Hegemonia: Legions of Iron

 

Developer:    Digita Reality

Publisher:    Dreamcatcher, Wanadoo

Released:   2002

PC Requirements:    Win 98/ME/XP with DirectX 8.1, PIII 600 Mhz, 192 MB RAM, 2nd generation 3D card

 

 

 

by Singer

Is it smart to admit that I had to look up the title of this game in the dictionary?  Normally Iíd say no, but in this case I think itís appropriate, because it certainly wasnít the last time I felt in over my head.

Hegemonia: Legions of Iron is the latest adventure (coughreal time strategycough) game from DreamCatcher.  Whoops Ė caught that, huh?  Very well, Iíll play it straight, but only if youíll promise to stick with me through the end.  I realize that GameBoomers havenít tended to be the prime demographic for strategy games, but maybe I can make some inroads there, or at the very least help you understand what your strat-loving spouse, kids, or friends are raving about.  

Hegemonia is a fully 3D, galactic conquest game.  Anyone with experience in RTS games will immediately think ď3D in space?  You mean like Homeworld?Ē  While Digital Reality, the Hungarian developers of Hegemonia (spelled Haegemonia in the U.K.), might cringe to hear a reference to Homeworld, comparison is inevitable. And in fact the answer to that particular question is yes, it shares more than a few qualities with the game that pioneered and set the standard for 3D space RTSís.  But for those who wouldnít know Homeworld from Imperium Galactica (the developerís previous game series), letís move on. 

The wonderful opening cinematic details the rift between the inhabitants of Earth and the human colonies on Mars and elsewhere around the solar system.  Just when it appears that a peaceful settlement is within reach, a diplomatic mission is sabotaged, and a Counselor from Mars is killed, causing tensions between Earth and the colonies to rise again, and plunging the two sides back into open conflict.

The player is given two choices to begin the game Ė the Earth or Mars campaigns.  Either can be played first, although the Earth missions are recommended, as the early scenarios are slightly easier.  This option quickly becomes redundant, however.  Several episodes into each campaign, a far greater threat poses itself to mankind in the alien form of the Kariaks and Darzoks.  As a result, the humans must quickly band together to face the encroaching menace.  Itís an interesting plot twist, but it makes the campaigns virtually identical in structure, so the benefit of having a choice is lost.  It also makes the backstory and initial cutscene seem much ado about nothing.  Why not just set up the conflict that will comprise the bulk of the game?

The first thing you notice upon starting to play is that this game is jaw-droppingly, drop-dead gorgeous.  The designers opted for a rather unrealistic, but visually breathtaking panorama of planets, stars, gaseous nebulae, and coloured lighting.  The structures and ship models are nicely done, and the camera allows for zooming, rotation, and panning, all of which is silky smooth.  Yes, as far as eye candy goes, Hegemonia takes a back seat to no strategy game Iíve ever played.

The next thing youíll discover after gawking around sufficiently is that you havenít got a freakiní CLUE what to do.  Believe me, Hegemonia is a game that begs for a tutorial that doesnít exist.  Granted, the first mission in either campaign is far easier than whatís to come, but thatís a relative issue.  At the time, I didnít feel adequately prepared to tackle a multi-task mission that included tactical combat and timed rescues.  This isnít a complaint, per se, but consider it a warning Ė this is NOT a game for newcomers to the genre.  Even those who have cut their teeth on ground based strategy games will quickly realize that outer space, with its vast expanse and additional Z axis, is a whole different ballgame.

At this point, I resigned myself to the fact that my cursory perusal of the manual just wasnít going to cut it.  So I poured over every one of the 70-page instructions, at which point my head was swimming and I felt a little intimidated by what I knew was to come.  And only then did I ask myself ďwhat the heck does Hegemonia even MEAN?!Ē  The answer isÖ well, Iíd tell you, but you promised to read through to the end, so Iíll save it for now.

Hegemonia has a strong storyline running through it, and the missions are heavily scripted.  Each mission has multiple, specific objectives which, once completed (or sometimes not) will trigger the next scripted sequence. (As an aside, this is one element adventure lovers probably donít realize about strategy games.  The good ones work just as hard to provide a rich, immersive story as any other genre, and Hegemonia does this well).  

While I liked the nice variety of objectives (not all of which involved combat), I did find some of them to be too vague.  On more than one occasion, I believed I was doing the right thing, only to find out Iíd completely botched up the objective.  Oops.  In most cases I recovered, but in one of the early scenarios, my mission ended because Iíd taken too much time, and Iíd been given NO indication that it was a timed segment.  The game offers both autosave and save-anywhere features, but be sure to save to different slots, as you may be backing yourself into an inescapable corner if you donít.

