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Perimeter Review

publisher: Codemasters
developer: K-D Lab
genre: Strategy

PIII 1000, 256MB RAM, 950MB HDD, 64MB video card
ESRB rating: E

release date: Jun 29, 04
» All About Perimeter on ActionTrip

Before I start the usual yadda, yadda, on how the industry needs different gamepaly concepts, especially in the domain of real time strategies, I'd like to point out that Perimeter isn't your classical rush-and-conquer RTS. After our experience with the beta build, we had a pretty good idea of what to expect of the full version.

We approached the game with somewhat of a flexible outlook. After all, we respect any developer that attempts to shift the boundaries of a particular genre. This one was a bit of a toughie though, since there were many aspects we would have to consider, such as unit balancing, AI, pathfinding and the like. Perimeter comes off a bit different than you'd normally see in strategy games these days.

The game starts off with a pretty cool storyline. Your people have no home and their only chance for survival is to travel from planet to planet and drain any and all available resources they find. Each portion of the single-player campaign gradually unravels the plot as players become better acquainted with the history of their people. While traveling through the various parts of the universe, you'll notice that every system is being devoured by a relentless alien race, known as the Scourge. You must ensure the safety of your Frame (a floating city that represents the center of your colony) from the Scourge's onslaught.

Altogether the story is a gratifying epic sci-fi tale, involving a plenty of twists and turns. There's a variety of story-related missions to boot and throughout all of them everything will depend on your strategic abilities. The only disappointing thing here is the rather weak characterization. You are instructed to complete missions assigned to you by several different advisors and Spirits. The simple fact is that you don't have any characters or hero units to relate to during combat which may discourage certain gamers. Still, the basics of each scenario are quite clear and straightforward, so most of you should feel the incentive to play through the entire campaign.

It's also praiseworthy that the developers incorporated 27 action-packed missions that encompass a wide range of objectives. The only thing is that the game occasionally won't offer a clear enough explanation on how certain tasks can be accomplished. In one mission I had to create an inter-dimensional portal and charge the Spiral (oookay, whatever). The construction of the portal was rapidly exhausting energy resources, which in turn severely slowed down unit production and building. Additionally, I couldn't use the shield as often as I would have liked. Granted, this was a specific case since you had to build the portal quickly and all you had to do was improve the defense of your base before the Scourge damages the portal. But the blunder is that Build-masters (basic construction units) cannot be stopped once they've begun work on a particular structure. The building process may be terminated but not paused which may easily lead to complications when you attempt to balance energy leftovers. I guess what I'm trying to say is that I dislike when the player isn't given complete control over production and resource management. If production takes place automatically it reduces micro-management, but in this case it doesn't work too well because you have to keep a close eye on energy supplies. If Build-masters start squandering energy like crazy, you should be able to halt their work temporarily, but the developers didn't agree. This makes rational use of energy key to doing well in this game.

The first wave of missions helps players get into the spirit of the game, as they are faced with various duties like building, unit production, establishing defense systems, fighting the Scourge, avoiding natural disasters, etc. It takes a while to straighten out your priorities, but after the tutorial you should go through the rest of the game with ease.

Perimeter has a slow opening which could easily mislead some of you into thinking the game needs a larger variety of units and more challenging tasks. This would be an unfortunate misconception. You're required to complete a number of vital missions before you can actually gain access to advanced military technology. Once your technology evolves, that's when the real fun begins. You'll be able to get your hands on the more powerful stuff such as Rocket Turrets, Anti-gravity fighters (Strafers), Diggers and other cool units. At this point in the game, you'll be fighting against more serious opponents (rather than the usual mindless Scourge pests). Confronting foes that have the same types of units as you do calls for a more sophisticated tactics instead of the normal course of action you'd use against the Scourge.

The cool thing is that you won't be experiencing any pathfinding issues seeing as how most units hover above ground and can be transported across any type of terrain imaginable.
Unfortunately, friendly AI exhibited a few problems. When encountering aliens (i.e. the Scourge) you'll mostly have to deal with groups of mutated self-destructing vermin like gigantic spiders, scorpions, enormous insects, all of which will spawn continuously. All you have to do is balance the number of ground and air units and raise the shield every now and again to counter them. It's almost impossible to assign individual targets, so everything pretty much depends on the way units act on their own accord. The problem is that air and ground units tend to fire randomly at their targets without the faintest idea of which enemies should be attacked first. Also, during the confusion both ground and air units often bunch off which makes them more or less useless against alien scum.

Fighting against more intelligent opponents (other members of your race who want you dead) is slightly trickier than annihilating huge cockroaches and spiders. This is where I experienced the game's true potential. CPU-controlled opponents were using all available means at their disposal to counteract my every move. On one particular occasion, emitting the energy shield seemed like the best possible way to fend off sudden enemy onslaughts. What I failed to realize is that my opponent had already sent a wave of Diggers. These dudes came out of nowhere, passing right under the shield barrier and entering my homebase. Almost immediately they made their way to the heart of the base, severely damaging my Frame. This is only a single example, but it should give you a clear idea of what you'll be up against in the game.

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8.0   Very Good

Refreshing gameplay concept, visuals, unit variety, lengthy single-player campaign, challenging enemy AI;

Frame-rate issues, problems with friendly AI, starts out too slow.


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