Colony Wars

Text review

Developer: Psygnosis
Publisher: Sony Computer Entertaintment

Space simulation games are often associated with computer gaming, a trend which began in part due to the success of games like the Wing Commander and Star Wars series, but also because 16-bit consoles didn't have the power to run 3D titles.

However, when the 32-bit generation rolled around, there was a big push to bring the genre to consoles. The Playstation and 3DO got Wing Commander, the N64 received brand new Star Wars games, and Sony threw their own hat into the ring by having the newly acquired Psygnosis Studios develop Colony Wars.

Although this series was well received at the time, it seems to have been mostly forgotten, though there are still some diehard who fondly remember the games.

Colony Wars is a mission-based space sim, you play as a nameless pilot in a Star Wars inspired rebel organization known as the League of Free Worlds, and fight against the Earth Colonial Navy. Right off the bat, Colony wars handles differently from the space sims that came before it, controls are easy, quick, responsive. The action is much more arcade-like as well, you can crash into enemy fighters or capital ships and fly off with inconsequential damage.

Despite the game being loaded with cutscenes, there is no story to speak of, rather you hear the narrator explain how the war is progressing. What makes this interesting is the fact that depending on which missions you succeed or fail the tides will turn and lead you to different branching paths. There are a total of six different endings which can range from total defeat, a truce between both sides or the unconditional surrender of the Colonial Navy. The branching mission nature of the game manages to provide a quality replay value in what is an otherwise short game.

Before each mission, you're given a long briefing detailing the objectives and the current war status. Assignments will range from your garden variety such as escort, defend and bombing runs while others are more unique like one where prisoners escaped from a ship and you have to hunt down their escape pods. While there are many different ships you can play as, they are all pre-selected for you, forcing the player to adapt to each craft's strengths and weaknesses. This also means that sometimes you'll be given a slow and heavy bomber when all you really want is a fast and nimble craft or vice-versa.

The missions carry a nice sense of scale, featuring several fighters and capital ships from both sides fighting for control at any given. Sadly, your allies tend to be more a hindrance, League capital ships are about half as resistant as the Colonial Navy's and I was often the target of friendly fire when I got too close to an enemy fighter. The problem here is that you need to be near fast moving enemy ships because the aiming reticule only tells you where your target currently is and not where he's going. Needless to say, I was a victim of friendly fire more often than I should have.

Your weapons are also selected for you, though the ones you'll be using the most are the anti-shield laser followed by the regular laser. Homing missiles can be used to target fighters, and torpedos are suited against large capital ships. One issue I have with this game is that in most missions, whenever you take out an enemy fighter, a new one will immediately spawn in its place, making escort missions harder than they need to be.

With that in mind, I eventually came up with two exploits; the first is to camp near their spawn point and shoot them down as they come. The second and more effective method was to disable their ships with EMP weapons and leave them there, if I don't kill them, their replacements won't spawn. In fact, the EMP is easily the best weapon in the game, fighters are fully disabled with just three hits and capital ships will be at your mercy in under one minute.

Another problem I found is that you can't dodge attacks from capital ships; you have no way of knowing if they locked on to you and when they do, there is no way to avoid being hit. When you take down a capital vessel or space station, it breaks into pieces and blows into a spectacle of colors, however, if you were too close to your target, your ship will crash against every piece and lose control, though you take minimal damage from this.

Speaking of the capital ships, all of the Colonial Navy's larger craft seem ripped straight out of Star Trek. The rest of the ship designs look fine, though the same can't be said for Colony Wars' early 3D graphics. Later entries into the series would improve their visuals, but the low resolution and polygon count haven't aged well at all. Moreover, texture warping is an issue, especially when zooming close to large craft which sometimes causes entire segments of the vessel to become transparent.

Colony Wars' audio isn't bad and its soundtrack does a good job at setting up the mood and its main theme is pretty memorable. Then of course we have the voice acting which incredibly so over-the-top and cheesy; it seems every pilot in the League of Free Worlds has the most exaggerated accent you can imagine.

One of the criticisms I often hear with this series is its difficulty, but I generally found this entry accessible. Some missions were tougher than others, but after one or two repeats it's easy to learn what you should focus on to successfully complete it.

The game comes on two discs, mostly due to all the FMVs. This means if you want to replay a mission from either half of the campaign or if you turned off your Playstation with the second disc inside, you will have to change them manually. Despite that, Colony Wars is a short game, I managed to finish it with the best ending in under three hours and having to get up and change the disc each time I wanted to replay a different chapter became annoying quickly.

Colony Wars is definitely showing its age, the mission variety is fine and the missions feel epic, but its gameplay feels basic, which is further hindered by poor AI and early 3D graphics. Having to change discs often is also an issue, especially for a game this short. With that said, the gameplay despite basic is still entertaining and the branching paths encourage replay value. It may not be the classic it once was, but you could do a lot worse.

Trivia: According to the game's own lore, of the five original prototypes for a Destroyer class vessel, two had faulty wiring, one was sabotaged, one was ransacked by crew suffering from 'face scab madness' fever and the last one crashed, wiping out a field of children. Someone at Psygnosis had a dark sense of humor.

Video Review

- Good mission variety
- Good sense of scale for each
- Branching paths provide plenty of replay value
- Graphics have aged poorly
- Expect to switch discs quite a bit by the game's mid-point
- Poor A.I. 

Final Score: C+

The Boxart is catchy, but way too cluttered, I have trouble understanding just what I'm supposed to be looking at and the cropped 'colony' in the background doesn't help either, if you have OCD you'll probably hate this cover.

Inside you'll find two discs and the manual, who's cover art is much cleaner, as for its contents, they're not bad, they don't really bother to tell you any backstory, though to be fair, they already do that on the disc but has all of the game's basic information.

Overall, it's an okay packaging, nothing really stands out, other than the boxart being a bit too cluttered for my taste.

Packaging Score: C


  1. Never played such a game, seems interesting though.

  2. Anonymous27.1.13

    Actually, you don't need to switch discs at all if you don't care about the FMVs. The 2nd disc is only for some FMVs, so you can just press the triangle button when the "Insert Disc 2" prompt appears and you'll be able play through the entire game on the first disc.

    1. Oh, I didn't know that at all.

      Now I have to replay and re-review it.

      Thank you for telling me this :)