Halcyon 6: Starbase Commander is a retro space strategy RPG developed by Massive Damage, Inc. who have worked on Please Stay Calm previously. With plenty of influences from Star Trek, Halcyon starts you off with a massive space station that is mostly unexplored, similarly to the part of space you occupy. Sending out search parties. To discover new planets with stations of them, fight off invading pirates and close the wormholes where hostile aliens are invading your sector.
The game starts off with a brief description of the universe, history and you part within it, being a part of the Terran Federation, the bastion of Human civilisation. Your army has just recently capture the derelict station Halcyon 6, a precursor station said to contain a power weapon. Before long there is a distress signal out in the Terran sector of space and the majority of your fleet is sent out to investigate. Sadly along the way communications with the previous leader and his forces is lost and it falls to you as the player to rebuild Halcyon 6 and unlock the hidden powers that it holds.
The tutorial of the game pretty much describes how to play the game, playing a sort of prologue to the actual games story. You will be clearing out sectors of Halcyon and eventually use the “weapon” it houses, a matter converter machine that morphs Dark Matter into space ships in a matter of days. Using this station you will rebuild your fleet and take back your sector of space from the invading aliens. Thankfully every time you launch a new game the beginning, placement of planets and situations that come your way will always be different due to its random generation.
Playing through to the “end” will take several hours, but the game length can be increased greatly due to the side missions, diplomacy between factions as well as upgrading your station and ships. Completing the game from start to “finish” will take somewhere in the region of 8-10 hours depending on how the random generation favours you. The game also incentivises multiple playthroughs, along with the random generation, with being able to pick 1 of 3 sides with the pirates and diplomatic solutions to conflicts.
Halcyon 6 plays very similarly to other games in the sci-fi genre to have been released recently, with a few changes here and there. You have a galaxy map to select planets, enemy bases and ships, then you select a fleet to go to that location. Besides space travel you have your space station screen, showing the different rooms you have unlocked and those you need to clear out for systems to be installed.
Most of the game is played with the mouse, with some quick options on the number keys for conversations and space for time speed. There is a limited tech “tree” on offer within the space station, requiring both Materials and Dark Matter to research, though sadly the technologies are unlocked in straight lines, leaving the system to feel more like a grind then an adventure. You will also need to spend Materials and Dark Matter to install new rooms in your station, upgrade your ships, build your ships, repair them and more. Crew are also a resource, to man new ships and train new officers.
Following in the footsteps of Stellaris, Halcyon is heavy into its resource management mechanics. You will only produce a little of each resource overtime, faster with some of the systems you can install. Besides the station you can also find Fuel Refineries, Dark Matter Extractors and Colonies out on the asteroid fields and planets near your station that can have resources picked up by passing fleets. Though this style of play is rather slow as there is no automation of gathering in the early stages of the game.
Battle in Halcyon is turn-based through and through, with each ship and officer having stats that dictate almost everything they can do. With 3 classes to choose from you can have a tank, dps, healer, buffer, debuffer, you name it. With levelling up your officers you can also unlocked new ground and space attacks, as well as improve their damage output and chance of status effects. The fights are rather enjoyable at first, though going into the mid-game you will find that it actually plays very similarly to MMORPGs, with specific rotations of attacks vastly outshining others. Debuff the enemy, exploit their debuff, buff your team then use attack 1 on your first ship, 3 on your 2nd ship and 2-4 on your 3rd ship for the rest of the battle… It needs something more.
Overall thoughts and feelings
The music in Halcyon is very laid back, the main track being played while traversing the menus and world map is very calm with an almost foreboding sound to it. Sticking to mostly a sci-fi inspired soundtrack you will hear mostly synth, piano and string instruments. Moving onto a battle screen will change the track to a more energetic sound, with drums and low sounding tunes. The music all blends together smoothly and fits the style of the game, though a lack of tracks will lead to some monotony. Each faction has their own music, the same for the battles you fight, but for the majority of the game you will hear 2-4 tracks over and over again.
The beginning portion of the game is amazing in the setup, giving you an end-goal with tasks along the way to complete, the hatred of Chruul for killing your past friends and the inner turmoil of the pirates. However after the first couple of hours the game falls into the habit that many other sci-fi space exploration games tend to have, it becomes samey, repetitive and grindy. A lot of the mechanics in play force you to have direct control and observation, with automation seemingly a lacking feature. The end game does pick up the pace a bit and adds in some more unique ways to play and things to see, but that is quite a way off.
Overall Halcyon 6: Starbase Commander gets a 7/10, it’s a very interesting game with some good concepts behind it, however I feel it could have done with some more time in development or early access to really nail down some of the more tedious aspects. The references, art style and design are all amazing, with comedy spread across its many hours of gameplay, which does soften to the blow of endless grinding. A more inventive technology tree, interactions with non-sentient life and choices would have greatly improved the game. For the price I think Halcyon is a great buy for those who love games like Stellaris or resource management sci-fi games, but due to its slow pace it might put off more action orientated gamers.