Gateway II: Homeworld
First posted on 28 August 1998. Last updated on 08 August 2009.
Legend Entertainment, best known as the heir to the sacred legacy of Infocom, follows up its original sleeper hit Frederik Pohl's Gateway with a sequel that is of equal, if not higher, quality. Based on Pohl's Gateway series of books, the story of Gateway II: Homeworld is highly imaginative and enjoyable, much like its predecessor. This game also has the highly dubious honor of being the last, great semi-text, command line driven adventure. After the release of this game, Legend Entertainment finally succumbs to the point and click paradigm of adventure gaming. While this title breaks no new ground or defines any real advancement in the dwindling genre, it nevertheless represents a game that does everything right. Truly, the Gateway series is underrated.
The premise behind Gateway is that in the future, mankind lives in an over regulated and overcrowded world. The discovery of an ancient alien space station, a remnant of an ancient race called the Heechee, is a harbinger of promise. Filled with hundreds of faster than light ships, the Gateway Corporation hires desperate men and women, dubbed as Prospectors, to fly these ships to unknown destinations. Some prospectors may get lucky and find a big hit such as a habitable world or a cache of useful Heechee technology. They get their cut of the profits and are set for life. More often than not, however, is that one of two things happens to these prospectors—failure or death.
At the conclusion of Gateway, you have made a fortune by saving the universe from destruction at the hands of the Heechee's ancient enemy, the nihilistic Assassins. With all the new Heechee technology you have helped to find, you think everything on planet Earth will be hunky-dory, but that is just not so! A growing Terrorist death cult, who worships the Assassins as dark Gods, menaces the world. The game begins with you narrowly escaping from an assassination attempt. You are then flown by the Gateway Corporation to a launch site to brief a team flying in an experimental spaceship. The purpose of this mission is to make contact with a colossal Heechee ship which has mysteriously warped into the system. When another terrorist attack forces you to launch the rocket prematurely, you must now undertake the mission yourself. After a long trip, you are ready to explore the secrets in this ancient construct. Unfolding the mystery of the undiscovered land may lead you to the answers to the big questions in the series—Who are the Heechee? Why have they suddenly abandonned our galaxy many millenimums ago?
This game is based chiefly on Beyond the Blue Event Horizon that is the second book of the Gateway series by Pohl. Pohl is most famous for his Hugo and Nebula award winning Heechee Saga. There is also a smattering of material drawn from Heechee Rendezvous and Annals of the Heechee that are the last books of the same series. Legend Entertainment has succeeded in bringing Pohl's work onto the computer screen. It has also been able to breathe at least a few more years of life into the art of command line driven text adventures with this title. A text window displays a well written description of places and things, above which a window with richly drawn graphics is placed. A list with all the recognized parser words can be brought up, helping to cut down on confusion about what vocabulary is valid and what is not. Finally, all these enhancements are combined with original music scores. Frankly, I think Legend Entertainment is right behind Sierra On-Line in creating some of the most beautiful and mood evoking melodies ever produced for a computer game. This game is no different. The music is the cornerstone for most of its games—a fact which seems to hold true even to this day.
Legend Entertainment has been able to create a workable compromise in adventure game design with this title. For purists, the sound and graphics can be turned off, and the game can be played as a standard text based adventure. On the other hand, for those who desire multimedia (sound, graphics, and mouse) support, these additions are a true blessing. Indeed, Gateway II: Homeworld represents the pinnacle of development for this class of game engine. While most of the game is controlled with typed commands, there are several sections in the game where you have to switch to a point and click system. Certain puzzles take advantage of this new feature. Character interaction is also a cinch with this system. Instead of trying to figure out what to ask, you are simply presented a list of available questions. Although this approach may be somewhat limiting, most players likely find it to be a fair compromise. In the end, however, Legend Entertainment has fallen prey to the same problems to which its previous incarnation Infocom has fallen. As gamers finally grow tired of command driven adventures, Legend Entertainment has to change with the times—something Infocom unfortunately has not been able to accomplish with quite as much ease.
The game is originally released only in Floppy Disk version. A CD-ROM version is later released. The CD-ROM version is enhanced with more than 20 minutes of new animation sequences filled with 3D modeled and rendered images that are not available in the original version. This amounts to 5 times more animation than that in the original version. Both the original and CD-ROM versions feature 256 color VGA graphics. A free copy of Gateway II: Homeworld Official Hint Book is enclosed in the CD-ROM version.
While there is little new or inspired in gameplay from this game, for what it does it does damn well. There are some real moments in the game where you feel the tension, especially when the terrorists are out to get you and you are working on limited time! Overall, the game moves at a nice pace that is neither too fast nor too slow. Furthermore, the puzzle design is almost perfect, with only few dead-ends. Most puzzles, if not all, are straightforward and very logical. The puzzles in this game may be a challenge for a novice player. There are some real brainteasers, but in the end there is not a puzzle that does not have a logical and believable solution. This is also a game that holds deep in my heart, as there are a lot of fun gadgets to play with in the form of advanced Heechee artifacts. My favorite among these artifacts has to be the Heechee genetic engineering console. There is nothing more fun than playing God a little to take the edge off the fact you are stuck several billion miles away from home!
Good music, excellent graphics, a thought provoking story, and well thought out puzzles all make this game a joy to play. All the basic ingredients for a classic adventure game are present. Another highpoint is that this game is truly a well designed and fun title based on a media license; and as we all know, there are far more crappier license based games than there are good ones! Indeed, it is difficult to find a dark spot in this game. It may be said that the graphics are hardly the best that the time period has to offer. While its production is a solid effort, there is not very much that really makes this title stand out. It does nothing new, but it does old tricks with an unparalleled flair and panache. Such is the stuff of which a sleeper hit is made!
Gateway II: Homeworld is a minor classic in my opinion. When it comes time for Legend Entertainment to finally give up its command line game engine, it has boldly given us a title that is worthy of notice in this strange and poignant point in the history of adventure gaming. This game may not be everyone's cup of tea, but if you are a hardcore adventure gamer like me, you definitely do not want to miss this hidden gem.