Reeking of machine oil, burnt plasma and gun powder and looking very much like a direct descendent of Cavedog Entertainment's seminal Total Annihilation, Meridian: New Worlds is an RTS with a story set in the future but mechanics deeply entrenched in gaming's tried-and-tested past. Oh and it's mostly made by just one guy which is impressive or, you know, slightly ominous, depending on how you look at it.
Gameplay-wise things look deceptively simple. If you've played an RTS before you'll know exactly how things are going to go down: build a base, build some units, crush the enemy. Of course things get shaken up by the story-driven campaign which asks you to complete certain tasks in certain ways: destroy this building, fight your way through your enemy with just these units, build this thing here. Most work to make things interesting though a few were suspect (a stealth section?? In an RTS?? REALLY MERIDIAN??) but for the most part it's either roll over the enemy with a wave of units or build up your defences and turtle.
Gameplay then is much as it has been for the past 15 years but Meridian does a few things to shake it up. First of all, Meridian is heavily story driven; your missions are given a clear purpose and context and from what I've seen of Meridian so far, it tries to move away from the standard fare of 'ENEMY BAD. TERMINATE ENEMY' and lays on the intrigue with hints of corruption and betrayal. Between missions you move around your base and converse with your crew (wink wink Mass Effect) a nice option, as rudimentary as it currently is.
Combat is also made slightly different by the level of customisation available. Units don't come in many flavours out of the box but research allows you to equip the same unit with a variety of weapons giving them different abilities: anti-air, anti-infantry (go on, guess the next). Your commander too can be customised through use of an XP-based skill tree that allows you to lay down abilities in the field: speeding up construction, increasing rate of fire, dealing direct damage, etc. All of which are nice touches.
The graphics are gorgeous; slick and shiny and full of depth (but no zoom or rotate camera functions as of yet, which feels a bit restrictive). Sound too is good - electric guitar riffs and pretty good voice acting will keep your eardrums entertained.
Meridian is still in early stages, so there are few areas for improvement of course, namely AI and pathfinding - which can make or break an RTS. On more than a few occasions I found myself swearing at the blacksheep of my army who decided to ignore a direct command and waltz off in the other direction in a strop. Oh and the pathfinding failures were obviously super fun on that forced stealth section (Really Meridian?? REALLY??). God damn robots.
It's nice to see an old school RTS game and Meridian has plenty of promise: the levels of customisation will hopefully keeps things interesting and the story focus is reassuring. Let's hope it lives up to the legacy of it inspiration and doesn't suffer total annihilation at the hands of its critics (ahahahahahaha. God I'm funny.)