Gateway 2: Homeworld
Let Me Take You back to the year 2077, a rather spiff year for the human race by all accounts: twas the stardate during which they made the first contact with an alien race. An ancient space station was found beyond Pluto, uninhabited but packed with over a thousand faster-than-light alien vessels. It had belonged to the Heechee, a huge space-faring race of yore, who had done a runner in the face of discovery by a murderous other race of electronic beings, simply but appropriately called the Assassins (due to their questionable habit of wiping out civilisations in the blink of an eye).
Meanwhile, thousands of people flocked to Gateway to become prospectors. The Heechee ships, although in working order, ran on autopilot, warping to pre-programmed coordinates and then back to Gateway. Piloting one, therefore, became a gamble. You could discover a planet, stuffed with Heechee artefacts and technology (and so swap the loot for vast sums of lolly back home); or you could come out of warp in the middle of star, planet or, worse, a bbc sit com. Just imagine - stuck for the rest of your life in an episode of So Haunt Me.
In the first game you played a lottery winner, transported in the year 2102 from your tedious job in the food mines of Wyoming to the exciting metropolitan Gateway station. With as much chance as anyone of becoming rich (i.e. 0.005 per cent), you mixed with the denizens of the space station culture, spent months in Tau Space (or warp space as we Trekkies call it), discovered worlds unknown and, after many adventurers with strange elephantine aliens and nubile young alienettes who did not know the meaning oflove, recovered loads of artefacts and clues to the Heechee exodus. Gradually you pieced together these clues to form the whys and wherefores of the disappearance.
About 500,000 years ago the Heechee had discovered the Assassins method of discovering strange new worlds and new civilisations. Not, as you might expect, a large spacecraft with a Vulcan aboard, instead huge (planet-sized) scanners which picked up ftl travel and communications and relayed it back to the Assassins. In response the Heechee conceived a plan to warp space around the main scanner, the WatchTower, effectively cloaking half the galaxy from the Assassins. Clever alien species the Heechee were; hard brave and strong they werent. Just before activating the four points of this shield, the Heechee suffered from a bout of bottle trouble, deciding instead to hide inside a black hole rather than risk being discovered by the unapproachable and rather heavily tattooed Assassins. The human race, in discovering Gateway, now faced the same decision the Heechee had in the past: turn on the cloaking device and risk being annihilated, or sit down, shut up, and stay still for the rest of time. Luckily, they had you on board, and before anyone could say But-?, you had confronted an Assassin, defeated it, and then flicked the shield switch, saving humanity from certain carbonisation.
Now, you pick up the story, ten years on. Youve retired on your 50 million dollar fortune to a nice pad in the unpolluted section of San Francisco. Spending all day every day, being rich, oozing wealth, and talking money is not such a hard life. But then, on the news, you hear that an alien spaceship has entered the solar system. Is it a Heechee ship? Is it the Assassins come to duff up the Earth? Nobody knows, but the ambassador scheduled to be sent out there wants to be briefed by none other than you, expert that you are on Heechee internal affairs.
But there is another aspect to this equation: New Age terrorists. A sect of lentil crazed, fanatical murderers want - actually want - to contact the deadly Assassins and have them cleanse Earth in holy fire. Just as youre ready to travel to nasa for the briefing, they hijack the launch pad, kill everyone with nerve gas, and leave you to save the day (sigh).
The storyline is clever, the puzzles are challenging, the interface is hassle-free but the game is, ah, flawed.
Gateway - the original - was a great game. As essentially a text adventure with secondary graphic bits, it summoned as much atmosphere and intrigue as any graphic adventure twice its size. But, above all, it felt like an adventure - a rip-snorting, torn shirt, slight bit of stubble, heroic, all male, final frontier fantasy adventure. It made you feel like you were traversing the unknown; made you think that (perhaps) it was a bit nerve wracking to hyperspace to random co-ordinates; made you feel like part of the Gateway community; made you believe that this Heechee thing was a mystery beyond your imagining and, at the same time, taxed the Krypton Factor parts of your brain to maximum and forced you want to read Pohl until your nose bled .
Homeworld seems to be lacking these formidable characteristics, especially atmosphere and mystery. There are a few excellent graphic sequences - one in particular when your Earth ship soars over the Heechee artefact, all in filmic 3D. And the small graphic location boxes do their job admirably. But they are few and far between. Why arent there more, I asked myself. Text adventurers were invented because the technology couldnt support anything else. Graphics were introduced gradually where memory permitted. Why cant we now, with a ninja hard disks and throbbing great cpus, have loads of text and loads of graphics? Its no use being told youre thrusting into hyperspace. We all know its defeating the object (i.e. to use your imagination) but a grey box with black lettering telling you that your ship is pummelling through the atmosphere and ten gees of pressure are crushing you isnt good enough. It all dents the atmosphere too much.
The mystery element just isnt milked enough. You find out what the enigmatic artefact is within moments of docking with it, and when you discover the Heechee homeworld youll be disappointed after hearing so much about them, to find a whole society of egg-headed Spielberg-type aliens, caught up in a rather dull soap-opera power struggle. Also, the episodic nature of the storyline forces too linear a game, disregarding the freedom (and so excitement) of the original.
The text is well written and witty although the computer has a few pithy replies for you if you try anything too rude. However, occasionally, the humour goes a bit offline. Witness a caveman duo called Oonga & Bonga in-between pissed off sabre toothed tigers and few 'I'm outa here, dude' Day of the Tentacle style conversational options. These jar with Pohls deadpan storyline, making anyone caught up in the atmosphere just ask Huh?
And finally, there's the free cluebook. Why oh why oh why oh why? This is such a faux pas. How many adventurers are there who are iron-willed enough not to look a cluebook after six hours of clueless pounding at a particular puzzle? Which TruePlayer"', faced with the promise of meeting the Heechee and crossing the event horizon of a black hole, would not 'speed up their progress with a few sinful glances at the cluebook? I tried not to, but I did. There endeth my case.
Download Gateway 2: Homeworld
- PC compatible
- Operating systems: Windows 10/Windows 8/Windows 7/2000/Vista/WinXP