Indie Spotlight: Meridian: Squad 22

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Going to a new country is always an interesting and sometimes frightening experience. You never quite know what to expect. You don’t quite know their customs, their odd vocabulary or their rules of the road. You can’t tell if the street vendor is charging you a reasonable price or if he is a shyster charging you some outrageous amount because you are not quite certain on the currency conversion. Sometimes as you are innocently minding your own business, driving down the road making note of their strange custom to put street signs backwards or on the wrong side of the road, you may encounter some very rude local drivers.  They are constantly driving up the lane you are trying to go down, honking at you and shouting strange things in their garbled language as they swerve around you like they expect you to know what they are saying. They don’t seem to notice or care there is a perfectly good open lane next to you. Going to another planet to investigate what happened to the last group of people that went there is also a very interesting and somewhat daunting task. It can be especially difficult when you don’t know that the current inhabitants custom is to shoot down visitor’s spaceships in an unprovoked attack…maybe you were flying down the wrong side of the air, who knows. I really don’t understand that shoot first ask questions later attitude! Sometimes people are just plain rude to foreigners. This time however, you got lucky. The flashing lights before you are not the lights of oncoming traffic or from the laser blasts from an unfriendly enemy ship; it’s the Indie Spotlight, featuring Meridian: Squad 22.

Meridian: Squad 22 is an old school, Science Fiction, Real Time Strategy game from the same person who brought you Meridian: New World. I said person, because with this game and its predecessor, for the most part, the development team of Elder Games was comprised of a single individual rather than an entire team.  That’s actually a pretty cool feat considering how much effort had to have gone into creating the Meridian Series. Having played the original, I can say that Meridian: Squad 22 has been considerably enhanced over its equally as good predecessor, Meridian: New World. Much more polish was added, and feedback from fans of the previous game as well as the testers helped shape Squad 22 to the delightful retro-style RTS game it is today.

Those of you that have read the Indie Spotlight before know that I have a certain fondness for base-building Real Time Strategy games. While Meridian: Squad 22 lacks many of the features found in the more mainstream classic RTS games, such as the Command and Conquer series, it makes up for it by creating a unique experience rather than being just another carbon copy clone. One of the biggest features missing is the repair button. In Meridian, you can’t just click the handy wrench and heal your buildings. There is no medic unit or repair pad to fix up your units. Instead, you have a free simple area of effect healing button. It will partially heal whatever area you target with it and then enter a 45 second cool down to avoid you spamming it. This might not sound like much, and it may even sound annoying (and at times it can be quite frustrating… but in a good way), but it really adds to your strategy when playing. Do you heal those slightly injured units now so the cool down starts now, or do you wait until they take a little more damage first so you don’t waste most of the healing? Do you target that burning building, or hope that the enemy doesn’t attack it for a while and use your limited healing to fix up your forces as you ready for a counter attack? As you can see, you will have to really weigh your options when it comes to something as simple as repairing units.

Another element that is somewhat unique is the way that the unit cap is handled. Typically in the classic RTS games, when you hit the unit cap a voice commands you to “Build more farms” which then prompts you to select the farm building button from the menu and spam a few more of those around your base. In Meridian, your Mine is your only real source of food for your units. The Mine in this case is the City Center/main building of your base so without it you are lost. It also has the added “feature” of only being place-able at specially designated spots near a mineral source to prevent you from spamming them. To make it even a little more difficult, there are typically no more than three of said spots on the map with the enemy controlling at least one of them. If you are following along, you will realize what I am getting at is that you end up with a very small unit cap with each unit taking up one food. This means you need to figure out what kind of focus you want to have in the battles ahead. Engage in a mixed battle from the land, sea and air? Perhaps a stealthy ambush by flying around the base and attacking from the less defended rear end would be more your style? Do you leave some units to guard your base while sending your attackers to the enemy, or do you hope for the best, cross your fingers and send them all to help improve your odds of winning? Be careful! If you leave an injured enemy too long it will quickly rebuild any buildings it lost and then come for revenge. Speaking of revenge, if you like to turtle by focusing on building up your base, getting a nice income flowing, maybe spread out to another mineral location to expand your capacity… you are not going to last long. If you spot the enemy base, they will likely spot your units and begin their assault on you. Even if you don’t leave your base and try hiding behind a rock, they will still ruthlessly hunt you down. Depending on the difficulty setting, you might barely be able to start building units before their first massive air and ground based attack comes at you. Creative use of the healing tool and micromanaging your units to focus fighting on their weakest armored attackers first is the only way you will survive… plus sending wave after wave of single troopers out to act as a momentary speed bump that chips away at their health at least until they die from laughing at you too hard. A creative use of healing could be letting them assault your Mine until its around 50% health. You then heal it all the while letting a few troopers stockpile up at the back of your base then rushing them at the enemy when they take your Mine down to 50% again to distract them until you can heal it again. When going on the offensive your best bet is to target their power plants first because it can take their turrets and unit production offline. Once they are offline, take out any units attacking you and then remove the rest of the power plants before destroying the rest of their base to avoid it powering up again.

