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Posted on Oct 11, 2006 in Electronic Games, Front Page Features

Emperor’s Testament – Game Review (PC)

By Robert Mackey

Real-Time Strategy (RTS) games have been around for a good long time. From the first inklings of RTS in the now classic Dune 2, to the Command & Conquer and Age of Empires franchises, RTS has changed how gamers have redefined “strategy.” The problem is that RTS has, to some extent, ‘hit a wall’—every game that comes along is seemingly a variation of the simple “gather resources, build an army, destroy the enemy’s [city/base/headquarters].” Then rinse and repeat. Over and over and over.

1C Company, in cooperation with Paradox Interactive (the Europa Universalis and Hearts of Iron folks), has attempted to break the increasingly tired pattern of RTS with their new RTS, Perimeter: Emperor’s Testament (PET for short). Sadly, while PET does introduce some interesting variants on gameplay, it falls ultimately into the trap of other RTS games—build up, march out, and stomp your opponents to win.

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Gameplay (43/60):

The background story of PET sounds like something penned by an out-of-work Sci-Fi writer coming off a three week bender. Allow me to quote one of the gems of this story: “…the Spirits created the Worlds…and in their own image, Man to walk upon the Worlds…When the worlds could no longer sustain him, Man created the Frames and in his multitudes, in the Frames he lived. And in the Frames he rotted…” Confused? Makes two of us brother, makes two of us. Perhaps it is the translation from Russian to English, perhaps it is the campaign introduction (which is told by the “Emperor of the Sponge” (seriously! All hail the Sponge!)) which seemingly doesn’t connect to the intro in the instruction manual. Either way, whether the Spirits are leading us, or it is Bob (I know, I’m a bad person, but I couldn’t help mentally renaming the all-mighty “Emperor of the Sponge” as “Emperor Sponge Bob.”), you have a galactically important, all encompassing, spiritually enlightening, transcendental goal.

In this shot, I’ve set up my Energy Cores (surrounded by brown circles) to begin to set up a defensive perimeter around my base. Note the large ditch to the north-this was cut by my Brigadier builder bots to prevent the horde of spiders from overrunning the place. The large central facility is the equivalent to your city center, etc. in other RTS games, but this one doesn’t actually produce anything. However, it can move and many of the missions involve you moving it to a teleport facility on the map.

Yep, you sure do. You build stuff and blow up the other guy.

All joking aside, the actual gameplay follows the standards of RTS but with enough new twists to keep the game interesting. For example, instead of building units from a ‘tank’ factory until the entire screen is filled with English longbowmen, trebuchets, or Sherman tanks, you produce nanotech, modifiable squads. So you can take a squad of your robots (formed of three basic types—solders, officers, and technicians) and morph them from one thing to another. This leads to some very interesting strategies. You can take your bots, order them to morph into a siege weapon, and as soon as you see an enemy patrol headed toward your lines, order them to morph into a flying gunship. The result is substantially less battlefield clutter than most RTS’s, at least when it comes to your maneuver forces.

The reduced number of troops leads to the second half of any RTS, the role of buildings. PET has the same defensive, productive, and resource gathering buildings as any other RTS, just with different names. In PET, there is only one resource—energy—which is produced by your Energy Core building. In addition to producing energy for production, the building also serves to set your limits of expansion, since you can only build new buildings within its effective radius. To spread the energy out farther, you can either build more Cores, or Transmitters. Transmitters do exactly as advertised by pumping energy between Energy Core buildings (think of them as high power electrical transmission lines and the Cores as a power plant). Factory and research buildings allow for new weapons/morphing for your squad, and Command Centers add new squads (up to 5). The standard defense buildings (lasers, rocket launchers, and artillery) finish the mix. One neat addition is the ability to generate a “Perimeter” around your buildings that stops all incoming enemy forces and weapons. While it burns up energy to use, it is very useful in stopping enemy incursions and building a virtual wall to protect your expansion.

PET adds a few other twists as well. I found that the ability to terraform the map—critical to building new buildings and spreading out—was fun and easy. The “Brigadiers” (a robot builder deploying smaller nanobots to work) also can dig massive trenches to protect your buildings from subterranean weapons and from the insect-like “Scourge,” at least during the first parts of the campaign.

My attempt at a tank rush. In this case the ‘tanks’ are robot vehicles that fire sub-surface missiles that can bypass defensive shielding. The enemy defense are using their electric bolts to fry my vehicles. Despite the fact that you can terraform, the result is more like World War I than futuristic Sci-Fi. Both sides will end up building facilities and defenses, and with the Perimeter shield, will end up slowly grinding each other down. A close-up of the battle. Graphically, the game is quite lovely and functional. Note the Perimeter shielding up on the Energy Core to the right.

The small number of mobile forces combined with the Perimeter and defensive buildings leads to what I think is the chink in PET’s armor. Instead of jumping around the map with your flyers and tanks, you end up moving one step at a time slowly terraforming terrain and building Energy Cores, Transmitters, and defensive buildings. The game ends up looking like a futuristic Somme, where both sides destroy an Energy Core and its defenses just to hit another right behind that one. The game soon resembles Soviet defensive doctrine during the Cold War—deep belts of defenses that ultimately attrit an enemy before they reach their objective.

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