I don’t recall my first real time strategy game, but I know it wasn’t Starcaft, Warcraft, or Command & Conquer. I do remember playing a PC game called Deadlock: Planetary Conquest early on. In Deadlock, you were able to choose from one of many races, which gave you a particular advantage over the others. Your goal was to build up your resources, and to become better than the other aliens who were building at the same time. There was none of the graphical glitz that we enjoy today, and developers were still figuring out new and lovely ways to make real time strategy engaging. The core of games like Deadlock was what made the genre stick to me; I could take my civilization in as many directions as I wanted to, and I would either reap the benefits, or be severely punished. It has been nearly 2 decades since the earliest strategy games arrived for PC. So there are lessons that the Meridian: Squad 22 development team has to have learned from the hundreds of real time strategy games that exist.
Meridian: Squad 22 is the second in a series of games. I have not played the first title, but I can confirm that it is also an RTS. I don’t know what I am missing, narrative-wise, but I had no issue following what is happening in Squad 22. I suppose that Squad 22 is a side story that takes place around the time of the original title. I have mentioned narrative, and there is a bit of it here. The lead character is Mark Quinn, leader of the titular squad. Humans have left the overpopulated Earth to journey to other stars. In sci-fi, humans tend to not live peacefully, so conflict arises. These battles happen on the planet Meridian.
In each mission, you have to gather resources in order to build your troops and units; stock RTS logic. As you play, you are able to upgrade your technology by finding canisters along the map that offer research points. Research points are of 3 types: combat (orange), economy(green), and defense(blue). Higher up on the upgrade tree, you’ll need a mixture of orange, green and blue research points for complex research items.
Between missions, you get your narrative. Quinn and the other characters return to their ship to discuss their next move. You get to walk around the CCS Raptor, but there’s nothing to do but talk. You get a list of questions to ask characters, much like an adventure game. When you’re satisfied, you’re off to another mission. Mark Quinn- and other characters like Sandra Davis- are what you would call hero units, but they don’t seem any more special than the regular units. The hero units are the only ones who can respawn at base camp, and they receive all the research upgrades infantry units do. They don’t have special abilities, otherwise.
My experience with the game started out fine. I like sci-fi RTS games, so this is a good fit for me. Then I got to mission 4. This was where I banged my head. The benefit of a larger development team and a bigger budget is that you have the ability to get feedback on where your game needs work. I felt that so soon into the game, I was overwhelmed. If I was a first-time gamer, or new to real time strategy, having Squad 22 up the difficulty so much might have made me quit. I pushed through, and eventually made it to the next mission. This was a lowlight in my experience with Squad 22.
There have also been little problems I’ve had here and there. The first problem I had was that deselecting units was not as easy as selecting units. Then I have seen times where units will get stuck on the terrain, causing them to wander back and forth, instead of reach their destination. Then there’s the healing button. The healing button allows you to restore a good amount of health to some of your units. The problem for me is the location of that button on the screen; it’s located on the leftmost side. Why’s that a problem? Well, the problem is that the camera will move across the map depending on what edge of the screen you place the mouse. So that life-saving heal button became a pain because I would aim at the button, and have the camera fly all the way out to the edge of the map. Those seconds lost may mean doom for your mission!
There are two other modes in Squad 22, other than the story campaign. You have squad missions, which are challenges that have you accomplish a goal, but with more limitations on how many units you have. Conquest mode is basically like campaign mode, minus the narrative beats. These extra modes extend the life of the game after you’ve gone through the story, and for its price tag, I think that they make the game well worth the cost. I do wonder if the game will have any multiplayer component in the future.
Meridian: Squad 22 is not an innovation in RTS, but what it does right, it does expertly. As a small studio, I am impressed with the quality of this production, from voice talent to the 3D models; most of the work was done by one person! Squad 22, however, neglects to follow a few lessons in RTS game evolution that have been learned long ago. I have only played a few RTS games in my life, but I’ve played enough to know that a real time strategy games have done better with user input and AI controlled units. What I respect about Squad 22 are its flashes of brilliance, like the choice of defensive or offensive bases before the start of a mission. Meridian: Squad 22 is a low-priced, indie title, but it’s only fair to treat it like any other game of the same genre. With so many games throughout history, Squad 22 does not stand out too greatly. I hope to see its issues worked out in updates.
If you’re interested, Meridian: Squad 22 is currently £ 10.99 ($ 14.99) on Steam.