There are a few things to look for in an RTS, some essential elements that compose the most popular, successful and enjoyable ones. A good RTS must be balanced enough to reward aggressive play as well as a more methodical approach. A good RTS has elements of base building and a relatively easy resource collection process, which funds a diverse technology tree. A good RTS has reliable A.I. that allows the player to organize troops and effectively communicate and execute orders. Meridian: New World attempts to add some new mechanics to that list, but in so doing neglects those fundamentals.
First off, as a single-player only experience, Meridian is unnecessarily difficult. Enemy units can (and often do) outnumber and outgun you from the moment you begin a map. In the moments where the game is played like a traditional RTS (with base-building and resource collection) you have the opportunity to strategize and amass enough troops to overcome your enemy. But Meridian frequently inserts stages where you control small squads and must use these troops to overcome the enemy. In those instances, the game really starts to fall apart.
Where the game throws “stealth” missions your way (challenging you to lead a squad of soldiers across the map while avoiding detection), taking one quick scout tank around enemy lines is enough to reach the victory screen. And if you try to win by any means other than using that exploit, you will fail. Repeatedly.
Where the game gives you a limited squadron of planes to take out enemies fortified on islands, waves of troops hunt you down with rockets, causing splash damage to your ships without giving you any way to scatter your troops (the A.I. insists on flying in tight groups).
Where the game gives you a turret hub and locks you into playing a tower-defense scenario, bombers are allowed to bypass the only lane and instantly lay waste to your hub. And only foreknowledge of these events allows you to adequately prepare for them; often, the game seems designed to make you fail.
Between missions you’re taken back to a base ship where you can move a commander around the map and look at various uninteresting things. It seems as though the intention here was to allow players to find some branching paths to an overarching story, but the examples I was able to find seemed to have only one conclusion; there’s a bit about “investigating” a traitor in your midst, but despite moments where it seems like you ought to have options, there’s only one inevitable conclusion.
Meridian does have some interesting ideas, like choosing what researched weapon to arm troops with the moment they are produced. But even that system is poorly implemented, as there doesn’t seem to be much advantage to building a unit with less armor when both it and the sturdier tank can be equipped with the exact same gun. That lack of variety kills any balancing measures that might have been in place, instead placing the focus more on direct troop management. And that would be fine, if you could easily manage your army.
The game really suffers from terrible A.I. far more than anything. The pathfinding isn’t particularly impressive, and the commands you can give are extremely limited: you can tell your troops to attack, or move. If you move troops directly next to an enemy building or unit, even once they’ve stopped they will just stand there. And if you order your troops to attack a specific target, rather than approach the target and begin firing once in range, troops will sometimes continue moving past the target, to fire at it from a different position. What it is that dictates when the troops stop and fire is a complete mystery, but how frustrating that makes the game is painfully clear. Units have no sense of danger or self-preservation, don’t really respond to the environment around them, and can’t be told to guard or patrol, meaning that they need constant baby-sitting.
Billed as a “one-man” project, according to the credits the job of programming, level design and story all went to one single person, while art assets, voice acting, production and direction roles were done by others. I’m not entirely sure what the advantage would be to overworking one particular person (other than to misleadingly make it sound like one man did all the work), but as a finished product it is very clear that Meridian really could have benefitted from additional staff looking at the code, levels and story. Being able to say that you singularly accomplished something may mean a great deal to this game’s creator, but consumers care more about a quality experience. And despite appreciated attempts at innovation, quality is just not something Meridian consistently offers.
SCORE: 5.5 out of 10
A code for Meridian: New World was provided to Pixel Related for review.