My experience of real-time strategy games is a little limited, if I’m being totally honest. I am not, however, entirely unfamiliar with the genre: I spent an awful lot of time on the Star Wars spin-off, Empire at War, and whilst I’ll admit that it was a little more straightforward than something like Starcraft, it still managed to offer masses of variety as well as enjoyable and ambitious gameplay. Expectations were high, then, when I sat down in front of my PC to begin my excursion into Meridian: Squad 22, the second game in the Meridian series (but the first I’d ever heard of it). Produced by the “lone developer” Ede Tarsoly – founder of Elder Games – this is a game that is in early stages, promising tons of additional content for the future; I guess what will make this title worthwhile is the potential that it displays.
Straight off the bat, I noticed some promising signs, once the introductory cut-scenes and criminally brief tutorial had been dealt with. The fundamental features of most RTS games were there: base-building, research and development, the standard mixture of infantry and vehicles, as well as resource collection and a tiered upgrade system. The planetary conquest game-mode was best suited to showing off what Meridian had to offer, and its format was equally similar to others of its kind, offering a basic starting point and forcing the player to accrue a substantial income before any attempt at conquest could be made.
Unfortunately, I feel as though that pretty well covers it. The variety of different unit types on offer was limited at best, and I was frustrated by how ineffective aerial vehicles – to name an example – were against the aggressively dominant tanks and bipedal machines. There was no sense that each unit had a unique role to play, and so it was often a case of sheer quantity of weaponry over any form of tactics. And whilst the principle behind the upgrade system was solid, I was rarely incentivized to branch out to more tactical choices – armor for my buildings, and so forth – simply because with such a lack of focus on anything other than combat, infantry and walker tanks proved more than sufficient.
So the gameplay was a little lackluster, but what about the plot? The game essentially takes place in a very distant, very bleak future in which food and water shortages are commonplace. Meridian is the name of a planet, one that is a candidate for human resettlement. After a research team sent to Meridian vanish, it is up to you, Squad 22, to travel to the planet and find out just what the heck happened. This is a pleasing enough premise, the sort of post-apocalyptic science-fiction that we in the 21st Century love so much. The voice acting was equally passable: the scientists were appropriately squeaky (though not, to my relief, British), the muscle, gruff and straight-talking.
I think what left me feeling a little underwhelmed was a combination of factors, the most dominant of which was the sense that, even though I’ve read more than I’ve played of the genre, Meridian: Squad 22 is just another attempt at recreating the RTS titans of yore. The plot was doused in clichés, with no real stand-out characters or scenarios; of course, I’m sure arguments could be made for calling this a faithful copy (of larger RTS games), but more in the way that a tracing of the Mona Lisa might be: the game nailed the basic outline, but missed the depth, forgot the color.
Meridian: Squad 22 is an undeniably attractive game, particularly when you’re on-planet. The environments are a little repetitive, sure, but the various biomes do look the part, and came at first as a nice surprise after what had been a few slightly un-noteworthy cut scenes. It’s almost a shame that the worlds were so distinctly earth-like, because the lovely graphics and insistence upon brightness and clarity could have made for some great extra-terrestrial settings.
I’d also like to highlight the great audio that accompanies Meridian: I was a big fan of the music, particularly the heavy guitar riffs that one associates with general badass-ery. Elder Games teamed up with award-winning sound design team Hexany Audio on this one, and the outcome is a game whose stand-out feature is sci-fi environmental and mechanical sound effects that really do bring some sense of immersion to the table.
My one complaint on the design front follows a similar vein to every other complaint I’ve made so far. I was underwhelmed by the various unit designs, and did not feel as though there was anything markedly unique about any of the machines that formed my Squad 22; most disappointing were the bipedal tanks, whose overuse in an extraordinary range of game genres these days ought to have forced their banishment long ago. The soldiers were essentially identically-dressed motorcyclists, and the boats looked much like they did a good 900 years before Meridian is set: what I’m trying to say is, where was the imagination?
Meridian: Squad 22 is everything that an RTS game should be. The problem, I think, is that it’s nothing more than that: whilst the bare necessities have been nailed, the intricacies that would have made the game stand out from the fairly sizeable crowd are lacking. And whilst I can by no means call myself an expert, my diagnosis would be a bad case of nostalgia, and it would be no stretch to suggest that if Meridian had spent less time trying to be another, more popular RTS, it could well have become something with a vast amount more potential.
This review is based on a retail copy of the game provided by the publisher.
Meridian: Squad 22
Gameplay - 5/10
Plot - 5/10
Design - 6/10
Same Sci-Fi Strategy game, Different Day
Meridian: Squad 22 falls short of stardom by quite a way, opting for a look and feel that is unremarkable in most respects. Redemption comes in the form of a pleasingly bright aesthetic, and a soundtrack that is genuinely worth listening to; these things do not, however, keep Meridian from fading into the crowd.