(The sequel to the great Frederick Pohl’s Gateway. This game is even better.
Gateway 2: Homeworld - Details (tads.org))
In your previous Gateway adventure, you saved Earth from the Assassins out of pure altruism. That you also got a gazillion space-dollars for it means that you can now afford comfortably lounging in one of your penthouses on the 300th floor of a San Francisco skyscraper, living the easy life.
But what’s this? Suddenly you get a call from the chief of the Corporation. A starship has been sighted on the far edges of the solar system. Because of your previous alien experiences, they want you to train the ambassador for a diplomatic mission.
And what’s this? You get a second call warning you that a religious sect has sent a squad to kill you, hoping to sabotage the diplomatic mission and travel to the Artifact (as the alien starship is known) themselves.
From this moment on, you are sucked into a fast and thrilling adventure to save Earth once more, from multiple enemies at the same time.
Gateway 2 - Homeworld is extremely well paced. The first chapter is a race against time and against the terrorists who want to claim the FTL-ship. You have to get your sequence of actions just right while you hear the sect members closing in on your radio. Very gripping.
In the next chapters, the tempo goes down a bit, leaving more breathing space for exploration and wonderment. The driving force of the story remains strong though. I found myself solving puzzles not just “to read/ find out what will happen next”, but to genuinely solve a problem and help the NPCs in-game. The motivation came less from being an interested reader and more from being involved in the events in the game-world.
On the surface, the story is an action and adventure-packed SciFi romp. You fly different spacecraft to various alien worlds, solving the problems at hand with a variety of futuristic tech-gadgets.
Somewhat deeper in the game though, through dialogues with and lectures to Heechee NPCs, thoughtprovoking themes come up. There is a philosophical/theological debate about death, resurrection and personhood with a learned alien priest. At a certain point, you are asked to give lectures about Earth to the aliens, and these go into ecological issues like overpopulation and depletion of resources. In another lecture, your character talks about human tribe mentality and nationalism as an obstacle to solving societal problems. All pretty deep.
Don’t let this spook you though. The dialogues are all menu-based and the different options mostly don’t matter much, making room for some comic relief in your choice of responses. The lectures are cutscenes, so if you get bored, just spacebar them away. Still, I liked the depth of themes and it had me pondering the issues after the play-session.
The core of the game still consists of the “simple” task of exploring strange new worlds and defeating the bad guys by overcoming the obstacles.
Gateway 2 goes even further than the first game in putting you in many different settings: a huge spaceship/zoo (yes, i said “zoo”), an ice world and the Heechee homeworld. While the settings are very diverse, each one of them has a rather small map. This is a great design choice. It helps keep the fast pace of the story going, and it makes for straightforward and tight puzzle spaces.
The puzzles and obstacles all fall on the easier side. They are more entertaining and involving than frustrating. They don’t take you out of the story while you’re thinking and reasoning about possible solutions. They are all well clued, or as I like to put it: because of the limited number of available objects and the smallish settings, the possibillity-tree is well trimmed.
As in part 1, the pixel art is great and adds a lot to the playing experience. In this part, gameplay does depend a bit more on using the mouse to interact with different keypads, locks, and menus. (Or, if you want, you can busy yourself moving a mouse-cursor with the arrow-buttons on your keyboard. Just saying, the option is there…)
Gateway 2 - Homeworld had me really involved in its SF story for a week. A magnificent otherworldly adventure.