Maelstrom


Title           Maelstrom
Game Type       Management Sim
Company		PAS Systems, Empire Software, 1993
Players         1
Compatibility   All
HD Installable	Yes
Submission      Angus Manwaring Profiled Reviewer

Review
Although I gather his involvement in the project was fairly short-lived,
Maelstrom or (as the box proclaims proudly) "Syd Mead's Maelstrom" was
inspired by the very talented visual designer Syd Mead; perhaps most
respected for his work on the film Blade Runner.

Maelstrom's approach is not unlike that of the Amiga classic Deuteros, in
that both games deal with management of resources and strategic challenges
within a Science Fiction setting. The presentation is also similar in
concept, with the player clicking on a number of buttons to visit the
various control screens. In Maelstrom these include a Military screen
where you have access to your fleet, an Intelligence screen for control of
your Secret Service, the Mining screen which is your most obvious means of
deriving revenue, and the Research screen where various scientific
projects can be investigated.

One area where there is no comparison between the two games, and I want to
get this out of the way early on, is the sound. The sound in Maelstrom is
rubbish. This is fairly serious, because in a game of this type the sound
can do wonders for the atmosphere, and this is demonstrated with
remarkable success in Deuteros. Malestrom, sadly, is quite another matter.
There is the odd beep, frequent clicks, as well as a few slightly better
sounds supporting the attractive video sequences, on the whole though, a
missed opportunity.

Now I can tell you about the good things in what is after all rather an
impressive game. First of all though, let's cover the plot. You were an
officer with the Syndicate forces, responsible for reconnoitering the
planet Harmony. Harmony is of vital importance because it is there that
the majority the system's most valuable mineral, Fitzholnium, is found.
Instead of doing your job and clearing the way for the invasion force like
a good soldier though, you got an attack of conscience and decided to
throw in your lot with the underdogs. You landed, warned the inhabitants
of what was happening and were promptly elected Governor of the planet;
the position you currently occupy. From your control room you access, via
your state of the art Executron 1200 computer, the various resources at
your disposal. There are also some 30 planets for you to contemplate, via
the rather impressive three dimensional, rotatable and zoomable map
display, and while you obviously don't need to concern yourself with the
comings and goings of each of the billions of inhabitants, you had better
pay close attention to the key players. (One of the game's selling points
was the glorious phrase 'Cellular Automata', apparently describing the
artificial intelligence of the various characters, each with their own
motivations and rules). Well, there are certainly plenty of intrigues and
alliances to be made here, and it is not only your limited Military forces
but particuarly your Secret Service that will be vital in helping you to
survive the approaching menace of the Syndicate forces - the forces that
you have defected from.

Although Maelstrom is well presented and generally well designed for the
player, initially it is quite confusing to decide what needs to be treated
as a priority. This will be brought home to you by having your planet,
Harmony, invaded by the Syndicate forces fairly rapidly, with a video
sequence reminiscent of the Sardaukar troops storming the Atreides
stronghold in the film Dune. Impressive and enjoyable to watch, but not a
great self-confidence builder. It is worth mentioning that on the Save
screen there is a numeric counter that determines the game's speed, and
this should probably be reduced substantially for all but the quickest
thinkers, particuarly if you're finding your way in the game, unless, of
course, you're particuarly fond of watching that invasion sequence.

Progress will eventually be made however as you become more familiar with
the game's mechanics, and make more effective use of your resources.
Obviously if you've hired an extra six Research staff or Intelligence
agents, leaving them sitting around doing nothing is simply a waste of
your time and money, so put them to work or fire them. Each character has
their own attributes, not the usual Strength, Intelligence, Dexterity etc,
but qualifications and skills, therefore, if one of your Scientists has a
First in Laser technology and knows more about the subject than anybody
else, that's the person you want heading the Laser weapon research. This
principle exists in the other professions and should be implemented
accordingly. Cleverly, you don't have to be on first name terms with all
your employees; each section has a number of rank and file staff and while
you control how many there are (and the department's budget), you only
actually deal personally with the key operatives, which is realistic and
prevents the process from becoming too much of a chore.

There is also a substantial amount of detail involved in controlling your
military forces. There are various types of ships for you to purchase, and
a host of offensive, defensive and computer based add-ons for you to
furnish them with, and happily you can choose the name of each vessel
youself, which engenders a certain attachment to its well being. Once
you've done all that you can select the various officers you wish to
assign to each ship, and given the awesome responsibility involved, it is
at this point that you tend to check through your various personnel files
and wonder if you were perhaps a little hasty in hiring some of them. When
it comes to actually organizing a mission, depending on its nature, you
might send out a single ship to simply ferry one of your Intelligence
agents to a planet to investigate some event, or perhaps assemble a fleet
to provide assistance to an ally that is under attack. In the latter case
you have the option of commanding the battle personally or leaving the job
to your team of professionals. The battle screen is quite nicely
presented, giving a three dimensional, third person perspective of the
opposing fleets. It allows you to rotate the screen for an improved
viewpoint, and issue orders to single or multiple ships. You want detail?
Maelstrom delivers.

In essence then, despite the aforementioned and regrettable deficiency
regarding sound, Maelstrom is actually a powerful and involving game that
will appeal to a large number of games players. It has that 'I think I'll
just tweak things a little more' appeal that exists in, for example, The
Settlers, combined with the more compulsive control-freak management that
will drive you to make questionable and ruthless decisions. The
atmospheric and involving storylines add depth to the experience, so it is
surely apparent that even with it's audio shortcomings, Maelstrom is
something of a monster of a game, and is most certainly worthy of
investigation if the genre holds any appeal for you at all.


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