by Wencke Schuncken
author awarded score: 70/100

Maelstrom: The Battle for Earth Begins Review
Publisher: Codemasters
Developer: KDV
Format reviewed: PC
Reviewed by: Wencke Schuncken

It’s been a while … since I played a RTS (Real Time Strategy) game on my somewhat neglected gaming PC. The last ones played were in November / December 2005 with Civilization IV ]and Age of Empires III. But these cannot be compared with Maelstorm. Although it has the RTS gameplay with creating, building, up-grading of units and structures, it’s a real war game. A kind of Battlefield in RTS style with futuristic elements.

Developer KDV hired the respected science fiction scenario writer James Swallow (Battlestar Galactica, Star Trek and several Sci-Fi books) to obtain a gripping storyline. Without going too much into details, here’s the main storyline of what Maelstorm is about; Maelstorm takes place on the devastated future Earth of 2050 after an apocalyptic ecological disaster. In this savaged world, water has become the most valuable of resources and divided the remaining humans into two factions: The guerrilla Remnants and the business focused Ascension. The Remnants are led by ex-US Naval Commander James Buchanan, who are the underdogs in this bleak future. However, these cunning, low-tech resistance fighters are large in numbers and even more resourceful in their terrorist-like battle tactics. The Ascension are led by Arian Khan who commands respect from his supporters, all of them highly intelligent and logical, yet ruthless exploiters of future technology such as transforming robotics. But where the Ascension obtained such technology remains unknown. But a fact is that these two groups can’t get along with each other. To top it off, an unexpected third participant “joins” the battle. The Hai-Genti
is a group of alien invaders that are desperately seeking for a new planet to inhabit and draw resources from. They’re masters of Bio-engineering and biological weapons and rage from huge beasts to large swarms of small creatures. Three groups fighting to gain control over the world’s resources. Which side are you on? Who's going to win?

Several game modes are available; most of us probably prefer to test their skills online. Before challenging others, I prefer to check out the game by myself in the campaign mode. With RTS games, the campaign mode always was the best to start with as it explains all of the games' features, step by step. In this case you take control over the Remnants which have a strong unit capacity and can convert ice into water. But a big minus is the armoury which isn't impressive. But many soldiers make up for the weapons' quality and power. Travel through unknown land, find survivors / recruiters who join the Remnants, build a haven, upgrade each unit and structure and start taking control over the world. That's a very short gameplay description, but it will take a couple of hours before (or if) you end the game by making the Remnants victorious! If you're the type of gamer that either has no patience and don't want to do the story driven campaign mode or want to explore all the options by themselves (learning by doing), it's better to jump right in the action in the skirmish or online battle.

A vital role during the games will be played by heroes, the leaders of the units. It's crucial to keep a hero alive, otherwise it's game over and you can start all over again, including the loading time needed to prepare the same map again. Heroes have the ability to gain experience points that are needed to research special abilities which can be used during battles. Special morale ability has effect on the fighting troops as well! Come on guys, you can do it! Another important feature is the environmental destructibility and customization (terraforming). The Hai-Genti is very font of the earth' water supply and use their power to create tons of water. Transforming land into sea is a tricky strategy to bug the enemies but these also have some powers to deal with this "Atlantis dream". The Ascension has weapons to transform the water into ice, to end water barrier and to be able to walk over it. Bye Bye water! The Remnants don't care about the water or ice when they can use their weapons to re-do the Ascension transformations. Also they're able to make mountains of land! The terraforming can be fun to make it a little bit more difficult for the enemies.

The controls are very easy and simple enough for anyone to get into the game. As any RTS it's just point and click to command your troops or menu options. Select one individual unit at a time or render a group by dragging your mouse over some units. By clicking on an individual unit or group, the properties will be shown and you can change the behavior to attacking or defensive mode and even can guard a certain path, set out by you of course. Watch out! Enemy! Either the units automatically start to attack or you can assign it to attack a certain enemy. While playing as a hero, you can control him / her from a third-person viewpoint and shoot as if you're in a third-person action game! Besides units, a large assortment of vehicles can be used which vary depending on the faction you control. The vehicles have multiple upgrade possibilities and even can be used to build structures or make some environmentally changes.

