Horizon takes place in the year 2150, more than a century after the human race first discovers that they are not alone in the universe. The warning of another race exterminating life that they do not deem worthy does not deter mankind from heading for the stars however and it is your job to ensure the continued existence of humanity.
The plot sets things up nicely for an epic 4X (explore, expand, exploit and exterminate) strategy game but you are not just confined to humans. You can actually choose from seven other races, each with their own traits and abilities. If none of the races on offer appeal to you there is the option to customize them by selecting the attributes, abilities and starting techs of your choice. You can even change the A.I settings of your opponents, provided you are not playing with mission enabled. Before starting out you are also able to configure the galaxy settings to match the style of game you want to play.
It has been a while since I have tried a turn-based strategy game and to say that I was rusty would be an understatement. A quick browse of the 50+ page manual and a run through the tutorial cleared things up a bit and is definitely recommended before setting out on your own. Even if you are a veteran of the genre, there are a lot of things in Horizon that you might overlook if you skip the documentation.
The bulk of the game is spent looking at the galaxy view which is functional but not exactly what I would call pretty. It is basically a map of the galaxy from where you can direct the movements of your fleet, and seek out hospitable planets. The whole galaxy is visible but you have to send a ship to a system in order to reveal the planets. From the galaxy view, it is easy to see the territories and trade routes at a glance which is very helpful.
As you start exploring systems, colonizing suitable planets and encountering alien races the sector and planet views come into play. The planet view is where you develop the economy of your colony and as you are limited to the amount of structures per planet you have to specialize. Some planets are suitable for farming while others might fare better with industry, tourism or even trade. You’ll also want to build orbital shipyards to speed up production of ships or a starbase for repairs and defense. The whole interface is simple enough to understand and I had no trouble finding my way around.
As is inevitable in games of this type you will sooner or later encounter aliens that want to wipe you off the map. I would have liked to see some deeper diplomacy options as the different races are pretty unique, but my dealings with them were usually limited to war and accepting or declining treaties. They can be an unpredictable bunch as well and a few times, some of the more aggressive races declared war on me for no apparent reason. When things do come down to a fight you get to engage in ship-to-ship tactical combat that takes place in the sector view. You have twenty rounds in which to resolve the conflict or it will spill over into the next turn. Combat can be pretty intense as you manage the weapons and movement of your fleet. Positioning your ship actually plays an important role as you can rotate your ship away from the enemy to shield damaged areas. You can also send troops to board other ships if you have the right equipment, but if all of this sounds like too much of a headache you can simply automate everything.
My favorite part of 4X games, apart from the exploration is the research and customization. Horizon allows you to customize ships that come in four preset sizes, but you can only have four different designs for each. This prevents the game from being bogged down too much with keeping track of endless ship designs, but can feel a bit limiting at times. Each ship type has a core, weapon and special slots that can be customized depending on the role you want them to play in your fleet. The game has a tech tree with ten levels of upgrades and everything is split into relevant categories. I like how the game allows you to focus on specific categories or even individual tech within a category to speed up results, but some more variation or exotic technology would have been great.
The current version of Horizon has no multi-player mode, which to be honest isn’t that big a loss for a game of this type. The choice to focus on the single player campaign instead of weakening it to shoehorn in multiplayer options is definitely something I can support. Horizon does a lot of things right and it is quite addictive but it lacks the spark to really set it apart. The missions add some flavor to the game, but it’s too easy to get tied down in combat. The developers have been hard at work with patches since the launch of the game and the version I played had no problems with crashes or instabilities which is commendable for this type of game. The visuals are clean and functional with only the sector views offering some impressive sights. I quite liked the audio as it remains unobtrusive, which is something you want in a game that you are going to be playing for hours on end.
Horizon definitely requires a serious time investment if you want to get the most out of it, but despite some annoyances such as the combat it is worth it. If the developers can continue to build on what they already have and tighten up the combat the game has the potential to be great. I had fun playing the game and it is definitely a title with a lot of replay value, but don’t buy it expecting to play the next Master of Orion.
* Review originally published February 2014 based on Horizon Release version 220.127.116.11
- OS:Windows XP SP3
- Processor:Intel Core 2 Duo 1.8 GHz or AMD Athlon X2 64 2.0 GHz
- Memory:2 GB RAM
- Graphics:512 MB Video Card w/Pixel Shader 3.0 Support
- Hard Drive:5 GB HD space
- Sound:DirectX 9.0c-compatible
- OS:Windows 7
- Processor:Intel Core i3/i5/i7 or AMD equivalent
- Memory:4 GB RAM
- Graphics:1 GB ATI 4800 series or better, 1 GB NVIDIA 9800 or better
- Hard Drive:5 GB HD space
- Sound:DirectX 9.0c-compatible