by Sergio Brinkhuis
previewed on PC
Post-Apocalyptic futures are amongst the most tantalizing topics to be used in the world of entertainment. I don't know about you, but the scenes in the Terminator movies where they show glimpses of the future where SkyNet dominates the earth always grabbed me more than the rest they showed. The idea that everything goes wrong and mankind struggles to survive is as appealing as it is frightening. Games like Fallout and the more recent The Fall: Last Days of Gaia put the players into the situation they fantasize about, but wouldn't want to actually live in.
Developer KDV Games, the people behind the refreshing RTS Perimeter, are working on a game in exactly such a setting, but this time you won't be role-playing your way through the future. Quite the contrary: Maelstrom will be a full-blown RTS in which you'll be building bases and commanding armies on the battlefields of a Post-Apocalyptic Earth.
The game is set in 2040 and, for once, we didn't even cause the Apocalypse ourselves. A giant meteor storm called Maelstrom, strikes Earth and causes our civilization to falter. The storm causes so much ecological destruction that the ocean levels begin to rise, decreasing access to much of the planet's natural resources. Wars break out over the remaining resources and and Earth descends into chaos. To top it all off, an alien race called the Hai-Genti are aware of the situation and decide that the time is ripe for a full-scale invasion. The stage is thus set for an epic battle between three factions. Two human factions and one alien one. The one thing they each need most is something that was once in plentiful supply: Water.
The Alien plan for instant domination on our planet initially fails. But having lost the battle, they figure, doesn't mean having lost the war. Believing that their advanced Biotechnology is vastly superior to whatever these meager Earthlings have left, they feel confident about being able to come out on top. Their engineering concepts mirror their nomadic characteristics; they pack up whatever they have and move on to the next region. Everything they need in order to harvest resources and produce military units can be taken along with them, making it possible to move their entire 'base' from one place to another. Their forces are formidable and consist of a wide range of units ranging from huge, alien looking animals to creatures that are as likely to scare you to death as they are to kill you by more conventional means.
Earth's population has split into two factions, the smaller of which is The Remnants. A former US Military General James Buchanan leads what is left of those who believe in the traditional values of mankind. They have strength in numbers but lack the technological punch that the other two factions have. Buchanan fights his battles the way the underdogs always have, in guerrilla style.
The Ascension, on the other hand, feels that the only way to win the war is to embrace technology, even when it comes with some objectionable side-effects. How you fight the war is not important - winning is all that matters. Or at least that's the opinion of their leader Arlan Khan. The origins of their technology aren't clear but it's certain that none of it was available to the leaders of old. The backbone of their war-machine is made up of huge beast-like machines that aren't making just the Earth tremble when they arrive on the battlefield.
Wasn't there a hill before?
Perimiter shook the foundations of all the standard RTS conventions and I have a feeling that Maelstrom will be no different. How often have we heard about deformable terrain in RTS games? So far we've seen very little of it in action. Scorched hills, yes. Collapsed trees, sure. But KDV promises to really bring the concept of deformable terrain to life, laying it deep within the foundations of the gameplay mechanics.
As an example, for the Alien faction, life centers around water. They use water as a breeding ground but also as a weapon. The aliens can, for example, use floods to their advantage in battle, but the human factions can counter this by digging moats and ditches. You'll have access to all kinds of machines that can manipulate the flow of the water, enabling you to defend yourself from it, or attack with it. Cool! In this way, deforming the terrain becomes a requirement for survival and will force you to change your way of thinking. I'm already dreaming of thwarting enemy generals' plans to attack me from my flank that, under the cover of fog of war (God I hope it'll be there in this game!) is now an impassable mountain range rather than the passageway it was before.
KDV also announced that some units will be upgradeable. While this will be an ability that all factions share, it's hard to imagine how this will work for some factions. I can certainly picture the Ascension units having all sorts of upgrade paths, considering their technology driven ideals. The Remnants will be able to improve their firepower and armor, but how this will work for the Aliens is currently still a mystery. All that KDV is saying on the subject is that they will be able to mutate, but that obviously brings as many questions as it does answers. That's fine for me at the moment. My interest is peaked. Planned for a fall 2006 release, I can't wait to find out more about Maelstrom. From all appearances, it will be worth the wait.