When the somewhat confusingly named Halcyon 6: Starbase Commander(no, there’s no Halcyons 1 through 5) was released in late 2016, it didn’t make much of a splash. Though the game had a successful Kickstarter campaign, and received a whole bunch of positive attention in the months preceding it’s arrival, the critical and commercial response upon release was a resounding ‘meh’.
When the even more confusingly named Halcyon 6: Lightspeed Edition released the following year, the game was already mostly forgotten, and it’s reception was once again underwhelming. Which is a shame, because the shinier, more polished Lightspeed Edition fixes most of the issues that plagued the game.
Describing Halcyon 6 to someone unfamiliar is a fairly daunting task. The game’s setting could be most aptly summarized as off brand Star Trek. You are part of something called the Federation, come into contact with aliens whose entire personality can be summed up in a single sentence, and mess around with incomprehensible ancient alien tech. Even the eponymous numbered space station is vaguely evocative of Deep Space Nine. The game’s tone however, is free of Star Trek’s lofty ambitions and theatricality, for better or worse, landing somewhere in between affectionate parody and homage. As for the gameplay, while it draws from many familiar elements, there is nothing quite like Halcyon 6 out there. The space station where you will be spending the bulk of the game is instantly familiar in it’s layout to anyone who has ever played XCOM, while the strategic map strives to emulate various classic 4x space games such as Master of Orion or Galactic Civilizations, albeit with a much more limited scope. As for the JRPG-inspired combat, it’s closest kin would be Star Traders: Frontiers, another relatively recent indie game, although with the added layer of complexity afforded by controlling up to three ships. From a strictly mechanical perspective, it’s not that unique in the realm of JRPGS, but the fact that you’re controlling spaceships makes it feel quite fresh.
Upon starting the game, the most noticeable feature is the confusing, unwieldy interface. Much like the charming pixel-art, it hearkens back to the glory days of the late 90’s strategy games, though this is a retro feature that should have been left in the past. Once you get past the sensory overload of all the pop-up menus, and the herculean task of getting used to the un-intuitive control scheme, you will find a very solid experience waiting for you.
Throughout the roughly 20 hours of the main story, you might find yourself chuckling at a couple of lines of dialogue, but it’s very clear that the generic, albeit competently written plot is not really the main focus of the game. Instead, what the game is really about is the combat and character progression. As previously stated, the combat is mostly excellent, mixing and matching some of the best parts of classic turn based titles to create something enjoyable, if somewhat derivative. The main feature of the game’s combat is the status effects. Almost every ability or attack you can use applies or exploits different effects, and every enemy ship has different resistances to certain effects. Even the battlefields themselves influence how effective certain status effects are, and learning how to switch abilities on the fly between combat encounters, and how to create the most efficient combos is absolutely vital to winning the toughest fights. The system’s biggest weakness is that most of these status effects are, in practice, identical. “Crew Panic” and “Hull Breach”, for example might sound like they would have different effects, but all they do is give a certain damage bonus if you use the right ability. Keeping things relatively simple is one of the combat system’s biggest advantages, but this is an area where it could have used more complexity.
As for the character progression and customization, it comes in two forms: ships, which you unlock with research and build at your space station, and officers, which you recruit and level up. There are 3 classes of ships, with an extra jack of all trades class locked behind the DLC (it’s a very cheap DLC and it provides a ton of content however), and each class comes with 2 different models, though, as with the status effects, they really could have differentiated them more. The second part of character progression are of course the officers, your main characters. These are slightly more customizable, and each one comes with a brief but charming backstory, giving them quite a bit of personality. Each of your officers has their own unique skill trees, and although they aren’t exactly deep, combined with the ships that you assign each officer to, they do provide a decent amount of variety in terms of abilities.
There’s also ground combat, which, in what has already become a recurring theme, does very little to differentiate itself from the other type of combat. Your officers are joined by a couple of red shirts, another Star Trek trope, and they each take turns blasting enemies with reskinned versions of your ship-based abilities, applying reskinned versions of your ship-based status effects. Once again , I wish the developers took the time to add a bit more variety to the game.
One part where the variety does shine, however, is in the visual design of the enemies. While they don’t do a lot of things very differently, both the ships and the creatures you encounter are very inventive, and the different factions look both distinctive and unique. It’s truly a wonder what the game’s graphic designers managed to accomplish with such limited resources, as their colorful, pixelated creations absolutely ooze charm and personality.
Halcyon 6 isn’t a game that’s gonna blow you away with it’s polish and presentation, and it’s not reinventing the wheel in terms of gameplay. But it draws from a whole bunch of inspirations to provide a pleasant experience, and doesn’t overstay it’s welcome. At it’s current price, I fully recommend it to any sci-fi or JRPG fan out there, and if you’re still not convinced, it also goes on sale pretty frequently.
Final grade: 7.5/10