Horizon

Horizon is a far-off view equal in renewing concepts as it is in aging design.

By Daavpuke, Posted 23 Mar 2014

There’s a certain pride to be taken in bringing back an olden style to a gaming genre, whether that’s pixel visuals or a full-fledged throwback in Horizon’s case. It may crank the handles of the clock a bit too far, but at least its spirit is in the right place. It won’t excuse how outdated it’s become, but at least it will make an ever-dwindling niche of 4X strategy players excited. Nostalgia alone isn’t enough though.

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Any design here is one taken from yesteryear. As such, the galaxy waiting to be conquered is presented in a static panel with dots representing their systems. Within, each has their range of different planet types. Ships move in stilted lines, character models look like crudely looping amateur drawings and textures are basic. It’s done in a way that it feels genuine to the overall theme, luckily, so Horizon looks more like a classic than anything. Unfortunately, it applies this to the interface as well. Cycling through menus or waiting on tooltips is definitely not as appreciated as the quirky aliens that dance the robot while in conference call.

There are two ways to play the game: A story version with a few set variables and a regular sandbox mode that starts all factions with the same circumstance. In the story, Horizon is viewed from the Human race expanding its reach into space and coming into contact with a universal dispute between alien races. These creatures offer elusive quests to go on, which in the free mode are replaced with random events. Colonies include the prosperous yet calm Barsig, the crystalline and distant Har’Kan or the vicious Tantik parasites.

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Planet management takes from a range of choices as well, defined by what terrain is livable, how abundant resources are and if there are any special modifiers present. Furthermore, the population on any colony is divided in those who work on agriculture, industry or science. For buildings, the category is split between trade, tourism, farms, industry and research. Each upgrade will fill a slot dependent on the planet’s size.

While that sounds incredibly complex due to the many choices, few actually matter for a functional colony. So it usually just comes down to finding a planet that can grow and then specialize it. For instance, an arctic planet with poor resources is best suited for research and as a trading hub, ignoring its needs, even farming. Alternatively, abundant resources can make for huge planets that churn out industrious items, like a range of ships. From there, it’s a simple routine to tune the settlement in two or three options. Moreover, by pumping out currency , buildings can be purchased, making it easier for weaker places to catch up to their more potent alternatives. No spot is truly weak, just special.

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For ships, there are a few customizable categories as well. Builds come in small scouts, larger decks, big cruisers and the vast mothership. Here, a format can be fitted with different engines, guns and so forth. What’s tactical about this aspect is that each gun can further be put into detail. For instance, a laser has a light option with a huge arc and weak power or it can be cranked up with a narrow sight and a much heavier cost to hull space. Some can also pack on more barrels or more ammo, using a similar balance. This allows any ship, but especially the bigger ones, to have a range of weapons suited for varying situations. For example, a mothership can hold a fighter bay with small flyers, two heavy front barrels and a section of nuclear ordnance on the side. By shutting down the missiles, it’s also possible to save these up for a special occasion, such as a huge foe. Otherwise the fleet will dispense of all its active weaponry automatically.

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Combat is managed on a separate engaged sector. Tiny squares make up the battlefield for movement, but positioning is equally important, since a 360 degree build can have multiple hit points. If a section in the left back is in critical condition, blasting the front part will instead deplete that segment. Therefore, placement before firing and pivoting can make a fight just as much as firepower can.

To gain new equipment and advance the colony as a whole, technology uses Horizon’s theme of dividing instead of linear progression. Each tree of research can either be pursued in full or one particular area can be chosen, at the cost of others within that bubble. Moreover, this pinpointed development can be applied to the segments themselves, at the cost of others. It’s all about balance.

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Upon finding new technologies, the team first needs to understand how it works before it becomes usable. In such a case, it’s wise to specify both the tree and the new tech, maximizing all scientists to that particular field. It’s simply indicated with how many turns are left, so this system is easy to recalibrate to and incredibly refreshing.

Then there’s communicating within a certain emanating field, docking at starbases to reequip, resupplying on the go, boarding fleets and so on. Damn, Horizon sure is versatile.

Politics are a little more traditional, but still have plenty of options to deal with other races. Treaties can be signed, multiple greetings can put some bravado into the way clans approach others, trade routes can significantly boost economy and alliances can be forged. Political power is also a big measure, as weak colonies will frequently drop by to offer their services, while stronger forces will come nudge their elbows. Where a colony is at the time can easily be gauged by how much pressure its feeling.

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For all this originality, however, Horizon is also slow, like full-stop tedious at times. It starts with empire building. It just takes forever to set up the necessary infrastructure through buildings and the tightly rigged economy. Once the ball gets rolling, there’s more wiggle room, but moves still takes ages to complete. Traveling from one system to the next routinely takes a dozen turns. Sending a fleet is, even at its optimum, a few dozen steps away. This use of old mechanisms, when everything would be a chore to go through, is totally unnecessary when Horizon does so much to revitalize its concepts elsewhere.

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There is no fast approach to the game. A blitz isn’t even a possibility, leaving only a large scale assault to be an option, against other fully set up races. This also makes combat a tense yet taxing element, certainly in repeated form. Managing weaponry on ships and operating them one at a time takes an eternity, even when sped up. Its automated version leads to a randomized linear attack and can only be applied to overwhelmed encounters. Attacking planets themselves feels like whittling wood, since their defenses are usually through the roof by the time the army shows up.

For all the planning involved in the game, some of it goes way overboard and that slows pacing to a crawl. Those in it are in it for the long haul and that significantly crushes the goodwill of this brilliant idea. It’s a lot harder to stay motivated on long term plans, like a certain research path, when even one of its steps could take hours.

While the atmosphere of old games lives well within the unique strategy game that is Horizon, its archaic elements are brought on for the ride too. That grind puts a damper on how enjoyable the sizable variety becomes, but those with a flair for classics and a good portion of patience will revel in the new ways to discover space conquest. There’s a difference between gameplay that is timeless and that which is outdated. This special little homage is a bit of both.

Daav Valentaten, NoobFeed (@Daavpuke)

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General Information

Horizon

70/100

Platform(s): PC
Publisher(s): Iceberg Interactive
Developer(s): L3O Interactive
Genres: Strategy
Themes: 4X, Space
Release Date: 2014-03-19

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