Title: Halcyon 6: Starbase Commander
Available On: PC
Developer: Massive Damage, Inc
Publisher: Massive Damage, Inc
Genre: Strategy, Rogue-like
Official Site: http://playhalcyon6.com/
Release Date: September 9, 2016
Where To Buy: Steam
In the far future, Humanity has leapt into the stars, quickly becoming one of the most important players in the known galaxy. Advanced technology, strong diplomatic skills and an experienced navy placed them on the top of the dog pile against all comers. However, soon after the discovery of a series of alien starbases, the eponymous Halcyon 6 included, a vast armada of strange flesh-beasts burst through a portal, ransacking 95 per cent of all human space. Space stations, fleets and civilians were all systematically eliminated – The Chruul had arrived, and humanity might be just the first on the menu.
That is, with the exception of a single starbase: Yours. As commander of the mysterious Halcyon 6, you are tasked with the retaking of the Terran empire as well as the protection of those few remnants of humanity that survived. The task isn’t easy, but with the assistance of your crew, your wits and your determination, you’ll either succeed or die trying.
Halcyon 6 is a pixel-based sci-fi strategy game that borrows elements from a wide variety of genres, including RPGs, 4x and rogue-likes. It’s a vast title for an indie game, covering a number of different gameplay bases without feeling like they were simply tacked on. Deceptively complex, it’s a game that should appeal to anyone who likes Star Trek, XCOM, or just plain old strategy mechanics. While it might need a few quality of life upgrades, it manages to make its core gameplay addictive, its visuals unique and interesting, and nails that difficulty curve that doesn’t make a single defeat or victory the end of your game.
It’s got style, it’s got depth, and while it’s UI could do with some work, it’s a fantastic entry from a small studio. Let’s take a look at what Halcyon 6: Starbase Commander has to offer.
There’s a lot to Halcyon 6. Base-building, exploration, emergent story-telling, space and ground combat, a fair bit of plot and more than a few surprises along the way. Taking back your corner of the universe is no easy task, but the game doesn’t let up in giving you a diverse range of different gameplay strategies on the way to victory. That being said, some factors are more important than others, and perhaps the most important are your officers.
If there is one thing that will define your experience in Halcyon 6, it’s the kinds of officers that you get. These daring do-gooders are the backbone of your fleet, commanding ships, building the base, leading ground missions and generally doing everything they can to ensure victory. As a result, they are incredibly important assets for any playthrough. Losing a particularly useful officer can set you on the back foot for months of in-game time, while having the right person in the right ship at the right time can turn the tide of battle in your favour. You’ll get a set of three at the start of the game, including one particular powerful Epic level officer who has an edge over the others. Each falls into one particular specialisation: Science, tactical or engineering, each commanding the corresponding ship classes and each having their own unique background text too.
Every officer that you recruit has randomised abilities and traits. One tactical officer could have a completely different set of abilities and traits compared to another, affecting both their usefulness in the field and on the starbase. For example, one officer could have the ability to heal other ships in space combat, while another has skills that are more based around dealing damage. Meanwhile, their ground combat abilities are also completely different, as are their traits (which can unlock special options when dealing with dangerous scenarios). One tactical officer could be so different from another that they might as well be commanding opposite classes of ships.
Your strategies, your victories and your ideal routes to victory are defined by who you send where and in what kind of ship. One playthrough can be completely different compared to another, giving Halcyon 6 a diversity and longevity that even AAA games would do well to take note of. The ship classes and subclasses themselves (of which there are plenty) have individual, set skills regardless of their commander. But the choice of officer can redefine its role, capabilities and chances of victory, as well as how well they support their fellows both on the ground, at the base and during space combat. The game is relatively well-balanced, so you won’t get rolled just because you don’t have the perfect matches for your officers, but it creates a surprising level of depth from an otherwise simple mechanic.
Speaking of perfect matches, it’s all about synergy in Halcyon 6, to borrow a vomit-worthy business term. The choice of officers, ship, starbase modules, alliances and mission priorities are all based around a simple question: Is it going to be supported?
For example, take space combat. You get three main classes of ship. Engineering, tactical and science, each with a corresponding commanding officer class. Within these, there are a further set of subclasses. A tactical ship could be a quick, debuffing rogue or a long-range, single-target high-DPS marksman. Engineers are nearly always tanky, but just how they are tanky depends on the ship, whiles science vessels can either heal or buff their teammates or debuff the enemy. It’s all a big throwback to classic group make-ups in fantasy RPGs; even the names of the ship subclasses reflects that. And much like classic RPGs, your chances of victory depend heavily on your fleet’s ability to work together and support each other.
