Maelstrom Review (PC)

A freedom band of mercenaries battling an unethical mega corporation for supremacy of the world, what could be worse for Earth? Oh yeah, the invading aquatic based alien species looking to turn the whole planet into a paddling pool.

Spot the alien organic bio-structure You can guess where this is leading

I had the pleasure of tasting KDV's Maelstrom as a preview release, but now I get the whole end product experience. Much has been polished even from just the menu, as you select a different option the camera will shift focus onto a different part of the scenary. A nice little touch and it gives the game a chance to show off some of its graphical features.

In fact the graphics are one of the best features Maelstrom has to offer especially with its terrain manipulations and the unique quirk of the alien faction. The water, which is a main feature of the games mechanic, is very impressive and organic units can swim about. I was able to whack up the settings to full and enjoy what KDV had to offer, and it was well worth it. It's not going to break any major barriers or drop thousands of jaws like Company of Heroes for instance, but it leaves a nice after taste.

The Remnant faction are the rag tag bunch looking to free Earth and save what shreds of humanity they can. They are the closest you can feel to a modern human faction and they favour bunkers and barbed wire. Tanks, jeeps and marine grunts are the main force of the Remnant, they're not as advanced as the other factions but can pack some serious punch.

The Acsension are all about gene-therapy and tweaking DNA with technology, they see themselves as the true step forward for the human race. They eliminate natural selection and breed superior agents to further their desires. Very sleek and futuristic, their entire base can transform back into mobile trucks for relocating.

Surprising detail The Ascension can relocate anytime

The Hai-Genti are the invading aquatic based aliens who want Earth as a new territory. The fact that they're linked with marine species is very significant, they don't utlize water in the same way as the two human counterparts. Instead they also use it to flood and expand their building influence, much like the old Starcraft game. They are pure organic and so rely heavily on both water and biomass for their war machine.

Of all the factions, the Hai-Genti are certainly the most obscure and 'scary', watching their base spores evolve into giant bio-monstrosities. The water they use to flood areas of a map can really hinder the humans, while the aliens simply swim and can also heal themselves when semi-submerged. The tactics really vary from each side and its exciting to switch over and get a taste of new strategies.

The campaign now comes in full for me to sink into, you first start off the storyline as the Remnant as you're introduced to the Maelstrom universe. It's simple enough and you'll learn basic controls through a nice and easy tutorial phase.

So many RTS titles now have their RPG elements, KDV not wanting to miss out, included a number of hero units for each side. To match games like SpellForce, you can also take direct control of the heros and use their special abilities. These can range from a healing microwave to stealth etc, they've tried to present this in a FPS style. While not exactley an original idea, it can be twinned with another option in Maelstrom.

If you really want to take control and utilize hero units to their full, then you are going to want to set your base to AI control. This means the computer will expand and build units for you, letting you concentrate more on the actual action. Though it would be best if you didn't place all your faith into the AI, after-all it can't compete with human creativity and exploitation.

I decided to get acquainted with each faction and see how they like to operate, fortunately you can choose to fire up a skirmish battle with no enemies. This can give real freedom to explore your tech trees but also the maps available. Of course it can't compare to the action you'll be missing. It's much better to caste terrain busting powers on some AI enemies at least, than just empty land.

KDV also brought us, the gaming public, Perimeter which is well known for its environment manipulations. They've learnt from that and built it into MaelStrom, so expect to see more than just rising water as you can really bring some hurt to the earth itself.

Resources in Maelstrom are straight forward, all factions will need access to water which is a critical resource and even more so, as explained earlier, for the Hai-Genti. Second are the survivor vaults which are littered around the maps, these house humans who are sealed away from the nuclear apocolypse which claimed the world. The Remnants will trade with them, the Acension will use them for genetic material and the Hai-Genti will simply harvest them for biomass. Nice. These become real strategic points as they are invaluable to each factions war machine.

Expect to get your standard fill of multiplayer action too, you can choose from 1v1, 2v2 etc maps. We RTS gamers come to expect a certain degree of online choice and Maelstrom doesn't disappoint. Whether you'll enjoy the single player campaign more, or get your kicks from slapping other players down remains to be seen at this point. With the game in its infancy its hard to predict if it will be get a good online community going, multiplayer for many RTS titles are a minefield in themselves with client performances.

A bleak future Earth Destructible environments

KDV and Codemasters has a lot to be proud of in their latest creation, Maelstrom is a beautiful game filled with a lot of strategic talent and plenty of room for big pretty explosions, and squirtings of blood. If you love a royal RTS experience then grab Maelstrom and plunge in.

Top Game Moment:
Watching the battlefield flood before my glorious Hai-Genti brethen.