Colony Wars Vengeance

Developer: Psygnosis
Publisher:  Psygnosis

Text Review

The original Colony Wars might be showing its age now, but at the time, it was a well-received title with gamers and media alike, going so far as to receive 9 out of 10s from several popular outlets.

Its sales must have been strong as well, because the sequel, Colony Wars Vengeance, launched exactly one year after its predecessor. You’d think this meant the game was little more than a hastily developed cash grab, but the people over at Psygnosis must have been wizards because Colony Wars Vengeance improves on the original in almost every way.

Taking place a generation after the events of the first game, Colony Wars Vengeance, has us play from the Colonial Navy’s perspective. Surprisingly, it ignores the original Colony Wars’ true ending, choosing instead a middle one. Here, The League of Free Worlds drove the tyrannical Colonial Navy back to the solar system, but were unable to take overthrow the Earth’s government.

Instead, the League of Free Worlds closed down all interstellar travel to the solar system keeping planet Earth exiled which eventually sparked civil wars, poverty and extreme famine. Essentially, this means the player lost at the final mission of the previous game which has unexpected repercussions in Vengeance's plot, but more on that later.

Many of the previous game’s features were streamlined for a smoother experience, for example, your aiming reticule now tells you where your target is heading so you can now shoot where they’re going instead of where they are. This change may seem minor, but the fact I don’t have to get near enemy fighters and shoot them at point blank range like I did before means I didn't have to deal with friendly fire anymore.

The graphics were also improved considerably, using better lighting and more complex capital ship designs. Yes, the embarrassing Enterprise clones of the first game are finally gone and instead we get original designs with moving parts and weakpoints such as shield generators, reactors and engines which can be picked off individually. Friendly capital ships are also more resilient so you don’t feel like you’re constantly being forced to babysit them.

Not all streamlines were positive though, in the first game you could control several ship types with different strengths and weaknesses. Here, you’re down to just four vessels, all of which are unlocked as you progress in the game and each one is a direct upgrade over the last. So once you gain a new craft, there’s no reason to return to an older model.

The branching path system was also simplified for a more linear experience. The first game had several endings which could range from utter defeat, to peace between both sides or even a complete victory depending on how well you performed. Here on the other hand, all endings except one lead to some manner of defeat for the Navy. It just seems like the first game was more freeform in how it handled its branches.

I did notice a flaw or two in the branching path system. Namely how some plot points can be raised and then promptly forgotten depending on which missions you succeed. One example is the widowmaker arch, in which the League hires an ace pilot to intercept your missions and it all culminates in a one-on-one showdown. However, if you complete a certain order of missions you’ll only meet him once and then the game promptly forgets about him.

Some of the issues I had with the previous game are still here as well, namely how fighting capital ships is still a complete crapshoot. You have no way when they locked on to you and when they do, their main attack always hits, no matter how many evasive maneuvers the player takes. It might even be worse in Colony Wars Vengeance than in its predecessor because capital ships are much stronger in this game. Enemy fighters will still spawn endlessly on most missions like they did in the first game. The problem here is that this time there are no EMP weapons, so you can’t just leave them disabled. 

As a general rule, the mission design in this game is better than in Colony Wars, they give you more diverse objectives while still maintaining the same sense of scale as before. You’ll be doing everything from targeted attacks, defense and bombing runs to more unique assignments such as uploading viruses, stealthy maneuver past their defenses and even take on the occasional ground mission. Most of these are really solid in concept but there’s the occasional miss like here where you have to close a warphole by playing a game of Simon. I got nothing to say about that.

The Colony Wars series is famous for its difficulty and this game is probably the reason why. A lot of your mission objectives have to carried out in some pretty strict time schedules. Either because someone needs saving, your target is fleeing or simply due to a fixed timer that is constantly reminding you of how little time you have. Even missions that aren't time-based are still pretty difficult because of how easily the League can swarm you or due to special enemy that needs to be taken out a certain way.

It’s during these moments that I truly find myself missing the overpowered EMP weapons, but at least, this time around you can upgrade your ships. The ground ship is the only one that can’t be upgraded so after a while I started fearing these assignments the most simply because of how weak my vessel was when compared to the rest. After completing each mission you get a certain number of tech-tokens which can be spent upgrading your shields, speed, afterburners and turn-rate. There are also new weapons some of which are pretty fun such as a plasma weapon where you can guide your shot towards your enemies.