A science ship may be able to take a foe’s sensors offline, giving the tactical vessel the opportunity to deal extra damage, while an engineering boat taunts the opposing force to draw their fire. Nearly every combat skill both on the ground and in the stars gives a debuff to whatever it hits – debuffs which can then be “exploited” by another ship’s ability. That deals extra damage, and can sometimes also push out a debuff of its own. As a result, combat is a mad rush to debuff and exploit as many enemies as possible, before they do the same to you. All the vessels have to work together. Synergy.
Sometimes, that can result in repetitive fights, which is unfortunate. You do have the choice to either exploit a debuff, or let it run its course to keep the enemy on the back foot. That can be a good tactical decision in some fights, but most of the time I found it more useful to just single out an enemy, debuff and exploit them over and over again until they died, then move on to the next one. Different fleet and officer make-ups certainly put the spice back into the game – fighting the Chruul with one set of officers can be very different to an alternative set, for example – but once you find a single strategy that works, there is generally not too much of a reason to stray from it. This could of course be because that most of the time you will be fighting the Chruul rather than other species with different weaknesses, but it’s still something to keep in mind. There is definitely diversity and a real depth of strategy, but also a level of repetitiveness.
Outside of combat, players are also tasked with collecting resources from the remnants of the destroyed Terran empire, building up their advanced starbase and generally trying to claw their way back onto the galactic stage. In a similar way to Total War, what you do on the campaign map can heavily affect your chances in actual combat.
There’s a bit of base management in the XCOM style, as well as some very basic diplomacy that can help define your role in the galaxy. Help out certain species, and they might help you back. Fight them or refuse to do missions for them, and they might not be so quick to assist. There are a fair number of different genres crammed into Halcyon 6, far more than you might expect. It can be overwhelming, but a solid tutorial gets you through the basics. You are somewhat thrown into the deep end, but the game doesn’t try to punish you too much early on while you are still finding your space-feet.
You’ll send out scouts to grab fuel, dark matter and materials, military fleets to combat any invaders and do some light research to upgrade your fleet, base and officers. Combat is probably the most in-depth part of Halcyon 6, so the rest of the game is quite basic in terms of mechanics. It’s still nice to have such a wide variety of different things to do however, so that isn’t a point against them. Feeling overwhelmed at the beginning just makes it all the more satisfying once you work out a winning strategy – though the constant need to collect resources does get very tiresome. The game does give you the ability to automate some of it via collection drones, but you’ll be doing a lot of clicking of the “launch fleet” button. Streamlining this process more easily from a UI point of view would have been welcome.
A little bit more on the UI, and the general look of the game: It’s basic. Very basic. I’m usually a pretty big fan of the pixelated style, because it allows developers to get their game out without needing to rely on high-fidelity graphics to convey what they want. Unfortunately, in the case of Halcyon 6, this also translated to a UI without enough quality of life considerations.
You can only zoom out so far on the galaxy map, there are often far too many clicks to get to a basic, repeated function (such as the sending of fleets discussed above) and often you’ll find that you have to double click on some parts of the HUD for no real reason. There’s nothing game-breaking or particularly frustrating, but it’s always a worry when your fingers start to hurt simply because you are having to push down so many times to do basic functions.
Despite that, the game does look and feel great. There are a few combat attacks that are simple – literally lines that stretch across the battlefield in some cases – but for the most part the ships, explosions, cinematics and characters all get the point across. It can look a little janky at times, and amateurish at worst, with some sections looking closer to a free Flash game than fully-fleshed out title. The sound is similar. There are no voice overs (not that they are needed), and most of the time the electronic tones are very apt and add a great deal to the experience. That being said, there are a few clunky moments, such as when the combat soundtrack starts repeating itself with a very obvious pause between each cycle.
Overall, Halcyon 6: Starbase Commander is an ambitious indie game that manages to get a lot of things right, with a particular highlight being the sheer depth of strategy that you are given as a player. Replayability is high, tactics are integral and you can genuinely begin to feel pretty attached to your little starbase and motley crew. The light humour is a nice touch, and the characters that you interact with are memorable – though the story may be not the most original thing in the world, it acts as a great backdrop to the greater gameplay.
The only thing stopping this from being a 5/5 for me is simply the lack of polish on things like the UI and the graphics. When a game starts getting difficult to play because of technical factors like that, it really detracts from the whole experience. Despite that, it’s a title that got me coming back night after night for just one more fight, one more event, one more communique. It comes highly recommended from us, and we take our hats off to an indie studio that managed to create something with simple mechanics but plenty of layers of complexity.
- Gameplay: Lots of diversity of play, but can get a little repetitive after some time.
- Graphics: Pixelated, sometimes janky. Not a strong point.
- Sound: Great sound and music, but again can be a little clunky.
- Presentation: Big game in a small package.
- Lots of diversity.
- Plenty of replayability.
- Addictive gameplay .
- AI isn't always fantastic.
- Quality of life upgrades required.
- Can get repetitive after some time.
A serial hobbyist, Jack loves everything from blacksmithing to brewing – and, of course, the occasional video game.