Video game franchises come and go, but of all the series that faded away, Colony Wars is one that makes me the most melancholy.
Colony Wars was one of the many incredible properties to come out of Psygnosis. Psygnosis was a studio owned by Sony which got caught up in the studio consolidations of the late 1990s and early 2000s and eventually faded away, first being renamed to SCE Studio Liverpool in in 2000, then closing entirely in 2010.
Colony Wars spanned over three titles: Colony Wars, Colony Wars: Vengeance, and Colony Wars: Red Sun. While Vengeance and Red Sun were decent enough games, it was the original Colony Wars, released on the PlayStation in 1997, that continues to captivate me to this day. The tale of the League of Free Worlds' struggle against the Earth Empire enthralled me, and it's one of the first games I remember that Earth was portrayed as the bad guy.
An Underappreciated Universe
One thing that sets Colony Wars apart from its contemporaries is how well thought out the universe is. In the game, each ship, star system, and planet has a detailed history. From the beginning, you have access to information on the star systems of the Earth Empire, and as you play through the game, more and more of your ship database gets filled out. In the database, each ship has audio logs that you can listen to detailing their development and importance in the Colony Wars universe.
After reading the lore via the in-game databases, experiencing it from the cockpit becomes even more meaningful. Colony Wars features branching paths and is one of the first space sims I can remember doing that. Colony Wars is split into Acts with around five missions per act. Instead of getting a game over when you lose a mission, you can live on to fight again. However, if you lose too many missions, you'll be shunted to the "bad" path at the end of certain acts.
The Colony Wars
The whole saga starts in the 47th century, and Earth's resources are tapped out. Humans have colonized multiple star systems and almost all of their production is aimed towards the preservation of Earth. A colony, disgruntled at the Empire taking all their resources, attempts a peaceful succession only to have the entire surface of the planet bombarded. In response, other colonies band together to form the League of Free Worlds in the Gallonigher system.
You join the League shortly after the Battle of Benay, the Leagues first decisive victory against the Earth Empire. The first goal of the League is to capture a huge spherical battle platform that projects the massive jump hole that links Gallonigher to other systems. The platform also can control traffic into Gallonigher by shutting down the jump hole and denying entry to the system. If the League can control the platform, then they can effectively cut off imperial access to Gallonigher and continue the fight by pushing into other star systems.
Where you go next is up to your performance in the Gallonigher system. Lose or fail to complete some missions and the League will survive, but will be forced to supply bases in the Diomedes system before the fight against the Empire continues. If you take control of the Battle Platform and complete each mission in Gallonigher, the League will be in much stronger shape and will proceed to invade the Draco system.
The difference between the two paths is that in Draco you're taking the fight to the enemy, and the League's spirits are high. In contrast, in Diomedes, the League starts to feel some attrition. At the conclusion of the operations in Diomedes, or if you do terrible in Draco, you'll attack Alpha Centurai. Growing wear of the war, in Alpha Centurai part of the League splits off to form the Faction, which attacks Empire and League fleets.
The exciting thing about the progression in Colony Wars is that it's entirely possible for you never to encounter the Faction. If you accomplish each mission, you'll never take the route that leads to the formation of the Faction, and you'll miss huge swathes of missions and plot. This gives Colony Wars replay value that a lot of space shooters don't have. Not only are you encouraged to fail, but you're also rewarded by doing so with whole other branches of the game.
The Wars are Over
After the release of Colony Wars: Red Sun, there's been no further development with the series. Colony Wars hasn't even experienced the odd rumor throughout the years that most dead franchises get. Despite how unique and well constructed the universe is, and how well the games were received upon release, it seems like the industry and gamers have largely forgotten about Colony Wars. It's a shame too because the game design and mission variety with a modern veneer laid over it would likely still be considered masterful.
Unfortunately, the likelihood of a Colony Wars remake is pretty close to zero. The studio who created the series is long gone, and I'm not even sure who owns the IP anymore. I assume Sony has placed it in their vault, but it's just as likely that someone from Psygnosis still has the rights to it. As time goes on Colony Wars fades further from the collective conscious of gamers. The official Colony Wars website (archive here) finally went offline sometime in the past year or so as well, which was the last stable web presence the series had.
As much as I'd love a remake or a sequel to the Colony Wars series, I'm content that all three games (especially the original) were absolutely gorgeous for the time, and still provide a lot of fun. They look excellent emulated too, so if you have a copy, make sure to check them out upscaled. If you don't own them (or have never played them) grab a copy. You can still buy the first one new on Amazon for $35 or used for under $5 and get ready for one of the best space sims ever released on console.