You are currently viewing an archival version of GF!

Click here to return to the current GamesFirst! website.

Questions? Suggestions? Comments?
Contact us at:

star06.gif (4104 bytes)star06.gif (4104 bytes)star06.gif (4104 bytes)star06.gif (4104 bytes)

by Dreamcatcher Interactive

I needed a hug when Hegemonia: Legions of Iron came across my desk. My hidden infatuation of last year’s E3 (aside from Neverwinter, of course) had been Strategy First’s O.R.B. The space based RTS showed beautifully on the game floor, and even more impressively on the short demo given out with their bag of goodies. The game was playable, looked good, and held great potential. I had hopes of a sleeper hit. Then it came out and got pretty crappy reviews, roughly the equivalent of three stars; a tedious purchase at best. The high hopes I had harbored for months were certainly and thoroughly crushed. I reverted to a childlike state, reading old science fiction novels late into the night in order to satisfy the space exploration craving that was left unanswered in the slew of the year’s game releases (I’d forgotten how good Gateway by Frederik Pohl really is). In short, I needed a hug from something that had aliens, and space battles, and wars, and a sense of wonder, and Hegemonia: Legions of Iron fit the bill.

Rendered in a complex three dimensional universe, Hegemonia is a visually stunning space-based RTS that is engaging, story driven, entertaining, and best of all, playable. While not perfect, its major shortfalls are the sort that could be neatly filed under the "…this would have been perfect if…" category reserved only for those games that truly impress, and boarder on great. It manages to almost seamlessly intertwine workable real time strategy resource management and combat with a universe that feels straight out of Babylon 5. Sometimes short-changed by its own dark atmosphere, Hegemonia is a game well worth a solid look as one of the more interesting games of 2002.

Hegemonia begins at the start of a new era for the human race. As a species, we are well on our way to colonizing Mars, pushing outward into space, and stretching our legs as a species. It doesn’t take long, therefore, for problems to arise between the colonists of Mars and the government of Earth. After a surprise attack by an unknown force kills a leading ambassador, war breaks out between the two divisions of Man. While not the most extraordinary of stories, Hegemonia branches out from this starting point, developing a plot driven story that at times has flavors of a classic science fiction novel. By the end of the first few missions, in which the player is expected to learn how to play, the war between Earth and Mars is over, and mankind is once again pushing outward into the stars. A new drive is developed that allows ships to travel through the ever mysterious wormholes of the Sci-Fi realm, and you are the commander of the first major human colonization attempt outside the solar system. Trailed by a fleet of civilian ships, you set off into the unknown. In some respects, it is this part of the game that shines the best, with an excellent musical score that lends very much to an atmosphere of nervous excitement. There are, however, some interesting scripting decisions that were made during Hegemonia’s production. For example, not only do the characters, loyal to their respective sides during the Mars/Earth war, seem to accept the death of their men with surprising calm (you butchered my fleet and killed most of my friends, but you did it well, so I respect you. Mind if I join under your command?), but the main character (in the Earth Campaign) seems to embody a surprising resentment toward technology. As commander, it is part of your task to direct what technologies should be researched. During the dialog segments, your character goes on record saying that he can’t really see the value of research, that he doesn’t see how it would benefit his men. While I can understand that the dialog is intended to then demonstrate how the technology is useful, it still seems a little simple to me. If you’re going to add the dialogue to help drive the story, add dialog that fits the character. The idea that a space commander, leading an entire colony through a wormhole on newly developed space drives, would not understand any of the value of technology is sort of funny (as every good Trek fan knows, a good commander knows his ship).

That aside, all the elements of Hegemonia flow together amazingly well. The visual style is breathtaking; from the artfully placed lens flare when looking towards the sun, to the design of the great battleships you construct in orbit around your planets, Hegemonia is one of the best looking games on the market. However, it isn’t perfect. The camera controls, while workable, could have been better. Often times the ships, without lighting, are nearly invisible in the dark of space. Unless you turn so that there’s some sort of background, it is very easy to lose both your own, and your enemy’s units. As a consequence, you use the tactical map for issuing orders. This leaves the main mode of the game, the 3D rendering, more useful as a way of watching your battles than as directing them. Switch to the map, issue orders, switch to 3D to watch them play out. The way that the camera follows units is also annoying; specifically, it follows an individual unit in each squad, with absolutely no flexibility, even though you can only issue orders to squads as a group, not to individual ships. Often times you can’t see most of the battle, like a commander only looking over the shoulder of one soldier without any relation to what else is going on in the rest of the battle. You get around this be zooming far out and turning the ship tracking off, so that you can try to see what’s going on as the dark little ships zoom around over a giant dark background. At least in this respect, O.R.B. did it better. By focusing not only on the selected units as a group, moving back and zooming in to keep units on the screen, but also on the enemy that the selected unit was targeting, O.R.B.’s camera system allowed the player to see the battle unfold in a way that was useful as well as pretty. As it stands in Hegemonia, the special camera angles are no more than a spectator’s view of the game, and real battle is done in the less pretty, less cinematic tactical map, with plenty of view switching in-between.

