It’s a good time to be a fan of Space 4X Strategy games. For whatever reason, the niche seems to be going through a bit of a revival, so much so that even cult-classic Galactic Civilizations has finally been coaxed out of its hidey-hole with a full blown sequel. Horizon is one such newcomer to the celestial stage, and has been on the cards for a while now. It’s another indie-driven space 4x spearheaded by Iceberg Interactive, who seem to be holding the space-torch high at the moment. The game is currently in beta, and you can purchase the right to early access if you want to via Steam. Should you? Probably not.
It’s still early days for Horizon, but from what I’ve played so far there needs to be a fair amount more work done to it to make it truly great. At the moment, there’s just a lot of clicking through turns, with little to do other than earn money, and spend that money. The AI is quite passive right now, and I had to actually start a war in order to experience that side of things. To be honest, the combat engine is the weakest part: not necessarily because of the set-up, but because it looks so basic. I’m aware of how snobby that sounds, but on some level – with Galactic Civilizations III on the way, and games like Endless Space which abandon an in-depth combat engine but make it look pretty – you have to really step up your game. You have to have something really engaging or stand-out to make up for the lack of graphical fidelity. Maybe it’ll be one of the last things to be updated? If so, then I’d happily retract everything I said. It’s engaging enough on the tactical level, but at the moment it’s nothing to write home about, which is something you could say about the whole game, I guess.
This is the main menu screen. It has better graphics than the rest of the game put together
I think the main problem Horizon will face is atmosphere. This is a game where Humanity starts on the very bottom rung, taking its first tentative steps into a universe already teeming with advanced, unknowable civilizations. As a concept, it sounds fascinating, and something I wish more space 4x games would try as opposed to the balance-friendly “all races start equally” approach. But in Horizon it’s all a bit... soulless, at the moment, and not a hell of a lot seems to have changed since Alpha. There’s still room for improvement and change, especially considering the release date is still a little vague, but traditionally when you get to beta that’s it – your features are locked in and more or less complete, now it’s just testing, fixing and tweaking.
Even the shipbuilding is a little weak – there are four classes, each with four ‘slots’ that vary in looks, but have the same basic stats. You can choose what weapons and modules to equip, although you’re limited by a point system, with the larger ships having more points to spend on modules. The basics of a ship – like engines, communications etc... are fixed and there’s no customization there, you just research better variants of the individual components. Tech research isn’t bad – you start off with basic techs and go through the levels, and as you get higher up the levels, you unlock brand new branches with which to delve into – but you don’t know what’s there to be unlocked, so there’s a real sense of mystery and discovery about the whole thing. You can also find relics and ruins on planets which can yield new tech opportunities as well.
The Might Terran Empire. Currently in Beta
The exploration part of the game is probably the strongest element so far – just. Planets can be surveyed, and some may have ruins, relics, space junk etc... on them. Most just give boosts to tech research, but some things can spawn quests with the other races. Other planets may have characteristics which make them suitable for mining, or tourism, or farming, allowing you to specialise. Diplomacy is pretty basic at the moment – as you discover races, you can enter into dialogue with them, but only if they are in communication’s range. You can discover races far beyond your reach, either through exploring beyond the boundaries of your empire or by being told about them from other races.
So far, Horizon has some nice ideas, some good exploration and management mechanics, but ultimately it’s not looking like it’s going to knock anyone’s socks off. Which is a shame, but there you go. We’ll be keeping an eye on this game as we move closer towards release, but so far the best thing we can say about this is that it’s probably something you’d want to pick up in a Steam Sale, or something to tide you over whilst you wait for Galactic Civilizations III or a new Endless Space expansion or something. Nothing to be particularly excited about, at this point.
Top Game Moment:The opening tutorial is quite cool actually – putting forward a near future scenario that’s quite plausible, and lends itself towards humanity jumping towards the stars. It also does a very good job of teaching you the basics.