Unlike other classic RTS games that typically unlock new units by progressing in the game, you have to do your research first. Scattered around the maps are three types of research data. Once you collect enough of these data modules you can spend them to learn how to do something else. Be it to build a new unit, improve buildings and units or to learn new abilities, you will want to ensure you collect these every chance you get. Unlocking one new thing makes the adjacent items available to be researched. This means you have to carefully plan which upgrades you need and want, and plan the route to take to unlock them. Unlocking something from one tech tree, doesn’t prevent you from working on another tech tree so you are free to bounce between them as much as you want. I wasn’t able to complete every tech tree in the Campaign, but I am making good progress to doing so in Conquest mode.

As alluded to in the previous paragraph, the game is broken into multiple parts. There is the expected standard Campaign; as well as the Conquest mode and Squad mode. The Campaign is actually a mix of Squad mode and Conquest mode so serves as a good introduction to the modes. The Campaign unfortunately feels a bit on the short side, or perhaps I just enjoyed the game enough that it left me wanting more. I actually was kind of shocked when the words Epilogue were displayed on the mission loading screen when I felt like things were really starting to pick up. During the nearly fully voice acted Campaign, your Squad, Squad 22, is sent to Meridian to check to see what happened to the people previously sent to this supposedly uninhabited world. When you arrive your ship is promptly shot down and you need to repair it in order to continue your mission. This serves as a tutorial on how to build a base, collect Shardium (the omni-mineral that you can build stuff out of and I think possibly eat… not quite sure) and how the combat and research systems work. Following most of the standard classic RTS controls, Meridian: Squad 22 was very easy to pick up and play. You are able to build most of your buildings anywhere you want so long as they are not overlapping another one of your buildings. Strategic placing of your buildings is critical to your survival. If you put your power plants and Shardium storage silos at the front of your base, the enemy will quickly pick them off, crippling you. If your Factory or Barracks are at the front of your base, the enemy can cripple your defensive production capabilities. So you might be asking what can you safely build at the front of your base? Turrets… lots and lots of turrets around your Mine itself. Tuck everything else behind your base, or actually build them behind your expansion base, because for some reason the AI seems to like targeting your main base more than the expansion most of the time. Most of the missions involve you building your base and blowing up the enemy base, but some of them involved collecting a certain amount of Shadium (or cheating by blowing up the enemy base and killing all their units) or defending yourself against attackers for a prescribed number of minutes. Here is the thing about that though. That mission was only different because of the timer. You will often find yourself under a nearly unending flow of enemies trying to blow up your base, especially on the harder difficulties. It often gets to the point where you are just forming a new army when the next wave comes at you. If you don’t have the proper research available to defend yourself properly, you will actually stall for quite a while (or be wiped out) until you manage to expand your income generation and unit production. There is actually nothing wrong with that system. It really adds to the challenge of the game and prevents things from getting boring but it will also frustrate the bejeebers out of you when you get your army bloodied or crushed just before mounting your own assault. When your object does not involve building bases, you have a small team of units attempting to complete an objective generally without the ability to get support. These missions require you to play smart to avoid losing your units. While they generally have the ability to slowly heal themselves, you will want to be ever vigilant and strategic with the heal button.

Conquest Mode is basically the base building elements of the game without any real story. You start out on a hexagonal grid with a single tile to your name; you can then select an adjacent tile and attempt to take it over. You build your base, keep it around long enough to be able to take out the enemy, then once you win, you can expand into the next territory and conquer that as well. Generally there is a free expansion boost after conquering a new area that gives you some research data and more choices on where to expand to next. Your ultimate goal is to make it to the home-tile of your enemy and conquer it. This is where the difficulty settings I mentioned earlier really come in. Easy, is in fact not super easy, but it is definitely beatable virtually every time. Normal really ramps up the challenge, and Hard delays this Indie Spotlight by three days due to my obsessive compulsion to not allow the game to best me.

Squad Mode focuses on those non-base building style missions. You get a small team with an objective. You can choose which of the three difficulties you want to play (the third is unlocked by beating it once already) and set out to complete the objective. These missions are all about careful planning, skill and a lot of running and luck. I remember one mission where I needed to save a Drone so I used my squad to distract a turret while the Drone slipped by. I tried my best to save them, but… well… I kind of forgot about my squad once the Drone safely made it by the turret (after taking a lot of shots). You will be missed generic team!