Sadly, the beauty of the 3D maps come with a price. Since huge numbers of three-dimensional ships must take a toll on your computer’s poor brain, the game limits the number of ships you can construct at any given time. Even at the highest tech level, you’ll fall far short of the gigantic armadas that we’ve come to expect from games like Command & Conquer and Warcraft.

Additionally, the learning curve is pretty substantial, not because of the actual game difficulty, which is pretty intuitively designed, but because the tutorial is really quite miserable. The opening missions, in which you are given time to learn the controls, are nearly useless without the manual on hand as a reference. Where most games will issue an order for you to move your units, and then tell you how exactly to do that ("…now left click on your destination"), Hegemonia only goes half way, issuing the order to move, and then waiting for you to look up how to do it in the manual. The result is a slow, tedious learning process. This is compounded by that fact that the manual, appearing at first to be a rather extensive amount of documentation, turns out to be rather sketchy when it comes to details. Why does building a very small probe keep you from building a military base? Do I really have to give up my cheap satellite probe in order to building a mining facility? Is there any way around this? You’ll often find yourself with the game on pause, reading page after page of the manual in an attempt to stumble blindly across the information you’re looking for. It’s quite annoying.

There are other errors in the game that become pretty obvious as you play. For one, mission objectives are sometimes confusing. For example, one mission objective is stated as, "Clear space from enemy mining bases toward Mars!" Now, I guess I can figure that out, but forty minutes into the game, when you think you’ve destroyed all the enemy installations between you and Mars, and are now wandering aimlessly because you haven’t gone on to the next level yet, you can’t help but start to wonder. Another example appears in the actual gameplay. On multiplayer maps, you can’t zoom out far enough while looking at the tactical map. I mean, space is big. Really big. You know where your planet is, and you know where his planet is, because you can click a button on the top of the screen and it will zip you right over there, deselecting whatever troops you’ve got in the process. The question is, then, how do you find out where his planet is in relation to yours. It’s not too uncommon to find yourself looking around open space, following planet orbits, hoping to figure out where to station your ships for best intercept. On some levels, this isn’t a problem. On others, it’s huge. How this was missed in play testing, I don’t know.

Finally, though this isn’t a flaw, exactly, I wanted to see myself playing in a living galaxy. I wanted my planets to orbit closer and farther away from my enemy. I wanted to launch attacks on planets when assistance was far, far away on the other side of the rotating solar system. No such luck. While your ships look gorgeous, the planets never move. Fly away for half a year, and you’ll find the home base right where you left it. This sort of subtracts from the feeling of fighting in a living, breathing, airless vacuum. An airless vacuum that transmits sound to excellent effect, I might add.

When it comes down to it, Hegemonia is a game that anyone who likes either RTS games or science fiction novels will probably have an interest in. While far from perfect, Hegemonia easily qualifies as a game worth noticing, and one that I myself would have purchased if it hadn’t landed on my desk for review. Though it will still be a while before I find myself playing truly gigantic space battles in a game as I’d like to, with hundreds of starships darting in space, Hegemonia matches the niche I was hoping O.R.B. would occupy at E3 last summer. So I’ll probably keep my little O.R.B. stress meteor they gave me seven some-odd months ago, but if you’re looking for a game that let’s you play in space and can get the blood flowing in your veins, go out and find Hegemonia instead. You won’t be disappointed.

Aaron Stanton   (01/19/2003)


Ups: Beautifully rendered and conceived; great music; great sound effects; at time the atmospheric elements of the story and gameplay are amazing.

Downs: Special camera angles look good, but could have been better designed; ships often too dark to see; low cap on unit limit prevents huge armadas; sometimes confusing limits on construction options; miserable tutorial.

Platform: PC