When I think about the original PlayStation, the first game that comes to mind is Colony Wars. There were three games in the series and I bought them all on launch. In all honesty it really ignited my lifelong adoration of space shooters, and I doubt I’m the only one. It’s been 25 years since it blew me away with massive ship explosions, and I’ve never stopped thinking about it.
First released on 31st of October 1997 by Psygnosis, Colony Wars saw you in the cockpit of various fighter ships as part of the League of Free Worlds forces, doing battle against Earth’s Colonial Navy. In a unique twist, failing missions didn’t necessarily mean game over, because there were multiple endings across a branching campaign. There were over 70 missions taking you from Gallonigher to Alpha-Centauri and beyond so that the story could keep going no matter the outcome.
The game was a critical success with most outlets praising the graphics and gameplay. There was nothing like it on consoles at the time, with fighting games very much in vogue thanks to the move to 3D. But even space sims on computers didn’t let you crash into planets, all at a high-res 30 frames per second! I won’t lie, researching Colony Wars after a AAA game just released limited to 30fps made me chuckle. It even supported the PlayStation Analog Joystick for a more immersive experience.
Hot on the heels of the first game, Psygnosis got right into developing a sequel under the working title Colony Wars: Vendetta. Launching on 31st of October 1998, Colony Wars: Vengeance released to even more praise than the first game. Honestly, I feel it was well deserved, because it’s always been my favourite of the three titles.
Vengeance put you into the boots of a Colonial Navy pilot, about 100 years after the events of the first game. It was set after one of the endings, where the Sol system was cut off from the colonies by the closing of the only warp hole connecting them. Once more it had a branching mission structure and multiple endings, but only 53 missions in total — although they had multiple objectives, so each one was longer. Everything else was bigger and better, though, with more rounded ship designs, nicer effects, and more realistic flight inertia. Rather than sticking to space, the game also had some planet-based missions, giving you a bit of a different challenge due to, you know, gravity.
Given how well received the first two were it may not surprise you to learn that the third game in the series, Colony Wars: Red Sun, released on 25th of April 2000. However, it was a different team at Psygnosis who developed it, though the original developers were happy to praise it. Critics also praised the improvements made such as 15 minutes of FMV, though magazine review scores didn’t seem to follow suit with seemingly one point lower across the board.
Rather than put you on either the side of the Colonial Navy or the League of Free Worlds, you were a mercenary who could pick and choose missions from either. It was set during the events of the previous game, though the two plots didn’t really interact. There were only 50 missions this time, but with more variety and upgradeable ships. As you could pick and choose your missions it meant that you didn’t have to fail missions to get each different ending like in the previous two.
Sony Computer Entertainment bought Psygnosis in 1993, and after Red Sun’s release it was renamed to SCE Studio Liverpool. But while they didn’t work on the third Colony Wars title, some of the original team did move on to do something similar with Star Trek: Invasion, released on the 23rd of August 2000.
The plot of Star Trek: Invasion involved Lt. Commander Worf in charge of Red Squad, a tactical strike force, fending off Borg advances as they seek to assimilate the Kam'Jahtae. You had to fly your Valkyrie class combat fighter in space and atmospheric battles while Worf presumably swore at you in Klingonese. I never got around to studying that English-Klingonese dictionary… The game was well received, but nowhere near as popular as any of the three Colony Wars titles.
Unfortunately, that’s where things just kind of end. I’m purposefully ignoring Blast Radius, whose box art proclaimed “From the company that brought you Colony Wars” because it was bad. Some of the team behind Red Sun said in an interview that they felt that since nobody else was making good space sims on consoles, Colony Wars would remain strong going into the next generation. In 2003 there were rumours of a new Colony Wars title coming to PlayStation 2, but obviously this never came to fruition. In fact, the only concrete movement on Colony Wars since 2000 has been a fan project called Colony Wars: Redux, which has a playable demo available on Itch.io. Unfortunately, they stopped production on it in case Sony started throwing DCMAs around.
If nothing else, it just proves that the Colony Wars series is still loved to this day. It’s unfortunate that it’s just one of the many IPs that Sony owns and has no intention of doing anything with. It’s unfortunate, but what can you do?