Space pirates and pixel art
It can feel like there are as many games about existing and exploring the final frontier — space! — as there are stars in the sky. Because of this, Halcyon 6: Starbase Commander flew under my radar at first. But after binging on it all week, I think it’s safe to say that I don’t want to imagine a universe without it.
Halcyon 6’s subtitle is as good of an elevator pitch as any. You are, quite literally, a starbase commander. It isn’t just business as usual, however, because your starbase is both a strange piece of technology and the best line of defense against an unfathomably destructive force. It’s up to you to balance resources, fight enemies, and build up your starbase in order to survive.
The way that these three gameplay tenets are handled is the game’s biggest draw. Halcyon 6 pulls from XCOM, 4X strategy games, and some good old fashioned turn-based JRPG combat to flesh out each category. By blending these influences, it moves past “been there, kicked that alien’s ass” territory and begins to resemble more of a genre cocktail. Well-balanced and tasty.
Though the varied mechanical structure of Halcyon 6 requires that players wear many hats, it’s downright great at putting you in the role of a stressed out starbase commander. My time has been divided equally between moments of feeling like the smartest tactician to ever enter zero gravity and feeling as overwhelmed as a Midwestern teen’s first day in Hollywood. The threat of space pirates raiding colonies is always present. So is the need to manage resources for new ships. And the troubling infestation of creatures lurking in your starbase’s newly excavated chamber won’t take care of itself.
A simple glance at the galactic map is enough to encourage continued play sessions. Halcyon 6 is the kind of game that you can lose hours to. The game’s constant push and pull of new missions and management requirements is aided by great art and quirky humor. Space has never looked prettier in a pixelated format, nor has the silliness of attempting to interact with alien races been quite as charming. On a minute-to-minute scale, it balances challenge and humor to make for a game that feels like a well-realized version of some long forgotten sci-fi TV show.