Preview: Maelstrom (PC)

If you missed Perimeter back when it debuted in 2004, that’s hardly surprising; despite being one of the more innovative takes on the RTS genre in years, it was deemed confusing and convoluted by many and passed over, either deliberately or otherwise. While that’s a horrible thing, Codemasters, with the assistance of one KD Vision, are giving us a second chance with Maelstrom, a kind-of sort-of but not really sequel to Perimeter, which features similar gameplay and innovations with a more reasonable concept.

The gist of Maelstrom is pretty simple, actually: in the wake of a massive meteor storm known as the Maelstrom (hence the title), three factions battle it out to take control of the remainder of the Earth: the Remnant, a group of hardened ex-military types and general survivors who can bring older technology into play and summon up troops quick-like; the Ascension, a corporate monolith looking to impose their will upon the remnants of the Earth with all sorts of freaky Transformers-like technology; and the Hai-Genti, an aquatic race who are looking to flood the planet to suit their needs, and wage war by unleashing mutated beasts upon their foes. In short, it has shades of other RTS titles in the variable races, but also promises to offer distinct differences between the races to make them all unique, which sounds great so far. The game also promises to have a strong narrative, thanks to a storyline written by James Swallow (who has written the script for the Battlestar Galactica game, as well as The Sundowners and some Warhammer 40K novels).

But presentation isn’t everything, and fortunately, Maelstrom looks to have some solid gameplay to back up its presentation. Aside from the standard RTS elements, one unique and interesting concept is the ability to modify the landscape through battle. This was showcased a bit in Perimeter, but looks to have even more functionality here. The most obvious example comes by way of the Hai-Genti; they, being aquatic in nature, desire to flood the Earth with water, which will become part of the in-game dynamic; the humans will be able to get around this by, as an example, freezing the water to create walkways and trap enemies. It looks to be very involved and quite, um, cool. Another semi-unique concept is the ability to hop into vehicles and such and take control of them to wage war yourself, which will hopefully be a lot of fun.

A demo is forthcoming for Maelstrom, and the game has been slated for a February 2007 release. Things look to be quite solid so far, and Maelstrom looks to be a serious sleeper hit for 2007, assuming everything comes together as well as hoped. If Perimeter is any indication, Maelstrom should be a wonderfully unique game, and well worth watching out for.