The end of the world is an often used device in nearly every medium of art and storytelling. Understandably so: it’s hard to think of something as compelling of the end of everything you know and love. Circumventing such a threat makes for an inherently thrilling premise. The tone for such a topic ranges from desperate to triumphant, but rarely would you ever call a game about the end of the world goofy.
HYPERNOVA: Escape from Hadea is the exception. For a story about aliens attempting to survive the destruction of their home planet, it is amazingly lighthearted. This is most certainly not a criticism, as HYPERNOVA uses its tone to maintain a unique identity that makes for an entertaining and memorable experience.
Violence: Native animals attack the player’s installations and must be killed with turrets.
Positive Themes: The game offers a warning against exploiting the environment.
The world of Hadea is in peril; the sun is about to reach the end of its life in the form of the explosive hypernova. The resources needed to teleport to safety no longer exist on this planet. The only place that these can be found now are the dangerous moon of Haya. Thus, you will need to send settlers to find what you need, build the Stellar Bridge, and use it to escape the hypernova before its too late.
An alien narrator presents this information to you in the first few minutes of the game. He starts speaking in an unintelligible alien language, before the universal translators kick in and startle him into restarting his whole speech in English, but not before getting into an argument with someone off-screen about who exactly he’s talking to in the first place. Undercutting the seriousness of the game’s premise with silliness sets the tone for the entire game.
The narrator sticks with you throughout the entire game, explaining the mechanics as they come up in tutorials. Even if you’re a veteran of these kinds of games I would suggest leaving the tutorial on for at least one run through; the humor of the game remains entertaining throughout. You’ll appreciate the company if nothing else as you begin your settlement of Haya.
After perusing the landscape from above, you are encouraged to find a location to set down your mothership with easy access to the game’s primary three resources. The entire map is covered in a purple fog however, so you really only get to see the beauty of the land once you set down your roots. The map of Haya is a lush, cartoonish spectacle evoking images of a tropical paradise while still feeling alien and somewhat dangerous.
After landing, the settling portion of the game begins. HYPERNOVA borrows liberally from many different strategy subgenres; in it’s earliest stages its the 4X genre that gets the most heavily drawn from. Your primary goal to start with will be to create cribs, homes for your settlers. These will require some support buildings to supply them with food or water, and as the game progresses you get build more support structures which will allow more settlers to live in each crib.
You can’t build these structures from nothing, however. The game requires you to create mining equipment to harvest the required resources. Power relays and air purifiers will allow you to expand from your original landing space and explore further into Haya. In doing so you’ll not only gain more room to settle, but also discover more resources, ruins from a lost civilization, and the lairs of the native Hayan creatures.
The creatures spawned by these lairs will be the primary threat to you on Haya, requiring you to build turrets. It’s here that the game shows its tower defense side. The enemies must take fairly easily traced paths, which vary based on the local terrain of the area. One section of the map might have many steep cliffs, forcing the enemies into more easily handled bottlenecks; another might be more open, therefore leaving you more vulnerable. It’s up to your strategic thinking to decide where to best place your defenses.
In terms of gameplay, that’s about all there is to it. Certainly, there’s progression to this game. The entire point of building up your population is to access more researchable technologies. The game will throw a variety of different monsters at you, each with their own strengths and weaknesses. But the game throws very few curveballs which deviate from its overall formula. It helps that by choosing how you expand you can have some control over your game experience; pushing outward in several directions can yield a more challenging experience as you find yourself defending against several lairs spawning enemies at once, while focusing in one direction may be less immediately profitable but is far safer.
The one major downside to the flow of the game is that there can be significant stretches of time where you’re not doing much of anything. You might be waiting for items in your queue to be built, or for a new technology to unlock. You may even find yourself waiting on your population to grow enough to even unlock the next technology. If you’ve managed to get nearby lairs under control it can make things a bit slow paced around the midgame. There are a handful of random events like meteor showers to spice things up, but sometimes they come across as more annoyances than anything else.
For progression the game provides a tech tree, with various branches corresponding primarily to each type of structure you can build. While this might seem like it makes the game more variable in how you approach it, in practice you can’t really focus on one branch for too long. Waves of enemies will force you to develop different types of guns for defense. In order to get more technologies you have to research more population boosting buildings. And the more buildings you build, the more energy you need, meaning you’ll have to eventually research energy boosting technology. You can prioritize which you want to tackle first, but trying to focus on one to the exclusion of the others is a sure path to frustration. There really is only one way to play this game.
In the end, this simple focus is what will determine if HYPERNOVA is for you. It advertises itself as a fusion of real time strategy and tower defense, but from what I found it was more of a tower defense game with real time elements. While there isn’t anything wrong with that, someone who might greatly enjoy monitoring and controlling the minutiae of an army’s movements from second to second might be put off by how well placed turrets can make waves of enemies relatively ignorable later in the game until you decide to eliminate their lair.
However, if you can enjoy pre-planning the perfect defenses while listening to some funny aliens explaining the game to you, perhaps you should give it a shot. Finding a balance between serious gameplay and silly fun can be challenging. HYPERNOVA pulls it off with charm. Even with its simplicity, this is a game that I know I’ll keep coming back to.
The Bottom Line