By: David Tavernier
Have you ever played Sim City and wondered what it might be like to play it on a much larger scale? Horizon gives you the chance to manage your own galactic empire and compete with up to 10 alien races for galactic dominance. And while Horizon does succeed in delivering this experience to a certain extent, it also has some glaring issues that rob the game of some of its fun.
The controls in Horizon are pretty much point and click with hotkeys that help you move through the numerous menus and issue orders to your fleet. It can be fun managing your empire from the overhead map that shows all the stars to be explored in the galaxy. From there, you can see trade routes you’ve opened with friendly alien race as well as enemy fleets that’ll soon be dangerously close to your fledgling colonies.
In order to expand your empire, you can send scouts to the farthest reaches of the galaxy, and then dispatch ships for terraforming and colonization of planets, all in the blink of an eye. Due to these features, playing Horizon often gives you the satisfying feeling that you have an entire galaxy to command at your fingertips.
There are also times where the controls feel cumbersome, however. Some of the menus that pop up when you click on a star can be very obtrusive and hard to navigate. For instance, if you have 10 ships at a certain star, when you click on it a huge box pops up showing five of them, and you then must scroll through the box to reach the other ships (even though it’s large enough to show all 10 at the same time).
It is also hard to separate the ships that you have given orders to from the ships you haven’t. It would be nice if the ships would change color from the traditional green (to, say, red) so that you could tell more easily which ships have orders and which don’t. As constituted, it makes it so that you spend a lot of time trying to figure out who still needs instructions.
The graphics in Horizon are well-executed, although they are definitely a bit old fashioned. The ship models and combat between ships reminded me of a game from the ’90s called Escape Velocity, and in some ways Horizon seemed be an homage to it. So the graphics were a pleasant surprise in that respect.
As far as sound is concerned, Horizon readily accomplishes its orchestra of outer-space sound effects. Every ship moves with an appropriate rocket sound, and laser cannons also sound fitting. As far as music is concerned, there’s basically one main theme song that plays as you are making moves on the overhead map, and the only other songs appear whenever you enter battle or are navigating the main menu screen. This means there is very little musical variety. This doesn’t detract from the game too much, but it would have been nice if there were a wider range of musical numbers.
The gameplay is similar to Sim City, except you build your empire across an entire galaxy instead of a small plot of land. That being said, there are only roughly 100 stars that you can colonize and about 10 alien races that you can either become friends with or do battle against. Horizon is a turn-based game, and being such you often are encouraged to cram as many choices as you can into one turn. This can be fun — as it is a challenge — but often this fact makes the game boring because you can’t just focus on doing little by little. You always have a million things to do at once.
As far as the gameplay is concerned, I have one huge complaint. One of the alien races you battle (called the Varaians) has ships that are seemingly impossible to kill. So far I’ve fought their ships with a ratio of 5:1 ships in my favor, and I have yet to even make a dent in their shields. Maybe I’m missing something. Maybe I need to research some special technology to destroy their shields. But on the normal difficulty it just doesn’t make sense that I can throw multiple cruisers at a single enemy transport ship and slowly watch as my ships die one by one.
Keep in mind that a transport ship isn’t even supposed to be able to fight very well, and a cruiser is a battleship that is meant to destroy other ships. This issue is kind of game breaking because no matter how many ships you produce you will still lose any battle with the Varaians. This means they will take over your star systems slowly but surely, and there is nothing you can really do about it.
In its favor, Horizon does have quite a bit of longevity. I clocked about nine hours of game time, and at the end of that it felt like my empire had hardly begun. Unfortunately, even though it’s long, its issues make it not very fun to play. Due to the clunky menus, commanding your fleet can be dull, and due to the above-mentioned balance issues, fighting against the alien races feels just plain unfair at times. So while Horizon does have the potential to be an entertaining space sim, in the end it falls flat.
It’s hard to recommend Horizon to anyone who isn’t a diehard fan of the galactic sim genre. There is some fun to be had and some single-player longevity, but playing the game often feels more like a chore than good fun. Also, due to its lack of multiplayer options, Horizon‘s price tag seems hardly justified. So, unless you’re dying to play an old-school galactic space sim you should probably skip on Horizon and look elsewhere in the gaming universe.