Meridian: Squad 22 – Hey Guys, Let’s Play Starcraft with Design Issues!
I’m a really nice guy. Really, like super nice. In this instance, however, I need to force myself to be objective, which in turn makes me seem not that nice. I am here to speak the truth, and the truth is that someone made this game, but….why?!
First, let me say this: I am very very impressed that this was a one-man dev job. The amount of work, time, sweat, and Adderall that goes into making a game like this on your own is nuts. Really, I am in awe of this. The official trailer even dramatically states, “Developed by just one guy.” But, and you knew there was going to be a ‘but’, the issue with doing things all by yourself, is that you sometimes end up having blinders on, and you need those team members to provide feedback, bounce ideas off, and question your judgment from time to time. Teams have been the keys to success in the white collar corporate world for years, and there’s a reason for that.
So here’s the thing. Do you like Starcraft? Because if you do, this is Starcraft. This is very much Starcraft. I mean, it doesn’t have that same Blizzard fit and finish (because it’s an indie game, of course). But it’s Starcraft… with problems. This is where my ‘but why’ argument really comes into play. It’s understandable to make a ‘similar’ RTS game if you’ve got this really cool gimmick or idea that’ll set you apart from the others.
Sadly, this is not the case.
There is no cool twist or anything. There’s an overly, perhaps sickeningly cinematic feel for the campaign, there’s a simple challenge vs. AI mode, some hackneyed talent tree style unlockables, and that’s about it. Just like Starcraft. Even some of the sounds, though not exactly alike, are suspiciously similar (suspiciously being an understatement).
As a recovering Starcraft II addict, I may get emotional and personal with how this is essentially a knockoff; I’d rather not focus on that. You can decide that for yourself if and when you purchase this game. I would rather provide tangible, specific reasons why I have a problem with ’22 under the pretense that a comparison doesn’t exist.
I decided to start with Campaign Mode, because who doesn’t like a great storyline, right? My first campaign mission was brutal, and I did not complete it. Not for lack of trying, though...see, there are a few special characters in your group who are not allowed to die; if they do, you restart from the beginning. The issue is that they look like your generic troopers, and they don’t seem to have any special abilities or defenses. On my third try, I just basically left the four of them back at the base and moved forward with my expendable troops. Let the redshirts do the work, right? Sadly, not enough firepower, and I didn’t want to micromanage each individual unit. For a first mission, it was just too much responsibility to keep these four people alive. Clunky, and just kinda weird.
BUT WAIT… there’s a heal spell. Err… something like that. F1 or a mouse click will drop an AOE heal on your group. Essentially, you have this hand-of-God splash spell for some unknown reason to heal anything at all in the area, organic or mechanical. I’m familiar with building medics, medevacs, repair vessels, etc., but I do not understand what place a random splash heal has in an RTS. I mean, it’s useful, because there’s no other way to heal units, at least as far as I was able to get in the game. For a title that seems concerned about storyline and lore, it just makes no sense to have a heal spell without context.
After my few attempts at the campaign, I just got turned off and decided to do the PvP vs. AI maps. This is where I was really able to dive in and see the mechanics and gameplay. Sadly, I only got more frustrated. For starters, building placement is random, and it wouldn’t have taken much to toss down a grid or some sort of indicator showing me where I can or cannot build (Was I craving pylons? Yes. Leave me alone.) Your primary building gives you a capacity of 15 units. There were no options to build anything to expand that limit. I started with three drones, which mine like another game that shall remain nameless, leaving me with only 12 other possible units. I COULD find another Shardium deposit onto which I can build another mine, giving me 15 more units...but alas, there seemed to only be one more on the maps that I played, and often it was in a very inconvenient place (read: right next to enemy.) Also, they’re really expensive! If I can’t build an army of drones to build up my resources, it will take forever to save up for that expansion base. As an early-game-economy-based player of RTS games, it’s hard for me to not build up my production. Really hard. Top that off with the fact that the drones have illogical travel paths, and can’t attack either, and bleh.
I also really struggled to figure out how to queue jobs for the drones. I couldn’t have them build something, and then have them go back to mining. Maybe I didn’t look hard enough, but I tried multiple key combos to no avail. This leads to a lot of time spent looking for idle drones, a recipe for death if there was any PvP in this game. Queued jobs save lives...or something like that. Also, when my buildings were under attack, I tried having the drones repair them, and they can’t. The building quite dramatically catches fire, but doesn’t continue to lose HP after the source of the damage is destroyed. They don’t regen either. What you can do, though, is put on your Merlin robe and hat, and drop that AOE heal spell on your buildings. Magic!