Perhaps the game’s greatest improvement is its story. In the previous game you were a generic pilot who simply narrated the progress of the war while praising the League and vilifying the Navy at each turn.

Here things are different a lot more grey in terms of morality. Your character, Mertens doesn’t see his side as either good or evil, but rather as a necessity for survival.  And depending on which missions you succeed or fail, the game can go through some really dark places including torture, secret police and even mass suicide. In one possible ending, for example the Navy destroys the Sun as a final  act of defiance against the League and Mertens gladly accepts his death and that of everyone on Earth.

Yet other times you’ll see him questioning both the League and the Navy’s methods and motives including missions where you attack civilian targets such as mining and manufacturing operations. What’s interesting about this is that you also attacked similar civilians targets in the original Colony Wars, but it was never questioned or even portrayed as evil. In fact the game seemed to hint they military targets as well and it’s only now in hindsight that you come to the conclusion that maybe the League and Navy aren't all that different. In one ending, you even learn that the League has no problems in torturing and humiliating its POWs before executing them. All of this while the game is constantly reminding that you’re just another soldier, ready to be murdered by the league or discarded by your own.

It’s this sort of self-questioning that makes the narrative in Colony Wars Vengeance such a compelling one. It manages to tell a ‘war is hell’ story that retroactively spans both games, while blurring the lines between good and evil. Interestingly, the game’s heaviest moments are all set to classical music, though I don't know if this was a stylistic choice or a budget one, but it surprisingly fits the themes of war, politics, betrayal and genocide.

Also surprising is that according to Steve Gilbert, an ex-employee at Psygnosis all of the game’s cutscenes were made in just four weeks, this means everything from design and animation to editing and post-sound. This does explain why you see so many shots re-used, but regardless, each cutscene feels like a reward as you bare witness and contribute to the evils of war.

But the most surprising revelation comes during the game’s final acts, where it's revealed that the leader of the newly resurrected Colonial Navy used to be a League pilot during the first game. This pilot was a fanatic, someone who loved the battlefield and was seen as a butcher even by own peers. He was sent as the only fighter support during the final missions as League superiors hoped the pilot would meet his demise, the same final mission that you canonically failed.

Yes, the big reveal is that the noble freedom fighter you played in the first game was actually a bloodthirsty warmonger who resurrected the faction he nearly destroyed and created this second conflict. Outside of RPGs, you didn't really see this sort of brilliant storytelling ideas in videogames and it’s a shame the story in Colony Wars Vengeance seems to have been largely forgotten.

Colony Wars is a hidden gem in the original Playstation library. The gameplay is showing some age, but it feels much fresher than its predecessor. The graphics and ship designs are generally appealing and the mission variety is some of the best you’ll find in a console space sim, all while being  complemented by gripping narrative. Unfortunately, some of the gripes from the previous game are still here and the overall difficulty level might turn off some. Still, if you can endure these issues, I recommend you pick this one up.

Trivia: Did you know the creators' original intention was to create a setting in which neither side was 'good' or 'evil' ? In the their own words they wanted to make a game that 'focused more on two factions that were forced together to fight over what remained of dwindling resources. There was no right or wrong, just two very hungry animals'

Trivia 2: According to an ex-employee at Psygnosis,all cutscenes were developed in just four weeks, must have been quite the crunch time.

Video Review:

- Engaging 'war is hell' story
- Graphical step up from its predecessor
- Greatly improved mission design
- Alternate path options were downgraded from the first game and may "forget" plot points
- Enemy capital ships rely on cheap shots
- Extreme difficulty may turn off some

Final Grade: B+

The cover looks nice and action packed, featuring two fighters dogfighting with an ominous presence in the background.

The manual features some very high quality paper by game manual standards and it fills you in on some backstory for both the settings and some of the characters, it also gives you a short description of every weapon and item which can be pretty useful.

Overall, not a bad packaging, it's not perfect by any means but it has enough content and is just flashy enough to warrant a second or even a third look.

Packaging Grade: B


  1. I think they should have left it that way. Good vs. evil is way overdone.