Maelstorm's graphics are very nice. You can zoom in very close to get a detailed look of your units and environment (buildings, land structure) or zoom out to get a complete overview of your battlefield. Although the complete overview is better to plan your strategies, it's recommended to zoom in a lot and enjoy what the lovely designers have created. The environment is a prefect portrait of a world torn apart; ruined apartment buildings, car wracks and some left-overs from sky scrapers can be seen all over the place. Seeing the troops fighting, a lot of laser- or electronic beams are projected. It even gets better when you try to blow things up, like vehicles, as the explosions are very well presented! Of course there are many options to increase (or decrease if necessary) the graphics quality, dependable of what your PC is capable of. Last but not least, the menu lay-out is perfect. Not that many options to start with and during the game you can see all available options and information on the bottom of the screen. This also counts if you click on a single unit or building. Check if it is defensive or rather an attacking unit, check if you can upgrade a structure, or what is necessary to perform an upgrade.

Regarding the sound, I'm not that happy with all those units saying their "one-liners" all the time. The Russian Sasha Antonova always is babbling about her bottle of vodka, soldiers shouting that their ready to go, and lines as “I’ll be there” and, “I’ll be there in one New York minute”, etc. It's not very inspiring, it is getting repeated way too often and the supposedly humorous comments are in my option bad. Maybe it's my lack of humour, but I doubt that! As already mentioned, you can zoom in with the camera for a closer look. This also affects the produced sounds and you'll be able to hear the shootings, the explosions and the mechanic sounds of a tank or other vehicle.

Regarding the female point of view, I was impressed to meet a couple of strong female characters in Maelstorm. No, war is not strictly for men! While playing the campaign mode, in no time the Russian Sasha Antonova is reporting for duty. She’s the daughter of a mafia gangster boss and particularly intelligent. After she immigrated to the US she took control over the Antonova-clan. Unfortunately after the apocalyptic ecological disaster, the Ascension group attacked. The result was that Sasha tried to save what was left and started to roam, just like her gipsy Russian grandparents have done. After some roaming she joins the Remnants and researches advanced camouflage techniques, recruits survivors and seem to have a solution for every bad situation. The Ascension group also has a valuable female member; Dr Kie Fujishima. She can be held responsible for the Ascension technological superiority. Just like Sasha, she’s very intelligent but then as a scientist. But if needed, she can become a great help during combat. Her prototype weapons fire devastating electrical bolts, and her special abilities include making Ascension units less resistant to hacking attacks and boosting the rate of fire of friendly units. Now that you know that both groups have two powerful women, what about those aliens? It seems that the Psyclade is a female alien. She’s capable of destroying enemies with psychokinetic impulses. Whenever she is needed, just give the mother-ship a call. Currently there’s no personal background information available.

At first I wasn't thrilled about Maelstrom, but it sure contains some addictive features. The enthusiasm for this game increased hour after hour, while I learned all about the possibilities. Even if I had to repeat an objective several times, there was that certain addictive part that kept me going. Of course I wanted to know how to story evolved and to learn how to lead a troop to victory. After the campaign mode I started to play the skirmish mode, which was way too easy. Any RTS player would be able to jump in the skirmish mode and understand what needs to be done as Maelstrom has the typical RTS elements. What makes this game special is the good balance between the three factions and their specific weapons and possibilities. With the terraforming it seems as if the environment itself has become a player in the story just as much as the factions themselves but it could take some time before you fully are aware of all its possibilities! What to think of changing the ice while the Ascension are walking on it to attack you? Maelstrom is a decent RTS game in my opinion with enough challenges, addictive features and varied types of gaming modes. Recommendable to experienced RTS gamers, and a nice introduction for novice players that are new to this genre.