So it’s time to explore the map to see if I can find another Shardium deposit, and oh look! The enemy base. Let's scout it out, right? Bad idea…really bad. As soon as I’m spotted by the enemy, he chases me around. Normal, right? Sure. However, if I get away, or even if he kills my scout unit, he somehow just makes a bee-line right for my base. So, revealing yourself to any enemy unit at all somehow magically removes the fog of war for the AI, and they go right for your base. This happened every time. When they did make it to my base, it seemed like my units really struggled to decide if they wanted to help their buddies that were in combat. I needed to work hard to move the units closer so they would join the fight. The distance required for other units to jump in and assist just seemed like a lot, but I was far more confused about how the enemy got there in the first place, so maybe that’s on me.
So here I am, with my troopers, trying to win a fight. I have two troopers vs. some kind of fighter jet shooting meter-long flames out of its double machine guns. Typically, you would expect that a single trooper, or even a small group, would get utterly destroyed by a flying death machine. This was not the case. The plane reamed on my trooper for a while and got itself destroyed by two guys with…pistols. I am nerdy enough to mouse-over the icon for their weapons, and two guys with pistols took down a fighter jet. I’m not asking for realism in space games, but that’s really imbalanced. Plus, who shoots a pistol at a plane?! More importantly, how the hell did we get to space and build all the fancy robots, but we’re still shooting pistols? Again, a game that really focuses on storyline and lore could have made the weapons a bit more ‘futuristic’ and obviously way more balanced.
So I’m starting to get the hang of the game.
I built up a small army, and I head over to the enemy base to serve them up a nice helping of pwnsauce. I kill all the enemy fighters and focus on their main base building. I destroy it pretty quickly and…no victory. Ok, fine. Let's destroy some other stuff. After massacring a random building with a few others still standing, I get a victory prompt. This happened several times, each time with random results. Once there were two enemy drones left and one building. I got a victory prompt after killing one of the drones, but not the other. Here’s the super-weird thing. When an enemy comes to my base and kills my main building, and nothing else, GAME OVER. Even if I have an army, and other buildings, immediate game over when my primary goes down. Again, that’s some imbalance. I would expect the victory conditions for a match to be more standardized. I’ve won many a Starcraft battle with my main base destroyed, but a large roaming laser show of Void Rays cleaning house as they snuck around the back end of the map.
SO if you’ve made it this far, I’d like to clarify something. I only have about three hours into this game. But really, that’s all I needed. My time is precious. I’m not trying to be an ass; I think everyone’s time is valuable. If you haven’t sold me on a game in the first hour, then ok, maybe I’ll keep going. Three hours into ’22, and I just wanted to stop. You have to hook players in somehow early on, and I was not hooked. What this game did stir up in me, is a sense of nostalgia for a game I used to play back in the day called Total Annihilation – a really early RTS that I had countless hours into in the late 90’s (damn, I’m old). So I looked it up, and found out it was released on Steam last year! Holy hell!!! I immediately purchased it, put three hours into it, and frankly I was in absolute shock. ABSOLUTE SHOCK. This game, produced in 1997 by a minuscule team, is absolutely fantastic. The logic, game theory and design, economy and resource structure far (and I do mean far) surpass what I experienced in ’22. Other than low-rez graphics (which are super popular now, right?), TA is just an A-MAZING RTS. If you’ve got five bucks to spend and want to fall in love with a non-mainstream RTS game, TA all day, any day.
In conclusion, I have to say that I’m pretty sad. I don’t like to poo-poo people’s hard work. I too have spent countless hours on some of my projects, and I would be very sad if it wasn’t well received. Who wouldn’t?
Alas, Meridian: Squad 22 just falls way short of the mark. There are too many design issues, too many miscalculations, to make this worth buying. Perhaps if it wasn’t just “one guy” it would be different, but it’s not. Add to that the fact that it was outdone by a game produced almost 20 years ago in a side-by-side comparison, and it’s a bust. Want an alternative RTS? Buy Total Annihilation and fall in love, or buy Meridian: Squad 22, and be frustrated. “… and the number of the counting shall be three.”