Horizon: 4X on the Simple and Straightforward
Spacey 4X games have had something of a rough time of it lately. Whether recent entries to the genre have felt half-finished or half-assed, it’s been (at least for me) harder and harder to muster a lot of enthusiasm for new entries into the genre. While I’m happy as all get out that new entries are even being MADE for the genre (compared to the drought that symbolizes the last, oh I don’t know, decade), the latest entries in the genre have palpably lowered my excitement and expectations. Where, then, does this leave Horizon, a new 4X from the folks at L30 Interactive. The answer might surprise you…
I played the alpha version of the game that’s available on Steam, and my playtime was spent entirely before the recent beta version of the game was released, so this preview represented alpha-based gameplay, and not anything present in the beta. As an incomplete game, one must prepare for bugs, missing features and the like, but honestly, for the most part Horizon felt fairly polished and complete to me. There were no crashes or game-stopping bugs, no problems with either the audio or the video and there weren’t any glitches noticed on my now low-to-mid range system. I went through three different playthroughs of the game to get a feeling for the tutorials and the initial gameplay as well.
The game begins in the very near future, as an Earth probe finds an alien probe at the outskirts of our solar system. This is told in cutscenes, from which the two screenshots above come from. The cutscenes are a bit on the rough side at the moment, but they’re compelling enough to not skip them. Once the humans peruse through the technology transmitted by the probe into usable spaceships capable of interstellar travel, around 100 years have gone by. At this point you’re put into the game proper, and the game’s tutorial begins in earnest.
I have to say, I really liked the tutorial in the game. It was in character within the universe, which was a nice touch, and it was well written and concise. While the game’s interface itself it a bit on the obtuse side (i.e. moving ships to different planets in the same solar system was a bit…funkier than it needed to be, for example), the tutorial did a decent job explaining it all. You can tell while reading the tutorial and playing the initial game that the developers are trying to appeal to both players new to the genre as well as experiences star generals, and for the most part they strike a fine balancing act. While some things are obtuse, others such as research or combat have very straightforward interfaces that also convey quite a bit of depth and control.
Like the strategic game, combat is turn-based as well, and the combat screen makes it clear where your ships can move and what they can do once they get there based on the amount of energy they have, as well as their equipment (such as boarding actions and the like). The few bits of combat I’ve had so far have been fun, elegant to control and simple to grok, as it were. Another area I really dig is research. When you decide to focus your research, you can focus your efforts on one particular technology, or on the entire overreaching section of scientific discovery and move toward several advancements at once. This is a nice trade-off between what you can achieve now and what you can achieve later, and I really loved having that kind of option on the table.
Another thing I really liked, and I’m not sure why really, was the news screen shown at the beginning of every turn. It gives a clean, clear and concise look at everything that happened between the last turn and the current turn, and makes it very easy to understand where things stand, what was finished and so on. While these kinds of screens are typical in games such as these, I found I really liked this one a lot. Weird, that.
Now, while I had a good time with the game during my playthroughs, there were some areas wherein I was unable to complete certain tasks or even get too far into the game due to a lack of information or a lack of presenting that information clearly. For example, after I colonized my first planet in my own solar system, I still had a colony ship hanging around. Once my scouts found a habitable planet in a system next door, I sent my colony ship over there to colonize it…only that didn’t happen. Once the ship arrived in the system, I couldn’t issue a colonize command, and had no idea why. I figured maybe it had to reload after visiting a colonized or home world for a turn or two to pick up more colonists, so I tried that and still, nothing. Only when I did some digging did I find out that I needed to build a starbase in orbit of a colony in order to fill the ship with colonists. I never got a warning or anything regarding this, which was kind of weird.
Once I figured the colonizer thingy out, I then sent my now-full colonization ship to a nice Earth-like planet nearby in order to start a colony, which is usually what one does in games like this. More colonies means more citizens building things and researching technologies, and typically more tax revenue. However, more than once what happened was that my treasury began hemorrhaging money, to the point where eventually I lost the game because my treasury went too far into the negative. The problem was that I could never figure out why I was losing so much money. Either the game made it impossible for me to find the right information, or the information wasn’t in the game in the first place. It was a bit frustrating, to be honest.
So I lost, and never even knew why, which was made more sad by the fact that I was having a fun time playing the game. I’d met a race or two, did some diplomacy, fought some pirates and so on, only to have all this brought down by some money issues. I mean I guess I could’ve sold all my ships and such — I didn’t even check if that was an option as I just thought of it as I wrote it ;) — but still, it was a bit sad to have a game end and not really know the how or the why. Again, since I was playing the alpha, I’ll have to go back at some point and see if the beta fixes any of these issues.
Overall, even with its issues, I really dug Horizon. It didn’t try to do anything too different or too unique in order to give it more things to fail at. ;) I think it’s just trying to be a solid, fun, engaging 4X game, and in this case, it succeeded. Sure, it has some issues, but it’s still basically in the oven, and I for one am looking forward to the day when it’s fully ready to be feasted upon. Hopefully whatever issues it has will be taken care of BEFORE the final version is unleashed onto customers, as too often lately games have been thrust upon us in an unfinished state. Horizon deserves better than that, and as players, we do too.
Thanks for reading my preview of Horizon, and please enjoy the screenshots I took for this article below. Enjoy!