The human race is terrible. We plod along, watching sci-fi movies and shooting bits of metal into space, hoping that some day we’ll gain access to some technology that allows us to see what’s really out there – and maybe visit it. Then, completely by luck, a probe is found – not of Earth origins. It takes a hundred years to work out exactly what the probe has to say, but the effort is worth it. Space ships, long distance communicators, alien beings… Welcome to Horizon.
The ability to travel the universe brings with it benefits and problems. It means we can colonize new planets and interact with alien life, but it also means we need to find a way to support a colony so much bigger and more vast than ever before. This is where you come in. Using everything the human race has got, you must find our rightful place, be it as a key component of space politics or as a tiny species just trying to stay alive. You’ll do this by combining trade, exploration and combat, a task that’s much easier than it sounds.
Most things are simple; building ships requires one click, and can be customized without fuss. Actually exploring the galaxy (and beyond) is as easy as ordering the ship to do it and then waiting a few turns while the journey is made. Once there, you can choose to survey the universe or individual planets, to discover how useful it would be to set up a colony. Then all you need to do is build a Colonizer, shoot it across the void and wait. Horizon makes interstellar travel and terraforming as easy as giving a command.
Which is exactly how you should expect things to be. A strategy game ought to be easy on an individual feature level, but difficult overall. What’s odd about Horizon is that it sometimes forgets this, working to a point and then suddenly throwing you into a black hole of frustration. You only need to look at the combat to learn just how wildly inconsistent this title’s quality is.
Imagine an entire universe made up of individual squares. Now imagine that, of those hundreds and hundreds of squares, you and your enemy take up only a few dozen. If you’re not within range and facing exactly the right direction, your shot will likely miss. On paper this makes sense. It means you can focus your shots on the location of an enemy ship, aiming to take down single locations. In actually playing it though, you end up with something time-consuming and dull. There’s an auto mode which takes the pressure off, but it would have been nice to have a reason to not want to skip a battle.
While you’re enjoying a blossoming relationship with one of the many interesting and sometimes hilarious races (all of which are playable), you might suddenly find yourself in a fight, a huge chunk of your colony taken for no real reason other than someone bigger than you took a dislike. So not only was the fight not especially fun, but you got your butt kicked and your land stolen as well. Diplomacy will only get you so far and options are limited. There’s not much differentiating colonies or solar systems, and gameplay will get quite repetitive for those that find the good bits aren’t quite good enough. To top it off, the graphics aren’t especially surprising either, so the opportunity for stunning sunrises or endless pin-tips of star light are wasted. Even the bits that are supposed to look nice end up like something out of Myst. Thankfully, most of the game is made up on menus, so the occasional shaky visual is hardly cause for concern.
Although there are a few negatives, Horizon still manages to do what it says on the tin. It’s a galaxy conquest game, and, with a little time and patience, the galaxy can be yours. The combat is tedious and there’s not really enough difference between different planets and races. Micromanagement ends up just meaning reacting to certain stats in each location. But at the end of the day, when you look over your collected colonies, perhaps alongside your alien allies, you’ll smile, powerful – that’s what’s so addictive. You’ll keep coming back for that feeling, until you realize the biggest conquest just can’t be had here.
This review is based on the PC exclusive, which we were provided.
Horizon is a galaxy conquest game in which conquest and galaxy management aren't really all that strong. It's not bad, but only genre fans will really enjoy what's here.