Maelstrom Review

Codemasters’ and KDV Games’ RTS game Maelstrom is what the name suggests. While it’s a very powerful whirlpool capable of displaying plenty of power and destroying land (pluses to the game’s visuals and terraforming system), it’s also a very big mess and manages to break several core RTS components. A game shouldn’t have players go through a few hours of frustration for a brief level or two of some nice strategy gameplay. Nonetheless, Maelstrom provides a solid online component and maintains an upgrade from what KDV learned from its previous game, Perimeter.

The game’s plot is as cheesy as can be, complete with an over-generic storyline and over-generic heroes. Various factions on earth are at war — the end. One of the factions, the Remnants is your standard human army folk and use sunlight and scrap metal as its resources. As for the Remnants’ heroes, it doesn’t really matter who they are since the folks at KDV decided to stick them with stereotypical traits; take for instance the dominant and mysterious Russian female spy Sasha Antonova, or the over-muscular, nothing-to-lose Remnant lieutenant Marcus O’ Neil. Antonova relies on her stealth while O’Neil gets the job done with big weapons and ability to rally troops together.

Each hero has their own special ability and even those are pretty unnecessary, or just too much of a burden to use. One of O’Neil’s special abilities, microwave doctor, is useful since it heals, but it’s completely impractical because you can only heal one unit, and you have to physically click the unit to apply the skill. If you have 10 or more units clumped around, it gets pretty irritating. One of Antonova’s special ability, militia, allows her to recruit survivors (survivors of the ‘war’) to be allies but unfortunately, it never worked for me despite trying to use the skill in front of many different enemy units. Heroes also get their own first-person view, which I found to be completely unnecessary. The feel and animations while in first-person view reminded me of an old 1997 FPS.

Idle unit animations are over-used and very exaggerated. The AI pathfinding system also has problems; while some units may get out of the way of approaching vehicles, those same units will stumble when trying to walk around a group, abruptly stop and then proceed to move to their destination. These hiccups are very glaring, especially when units are the key to an RTS game. As for vehicle pathfinding, it’s in the same boat.

Back with Warcraft II and III, it was great to click on units because they all had personality and whatever they chirped was pleasant to hear. Flash forward several years, and you have the complete opposite with Maelstrom. Units suffer from poor voice acting, and they will repeat the same lame quip after every click. It sounds just like a George Lucas script.

At least the visuals are nice, since Maelstrom uses an upgraded engine last used in Perimeter. The engine uses several up-to-date technologies, such as various lighting qualities, particle effects, AA, AS, and reflections. Even with AA and AS only on 4x, I was able to play the game with all the video options on high and maintain a high FPS on machines which aren’t quite top of the line. There are a few things that stand out graphically; tire tracks leave their imprints in the dirt, the weather radically changes as mission time progress, shimmering sunlight reflects in the water, and flies buzz around corpses. The game can also create some really nice landscapes and oceans, but when it comes to rendering people it’s pretty bad. In-game cutscenes made me cringe because the horrible looking units combined with terrible voice-overs and overly used idle animations made them look like a bunch of strung-up puppets that were drawn and voiced by grade-schoolers.

All that aside, Maelstrom does get some brownie points for trying to create some new innovations. Maelstrom uses a terraform engine which is based off of the one in Perimeter, which allows the land to be radically changed to suit your needs. Terraforming takes center stage in a few later missions which take place on water. Leveling some hills to spill water on your enemies is a very handy tactic, since units without proper water equipment will take damage over time; looks pretty, too. Another plus goes to the game’s multiplayer system. While the system doesn’t change anything in itself, hopping online to play a quick match really opens up each faction’s potential. Much of the single player campaign limits what you can do with each faction, but jumping online opens the floodgates. Combined with a global ranking system, you got some incentive to keeping dominating online.

Ultimately, Maelstrom tries too hard and ends up failing at several core RTS concepts. Poor AI, unnecessary skills, a lame story, and a wonky camera all contribute to the game’s shortcoming, but it still retains some dignity with its terraforming system and quick and easy online matchmaking. With the surge of some relatively popular RTS games lately — such as Supreme Commander, C&C3, Dark Crusade and Company of Heroes — KDV, while trying to bring some new ideas to the front, doesn’t manage to get a seat at the big boy’s table. For a hardcore RTS fan, it may be worth a look to see some new innovations. If you haven’t played all of the stellar RTS titles out this past year, though, you’re much better off picking one of those up.


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Author: GamerNode Staff View all posts by

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