|a game by||P.A.S. Systems|
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Epic in scope, Merit Software's Maelstrom offers a complex mix of military, political and economic playing elements. Designed by PAS systems, Maelstrom takes place in a distant galaxy where the forces of the evil Syndicate wage war with the peace-loving people of the planet Harmony. The player assumes the role of an idealistic Syndicate starship captain who turns against his oppressive masters and decides to champion the cause of Harmony. Although the plot may be nothing new, Maelstrom offers several engaging twists on an otherwise bathetic game concept.
All of the game options are accessed through what the instruction manual calls the "holodesk," a buttonladen control screen through which all the functions required to win your struggle can be accessed. From here you can direct your henchmen to mine the surface of Harmony for valuable minerals, initiate research and development efforts, manage the populace of Harmony and even send your secret police force out into the galaxy to keep an eye on your friends and foes alike.
When the Syndicate's push comes to military shove, you can fight back by building a wide variety of ship types, and then filling them with an even wider array of weapons, defenses and other hi-tech gadgets. Individual ships can be grouped into Syndicate-busting armadas, ready to project power to nearly any point in the galaxy.
Looking at the other planets in your galaxy is facilitated by a 3-D grid representing them, which can be rotated and enlarged for inspection. Ships traveling between worlds are represented as colored spheres, while ship-to-ship combat is represented by a 3-D representation of all of the ships in the battle.
In addition to managing resources and mastering your military, succeeding at Maelstrom requires that you be a glib negotiator as well. There are literally hundreds of characters with which you can speak, each with his own personality and motives. Admittedly, most of the conversation in Maelstrom is one-way, with most nonplayer characters only imparting a limited degree of information to you through normal channels. If you want more info, you can send your secret police to gather information on people and planets--even start an insurgency or two. Conversely, you must watch for threats from within your own organization as well; in Maelstrom, skill at the art of espionage is an important one.
Maelstrom comes loaded with dozens of short animations, presented in the form of video clips. The ruler of a nearby planet may ask you to help find a kidnapped scientist, then show you a 15-second animation of the poor researcher being abducted. Even your failure is accompanied by a series of mini-movies showing enemy troopers landing on your planet and assaulting your base, eventually breaking into your command center and eliminating you. Most of these animations are accompanied by a healthy dose of sound and music, giving an extra emphasis to what is being seen.
If it sounds like Maelstrom is bursting at the seams with detail, it is. Maelstrom's interface has a steep learning curve, requiring that aspiring galactic rulers spend a substantial amount of time learning how to navigate the often confusing game screens and options. Getting past the Byzantine interface is a challenge; however, gamers looking for a complex, intricate game of galactic conquest should find it well worth the effort.