident battle damage on ship hulls and the smoothness with which ships soar out into the sparkling starry wilderness is hauntingly beautiful. Homeworld and Homeworld 2 are no longer space sim games--they're adventures framed in works of art.

Homeworld Remastered Collection will be available for $34.99, and pre-orders through Steam will knock an addition 15 percent off the final price.

Alexa Ray Corriea on Google+

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