The 4X space strategy genre has seen somewhat of a revival in recent years, with several indie titles being released via Steam. The most notable release, in the opinion of this reviewer, has been Endless Space – a rich, engaging strategy experience with considerable customization options. Most other recent releases have fallen short for die-hard fans of the genre, especially when compared to the Master of Orion titles, a defining standard for nearly two decades.
Enter Horizon ($29.99, Steam) – one of the few 4X space releases that comes close (or at least, closer) to capturing the essence of the Master of Orion series. Developed by L30 Interactive, Horizon saw its official full release in early February, replete with significant enhancements to gameplay, story and AI when compared to its earlier Beta releases.
As the developers of the game have themselves noted, what Horizon does best is offer a fast-paced, enjoyable single-player experience. A relatively easy to navigate UI, short and fun missions, and decent AI ensure that you won’t get bored too quickly, and Horizon fast invites immersion for several hours. Players can choose one of the pre-set races (each with its own storyline), or design their own through the race customization tool. Planet management, ship-building and research are all straight-forward processes that do not require a huge amount of individual management per turn and, unlike in other titles, ships in Horizon have no movement restrictions, so your exploration of the unknowns can continue unhindered. Additionally, combat features frequently in Horizon, especially in smaller galaxies with many races, and can be controlled manually or resolved automatically.
Absolutely! But simplicity in a 4X space strategy game comes at a cost. Notably, as a veteran of the genre, the absence of a multiplayer option was disappointing. While Horizon can be fun for veterans and newcomers alike, the lack of depth in some features is likely to lose the die-hard crowd in the long run. I mention multiplayer support first because, as I think is the case with many games, the under-developed features that irritate players in single-player mode can often be overlooked when given the opportunity to play against friends.
Aside from the cut-scenes (repetitive, but pretty looking), Horizon is certainly not breaking any new ground in visually appealing graphics. For the most part, the underwhelming visuals (as well as an uninspiring soundtrack) are more reminiscent of an early 00’s game than something fit for 2014. I say this as a player who rarely plays games on their highest graphics setting, nor even really notices minor graphical issues. Perhaps it’s the style and pace of the game itself but, whatever the reason, it’s hard to not be slightly put off by the quality of the graphics, especially at its current price point.
Simplicity also hinders one other major factor of Horizon’s gameplay – research. The technology tree could be better compared to a young sapling than a mighty oak (it’s not every day you can compare video games to trees, is it?) and genre aficionados will likely be unimpressed after the first few levels. At first, it appears there may be a divergent path your civilization can take in its technological development, but it becomes apparent that Laser Cannon 1, Laser Cannon 2, Laser Cannon 3 and so forth are not all that different after all. Likewise the technology utilized by the different races is, for all intents and purposes, identical in every facet other than name. Thus, despite all the hard work in advancing technology, players end up with pretty much the same ships they started with.
Overall, Horizon is a decent game. Its simple mechanics and format allow for fast, entertaining gameplay, even if it likely won’t hold your interest for the long-term. This game is a good investment for players looking for 4X strategy in a fast, easy to digest format. Horizon is still very much a work-in-progress and continues to be improved upon with regular patches. Credit is certainly due to the developers who have both responded to community wants & suggestions, as well as effectively develop a full-release game that can compete with similar titles on the market.