Halycon 6: Starbase Commander (8.5 out of 10) – Massive Damage, Inc. – PC/Mac – 09.09.16 -- $19.99
While the words “to boldly go where no one has gone before” never fail to evoke a romantic perspective on space exploration, I tend to side with H.P. Lovecraft’s interpretation of the infinite cosmos. In fact, the idea of hurtling ourselves into the depths of something that we can’t possibly comprehend is the ultimate act of hubris on our part. The universe isn’t some new frontier, ripe for exploration—it’s an ever-expanding void, built upon the corpses of dead stars.
“Halcyon 6” is a game that is based in a universe as cosmic naysayers like myself can get behind—humanity has overextended its reach, made contact with an interstellar race of biomechanical murder beasts and been hunted to the edge of extinction. The only bastion of hope in this vast expanse is a marooned alien space station called Halcyon 6. It’s the player’s job to explore this space station, build fleets and gather resources in order to rebuild humanity.
The initial concern when launching “Halcyon 6” is whether or not it will be able to juggle all of the different gaming influences that are at play. Base management and recruitment is a lot like the “XCOM” games, space and ground combat draws widely from the JRPG genre, and the script pans out like a season of “Star Trek.” It’s a lot to take on for an indie studio like Massive Damage, but I’ll be damned if they haven’t pulled off a solid title with excellent replayability. It fools you into thinking it’s a rogue-like title in the vein of “FTL,” but once you start building fleets and sending them off to protect your interests across the galaxy, “Halcyon 6” becomes increasingly complex.
Most of the game is played out through ship-to-ship combat, which, despite the obvious nod to the early “Final Fantasy” games, has yet to get old. If the player really wants to take their opponents down, they have to rely on their ship’s abilities to inflict negative status buffs on the enemy, and then take advantage of those buffs by exploiting them. For example, say your Acolyte uploads a virus to your enemies, bringing their sensors down. A Rogue can use its taunt attack to exploit the fact that their sensors are down and do way more damage. It’s absolutely crucial when facing larger ships, and it’s also something that enemies will use against you. While the ship and character designs are lovely in their pixelated glory, it’s this brilliantly simple mechanic that makes “Halcyon 6” so replayable.
Away team missions function in much the same way as space combat—yes, the game occasionally requires your officers to beam down to the surface of a hostile planet or fight off alien vermin while they explore the space station. It’s lots of fun too, but it doesn’t happen nearly enough. The space combat is still very satisfying, but since the officers have different abilities and exploits, it would be nice to have things a bit more mixed up.
Graphically, “Halcyon 6” is downright beautiful. Combat takes place against many different cosmic backgrounds, and each ship has a very cool, sci-fi aesthetic. Like much of the game, the graphics are at their strongest during combat. Battles become more vivid and colorful as enemies warp the fabric of reality while friendly ships blast solar flares and nano-mites back at them.
The broad strokes of “Halcyon 6” work very well—it’s got a ton of replay value, it’s fun to build ships and send them out on attack runs or to gather resources and the base management is surprisingly engaging. On the other hand, the game doesn’t do particularly well with nuance—occasionally the player gets assassination missions, but most of the game consists of putting out fires when they appear. Luckily, the developers have invested a lot into making combat fun and sophisticated, so this isn’t too big of a gripe, but a bit more mission variation would be nice.
All in all, the replay value of “Halcyon 6” is definitely worth twenty bucks. Fans of resource/base management, JRPG’s and science fiction in general can expect to get plenty of mileage out of this indie gem.