In order to carry out the task of defending the galaxy, much more is required than fighting.  As in all RTSís, youíre responsible for collecting resources (in the form of ore and cash), constructing buildings and units, and researching new technologies.  However, as youíre building a giant space empire covering more than one solar system throughout the game, youíll also busy yourself with such things as terraforming and colonizing planets, assigning heroes, transporting through wormholes, setting taxation rates, spying, and developing trade routes. Oh yeah Ė and fighting.

I was disappointed to find that, for the most part, the three races were functionally quite similar.  The two alien races have natural advantages in other areas than the humans, but neither has unique technology or weapons.  This greatly reduces the actual strategic aspect of the game, as the best strategy is simply to be the fastest to research your specialized technologies and construct a kick-butt fighting force (a common occurrence in RTS games).

Strangely, given that the game seems to strive for an ďepicĒ scope, you are only able to amass a limited fleet size at any given time.  This does have the benefit of making combat more manageable, however.  Ships are not controlled individually, but in squadrons of various sizes.  There are only four different ship classes: fighters, corvettes, cruisers, and battleships, and rarely (if ever) will you employ all four at once.  Once a battle begins, it tends to be fairly automated, as the ships engage each other quickly, and thereís little to do besides set aggressiveness levels and systems to target.  The game is defaulted to real time, but you can pause at any time and issue orders at your leisure.  VERY smart move by the developers.

Another feature thatís much appreciated is a subtle role playing element (see?  something for everybody!) in which units gain experience in combat.  Units with higher experience are stronger and more accurate than entry level ships.  As a result, youíll want them in thick of things when the action heats up, yet preserve them for future use.  The latter is all the more important because units and technology are carried forward through missions, so itís essential to keep the larger goal in mind.

Each planet you control requires management, and youíll be responsible to balance taxes with the morale of the people, and production with research.  In total there are approximately 200 ship, weapon, and civilization technologies available.  Each tech requires research points, which are allotted at the beginning of most missions, and new technologies periodically become available.

The use of heroes adds another layer of complexity to the game.  Heroes assigned to squadrons become commanders that offer combat bonuses, while those assigned to colonies become governors who can provide bonuses in population growth, taxes, and morale.  Spy ships also become an important factor as the game wears on.  While quite limited in ability at first,  with experience they are able to do much more serious harm to the opposition.

The bulk of the game is viewed through the main tactical screen but equally important is the secondary starmap, and this is one of my largest gripes with the game.  The starmap is a much smaller scale strategic screen, where many movement orders are issued, but the screen is WAY too cluttered.  I appreciate attention to detail, but when I canít select an enemy ship to attack because itís obscured by the planet behind it, itís useless to me.  The starmap is supposedly 3D as well, but it merely tilts on an axis rather than provide a full 3D view.

The game sports a clean, efficient interface.  All relevant information is represented by unobtrusive icons in the screen corners, and can also be accessed by hotkeys.  The click, hold, and scroll method of accessing sub-screens is rather annoying, but thatís a minor issue.  My greater concern is the sheer volume of information that deluges the player once in the sub-screens.  I understand that this was a design choice, and it wasnít a surprise, but it WAS somewhat overwhelming.

The music in the game is comprised of many orchestral scores, all of which sound professional and quite enjoyable.  I tend to tire of music in games, but the selections here were well suited to the theme.  Sound effects werenít particularly noteworthy, but there were some nice touches, such as the hum of a shipís engines when you zoom in close to it.  The voice acting varied in quality, but was generally acceptable.

My final criticism of the game is the lack of the random map feature.  Random maps are often the meat and potatoes of RTS games, and the lack of this option seriously detracts from Hegemoniaís replayability.  Once youíve completed the campaigns, thatís all there is for the single player game (although apparently itís possible to play in skirmish mode against computer opponents).  Having said that, the game does offer a multiplayer feature, which I didnít experience, so fans of online play will be happy.

So whatís the final verdict?  And for that matter, what (FINALLY!) does Hegemonia mean, anyway?  Well, Hegemonia is a Greek word which roughly translates along the lines of ďdominant leadershipĒ or ďinfluential authorityĒ.  That definition captures both the strengths and weaknesses of the game.  Becoming the leader of the known universe is no small undertaking, and not surprisingly, at times it seems that the gameís reach has exceeded its grasp.  Hegemonia was aiming for complex, but often ended up being complicated.  In this way, the game shows its roots in 4X games (explore, expand, exploit, exterminate).  Again, this isnít necessarily a negative, but the marriage to the tactical battles of real time strategy doesnít always work as well as Iím sure the developers had hoped. 

Nevertheless, if you (or someone you know and love) are willing to invest some time and patience in a grand space empire strategy game, I can easily recommend Hegemonia.  Itís graphically stunning, deep, technically solid, and has an engaging storyline, all of which overshadow the gameís shortcomings.  Just make sure you/they know what theyíre getting into (and hey!  thatís what reviews are for!!)

For fans of the genre onlyÖ 78%

Played on:

Win XP

P4 1.8 Ghz

512 MB RAM

GeForce 3

 

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