Alright, so we talked about the basic elements of the game so far, let’s get into more details. Between most missions there is an interactive cut-scene. You will see green interaction squares on the ground onto which you move your character to initiate a voice acted conversation that typically lets you select which conversation elements you wish to pursue. There are only a handful of units and buildings available in this game. Each unit has a specific role to play: You have your disposable Troopers that fill the meat shield role (and are handy versus some tanks) and as a bonus are cheap to build. Infiltrators who are useful for spying on the enemy (unseen except by turrets). Speedy vehicles that can charge toward the enemy quickly to either distract them from an attack or as an attempt to take out their power before getting blown up by the turrets, Tanks that can lay waste to Infantry or vehicles, Flying units to get to the enemy base via an otherwise impassable route and Naval forces to attack from the water. There really are plenty of units once you unlock them all. Probably the most useful for base defense are the Advanced Troopers that have the slow health regeneration ability. Any that survived the attack on your base will heal themselves back up in time for the next enemy wave. As for buildings, you have one for each role. The Mine, storage for minerals, power, various types of unit construction facilities, turrets, and that is about it. There is no need to build special buildings to unlock units or any of that sort of thing commonly found in a classic RTS, it just gets straight to business with the basics.

Presentation wise, the game is certainly impressive enough. Graphically, it looks good; there is enough detail on each of the units to make them look both realistic and interesting to look at. As the buildings are constructed, there are visual cues that the building is still under construction, which is always a nice touch. I particularly liked seeing the side beams going up on the power plant. The various biomes you play in all look unique enough from each other even if some common layouts may be noticed in Conquest mode. In terms of sound, each of the units is fully voice acted. The named characters all seem to have their own recognizable personality and it really shows that care was put into making them seem like real people. One thing I really liked about this game is the fact it gave me a bit of a Firefly vibe, one of those TV shows from the past that was cancelled too soon and lived on as a cult classic. It starred a band of rebels skirting the law and doing what they wanted, but at the same time were good people for the most part and just wanted justice to happen… to you know, people other than them. They were fighting against an oppressive government who thought nothing of experimenting on the innocent and twisting them into monsters. Very similar to what the main members of Squad 22 are doing with their rebellion.

One thing I found lacking in this game is something that was a little off putting. From the story point of view, it made perfect sense, but it was still a little disappointing that there is only one faction in the game. It’s basically the recolor wars. There is no other faction to play; there are no other factions to play against. It’s just you versus them, both facing off with the identical units and buildings. As I said, it makes perfect sense from the story. The enemy faction is from Earth as well, sent by the same organization and as a result, has the same technology available to them as you do. This means it makes sense for them to be identical since that is how the story sets it up. Still, it would have been nice to play another faction just so the game wasn’t over for me now. I’ll just have to wait patiently until the next entry in the series I suppose.

So should you consider buying Meridian: Squad 22? As well, perhaps purchase its predecessor Meridian: New World, which you don’t really need to play prior, but helps you understand the story a bit better? The answer is this. If you are looking for a classic RTS with a science fiction theme that comes without a ton of the modern nonsense that can get added to newer RTS games, then you should enjoy the Meridian series. If you prefer the deployed squad and have backup sent to you in the field rather than managing and protecting a base style RTS, then perhaps you should pick up Meridian: Squad 22 to get a small taste of what you are missing by removing the base building element. All in all, Meridian: Squad 22 has a short, enjoyable campaign that sets you up to be able to play the potentially much longer Conquest Mode as well as the Squad Missions. Consider picking up Meridian: Squad 22 today both to get yourself a fun game and to support the solo dev team!

From the Steam Store Page:

 

Humanity is in peril. The first colonization attempt of mankind has failed and the colonist crew is missing. The leaders of the United Earth decide to send a highly trained specialist squad to planet Meridian to find the crew and bring them home safely.

 

Meridian: Squad 22 is a single-player science-fiction real-time strategy game with a focus on base building and advanced tactics. Every single choice, every tactical decision you make, shapes the outcome of your story. Will you take the offensive route or stay on the defensive? Will you consider the lives of your crew a priority or will you sacrifice them mercilessly to gain the upper hand?

 

Ede Tarsoly, the lone developer behind Elder Games has teamed up with Hexany Audio, the award-winning sound design team, to bring you an experience like none other with unparalelled fidelity.

 

Key Features:

  • Control the fate of Squad 22 and the colonists in the 10+ hour story-mode campaign
  • Vanquish your foes on planet Meridian in over 100 procedurally generated missions in Planetary Conquest
  • Polished, dynamic and fluid unit control
  • Over one hour of immersive music
  • Fantastic sound effects brought to you by an award-winning sound design team