Science Fiction usually falls into two camps: adventures with smugglers and action, like Star Wars, and the interplanetary politics with occasional shootouts and dogfights found in Star Trek. Halycon 6: Starbase Commander falls into the latter category of Sci-Fi, with the gameplay a mix between Heroes of Might and Magic, FTL: Faster Than Light, and XCOM. Halcyon 6: Lightspeed Edition is essentially the same game, but faster, thanks to some careful rebalancing.
Tasked with picking up the pieces after the sudden appearance of a new alien race all but wipes out the Federation, it’s up to the player and the recruitable set of Captains and crew members to man ships that you build with the various resources scattered throughout the cosmos. The eventual goal is to eradicate this feral and hostile race, while also making allies or enemies of the other alien races.
It certainly has a distinctive presentation style for a space simulator, opting for a pixelated approach popular with the indie scene. Alien species you face are distinct and full of personality, making talking to them tense as it’s unclear how they’d react to responses you give. Music is made of a rather psychedelic, futuristic tone that isn’t out of place, but overall unremarkable outside the game.
Halcyon 6 starts players off at a major disadvantage with everyone else in the galaxy already well established. Taking inspiration from 4X strategy games, the first port of call would be to recolonise the Federation’s territory in order to gain resources, build more ships and recruit more officers to man them. Occasionally, controlled territories will come under attack, including Halcyon 6 itself. You’ll have to be wary of that, as the game will end if Halcyon 6 is destroyed.
On top of this, the Federation soon be visited by neighbours who will initially either just spout insults at how the Federation succumbed to this new threat, or potentially even offer emotional support. Pirates from a nearby sector will likely be gunning for the destruction of Halcyon 6 from the get-go.
Naturally all this could potentially be stressful, except for the fact that enemies are very weak to begin with. Sometimes enemies are fought in ground combat with JRPG battles featuring a ship’s officers or a Green Cadet (read Red Shirt), but the vast majority of the time will be spent fighting ships in JRPG space battles. There’s lots of them.
Halcyon 6 usually has 3v3 battles where the destruction of any officer and ship is permanent – a trope shared by XCOM. As such, battles are tense, with each ship able to inflict certain status ailments with each attack. Should another ship exploit that weakness with their own attacks, they’ll do significantly more damage. It’s a rather simple system, but takes time to work out exactly what team would be effective. Once worked out, battles become mostly routine.
Alas, it all comes down to preparation and Halcyon 6 borrows heavily from XCOM in this regard. The Starbase is mostly in ruins, so building new rooms will require clearing out the space, building rooms, and then manning it at times with officers to speed up the time it takes to obtain upgrades– officers are also required to improve a territory’s resource gathering and distribution. Officers can also gain ranks and new skills via tech trees, which allow for customisation.
While I’m fine with the concept, since XCOM is the main driving force behind the games’ systems at play, there are a few things I couldn’t shake. In general, I really enjoyed the random events that require making a choice that affects progress; something that FTL offered in spades. These unlock more missions to work through, with some enforcing time limits. These thankfully work well and spice things up momentarily.
However, the JRPG mechanics of combat felt off when paired with everything else. Sure, it’s a simple and easy to understand way of showing combat, but it doesn’t quite fit thematically. That’s not to say that I hate the JRPG system in place, quite the contrary, but it doesn’t do enough to justify itself as the combat system of choice.
As the update’s title suggests, Halcyon 6: Lightspeed Edition speeds the game up significantly. It promises a campaign that will take around 12 hours to complete, depending on your play style. It also boasts about having improved progression, significant user interface fixes, and balance updates to accommodate, while also having more original content and a higher difficulty mode for veterans.
For me though, the pacing of the game is still somewhat on the slow side and it all boils down to the number of JRPG battles that get in the way of building up my forces. Yes, tension caused by colonies being attacked by opposing forces makes Halcyon 6 a challenge, but it’s more like swatting a persistent fly than compelling combat.
Halcyon 6: Lightspeed Edition is a decent update to a game that always had promise, but it’s still not for everyone. Rebuilding the Federation, making allies, making enemies, and all the choices I had to make were all compelling, but honestly the combat didn’t thrill me and happened just that little bit too often. If you don’t mind this as much, then the Lightspeed Edition is a good time, just not quite an essential purchase.