A relic, long left abandoned by an ancient but now long vanished alien species. It’s hardly an original idea, but it’s a well established foundation used by many a sci-fi tale. Halcyon 6 is this game’s relic, a derelict hulk long left forgotten. Its occupation and survival is the only thing that is holding the New Terran Federation together after the recent invasion of a new enemy, the Chruul, has seen the Federation beaten back from a galaxy spanning empire to just a single bastion of hope. It’s from here that you’ll need to step in to rebuild, expand and ultimately vanquish the Chruul for good.
Developer Massive Damage, based out of Toronto, pitched the concept to the public through Kickstarter back in early 2015, and after a successful funding campaign the game was released back in September 2016. Its pitched as a space strategy simulation with a focus on deep tactical combat, base building and crew management inspired by the likes of Masters of Orion, FLT and Civilization. And sure enough, it certainly does draw some parallels. It does however manage to feel distinctly unique with a large focus around managing your officers, a heavily constrained resource that you’ll need if you want to get anything done. Alongside combat, which is detailed a little later, the bulk of the game takes form as either tasks or assignments which require the assignment of one officers to complete.
Rebuilding the fleet will be one of the first tasks that you undertake, and any ship you build requires a commanding officer assigned before it can be sent out to explore and fight. In addition, progress in the game will require you to research and develop new technologies which allow you to build better ships, recruit new officers and improve resource acquisition. To achieve this, you’ll need to explore the abandoned areas of Halycon 6, clearing areas so that new rooms can be constructed. The further you spread out from the central core however, the harder things become with areas often occupied by some angry type of life form that’ll need disposing off. As such, there is a lot of strategy around who you assign to what task as well as consideration to who you send exploring. Assigning the right officers to the right tasks greatly accelerates the time to complete those tasks, hence there is a significant time benefit to be gained which ultimately helps you better prepare for combat encounters with the Chruul.
Combat is turn based, with battles playing out as either space or ground based combat. For the most part, both play very similar with the only real difference being the attacks and abilities. The key is understanding the synergies between the various attacks with some attacks inflicting effects and others exploiting them. You’ll also need to carefully study your opponent, as each will have unique resistance to certain effects or damage types and you need to decide your load out prior to starting the battle. Get it right, and you can quickly deal with a small fleet without too much trouble, get it wrong however and it can be a real uphill struggle. Defeat presents it’s own problem. Officers can be killed when either their ship is destroyed, or when they fall during ground combat and it can very quickly change the dynamic of a game. Replacing an officer becomes more expensive with each replacement, and loss also results in negative effects such as reduced damage output against specific enemy types. Technologies can be researched to mitigate the risk somewhat, but you really need to be cautious and make use of the retreat button when combat isn’t going your way.
Quieter periods are seldom peaceful for long. Neighbouring species will often stop by to either ask for you help, or to stake a historical claim to the station itself. It’s entirely up to you how to deal with these, but the choices are pretty much binary. Help out a neighbour in need and you’ll eventually forge an alliance, decline and they’ll become a small hinderance in your side sending the occasional fleet your way that you’ll need to dispose off. Closer to home, life on the station also throws up the occasional issue. Some are designed to subtly edge progress forwards, such as a commitment to build a counsellors office to improve crew morale. Others are designed to offer you some risk for some return, for example resolving a transporter accident that might allow you to duplicate an officer.
Elements of the game are definitely well considered, specifically parts of the UI. Critical information, such as enemy resistance and stats, aren’t buried in heavily nested encyclopaedic menus but instead easily accessible through a simple click during combat. The games clock once started automatically runs until the next event occurs, such as a fleet arriving at a destination or a construction or research task completing, allowing you to confidently let the simulation run it’s course knowing that it’ll pause when the game next requires your input. It’s a really nice feature, and one that I’m surprised that I’ve not encountered before. In contrast there are somethings that could use a little refinement. The positioning of some UI pop-ups is fixed, annoyingly blocking some underlying elements that you want to get to. The research tree feels a little muddled with some entries unlocked by completing tasks through other screens. It’s also not easy to assert completed items, with an interesting colouring scheme serving to confuse rather than clarify. Fleets also cannot be redirected in transit, instead needing to first reach their initial destination before they can be sent somewhere else. This is particularly painful when an enemy fleet turns up shortly after you’ve just dispatched your main fleet to the other side of the galaxy.
Overall, Halycon 6 has managed to occupy the space somewhere between the man management of FTL and the empire building of Masters of Orion. The focus on nurturing your officers, as opposed to terraforming or base building, feels unique and refreshing. Everything feels like it has been designed to keep things moving at a fast pace, avoiding that over burdening micro-management that can weigh you down in other more in-depth simulations. The game also never takes it self very seriously, and plays out more as a satirical take on Star Trek – which is referenced throughout. It’s fun, accessible but also has enough depth to keep things challenging as the game develops. Since it’s initial release off the back of its Kickstarter roots the game has incrementally improved with fixes, balance tweaks and new content and the repackaging into the definitive ‘lightspeed edition’ represents really good value for money.
Halcyon 6: Lightspeed Edition was provided to us by Evolve (PR) via a digital code for PC.