The Retrospective: Colony Wars

It’s time once again to revisit the original Playstation, a treasure trove of memorable titles that lead the brand to global fame and popularity. However, its competition, the divisive N64, managed to hold its own with some of the most universally beloved titles of all time. What the N64 lacked in quantity it made up for in quality, producing two of the finest Zelda games ever released, a superb 3D reimagining of the Mario platforming experience, and the first of Nintendo’s ace-in-the-hole fighting series, Super Smash Bros. That being said, the console was a near wasteland for third party titles, save for a few notable examples. And my list of those selections begins and ends with Star Wars: Rogue Squadron.

Now, I looove me some Rogue Squadron, but I’m not ultimately here to discuss its brilliance or weep over the lack of a fourth installment. No, I’m going to talk about Colony Wars, a game exclusively for Playstation that has no connection to the Star Wars franchise. Why did I give a perhaps needlessly lengthy introduction to Rogue Squadron, then? Maybe because Colony Wars serves as a similar but distinctive alternative to the game I loved ever so much. And thus, even if the game wasn’t in my perhaps narrow field of knowledge before roughly three or four months ago, I thought I’d spend the evening discussing it in an objective, non-nostalgic manner.

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To say that Colony Wars carries much of a legacy is a bit of a stretch. I suppose there’s a reason that it didn’t pop up on my radar until long after the PlayStation One era ended. Perhaps it would have gained more popularity on a console of lesser success, as it was likely just overshadowed by the more marketable PSone giants (of which there were many). Still, Colony Wars was popular enough to earn itself two sequels and it sat well enough with press to produce a surprisingly high 91% on Metacritic. If anything, there are likely still fans of this game, perhaps even in small communities. The PSone offered something for truly everyone, and those thirsty for space combat were heartily satisfied.

Now my mention of Rogue Squadron goes past mere nostalgic significance. Because the two games are similar in concept, it’s highly likely that the preceding Colony Wars managed to leave a more indirect mark in history, as I’m guessing that much of its design was what inspired Factor 5’s own space shooter (albeit with no in-space combat, the major difference between the two). So I suppose that even if Colony Wars was robbed a cultural significance, at least we can say that it’s entirely possible it lead to the great Rogue Squadron and the fantastic Rogue Leader.

That alone deserves it some praise.

That alone deserves it some praise.

Now, that isn’t to say that Colony Wars lives up to its historical critical reception in the modern era. Time has certainly passed and what was once a clean, great temple has clearly aged and weathered. That isn’t to say the temple is still not great, but it certainly isn’t what it once was.

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Playing Colony Wars again lead me to one single conclusion about space fighting games: why the hell don’t they exist anymore? This seems like a genre that would so clearly benefit from an HD makeover. Instead of empty vacuums with quiet battles between sparse forces, today’s space sim titles could explode with visual variety. But it never really happened, and us fans are forced to retreat to the past to revisit the genre. Not that the past is the worst place to be, of course, as Colony Wars does manage to control rather well. It made me realize just how much the PSone benefited from standardizing its revolutionary analog sticks while the N64 was still flailing around its inferior joystick.

Once I got my control settings in just as I wanted them, I found a superb level of complexity awaiting me. Colony Wars manages to keep its battles deep and interesting by separating each miniature conflict into two distinct stages. First, you much activate a specific weapon that can be used to disable the enemy’s shields. Once that’s done, you must switch weapons to the deadlier lasers and finish off the enemy’s health. While it certainly does get a little repetitive to do this with exactly every single enemy ship, it’s far more dynamic than the simple point-and-shoot model found almost everywhere else.

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That being said, I found the mission structure to be a little off. While I generally understood the main goal of each fight, missions often ended sporadically, and sometimes after I thought I was close to losing. Missions often feel like they lack any sort of organized sequences and they almost always rely on your desire to just shoot at things.

Presentationally, I found that even in the vacuum of space there was at least some variety to be celebrated. The space itself was given a nice dust-particle engine that made your movement through it feel just right. And the lasers and explosions were given an adequate pop. Overall, though, Colony Wars feels a bit on the empty side, which was likely a negative side effect of the PSone’s subpar graphics compared to the N64. In total, Colony Wars does strike a match to the more glowing visuals of Rogue Squadron.

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When I did manage to end my time with Colony Wars, I can say that I had been fairly entertained. This is a game that certainly falls a bit short of the other retro explorations I’ve done, but it serves its genre well and deserves to be noted for its largely successful implementation of dual-analog stick technology.

Nevertheless, I ended up doing a little research on the lore in the game and was sorely disappointed to find that it was actually far more compelling than the game’s storytelling had made it out to be. A wasted opportunity, I guess, as the CG cutscenes and voicework didn’t really get me going like most of my more favored sci-fi narratives tend to be. Perhaps this is solved in it’s sequels, but for now I simply don’t know.

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That being said, I do think Colony Wars deserves more attention than it ever received. Namely, it’s got a lot of high-concept design implementations that were implemented well that generally overshadow the weaknesses. Does it still hold up in today’s world? Maybe not with the slightly less old Rogue Leader in existence, but I’m glad to have played it.

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One Comment:

  1. Thx a lot for your nice retrospective on this nowadays overlooked trilogy. Can’t agree more with you!

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