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The real-time strategy genre features many varied and unique offerings, and the most obvious example is Blizzard Entertainment’s Starcraft. Being based on a successful formula is no shame, and many others have done the same with varying levels of success. Armed with some new new ideas and an established foundation, the developers at BlueGiant Interactive created Tryst.

Best known for its fast-paced action and multiple-unit management, the RTS genre is not overly known for its story-telling. There are a few notable exceptions in the genre which have been able to interweave a narration between missions. The mechanics are typically familiar between games, so it’s up to the story to differentiate themselves and drive interest to continue the game.

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Get some background story before signing in.

As with many real-time strategy games, the story takes place not during gameplay, but cut-scenes instead. For Tryst, the story takes place on Ishtonia IV, a solitary planet where the only known source of the mineral “Lohum” is colonized for mining purposes. A collaborative mining alliance between the Humans of the Rhyn Tech Corporation and the Zali – a race of sentient mechanical aliens – has degenerated into an all-out war. Stuck between these two factions are the rebels fighting against a tyrannical “President” and alien race.

The young son of the President is quickly put to the test when he has to pick up the reigns and attempt to salvage what he can. From there, the story takes a few twists and introduces new characters as the new President and Rebels, led by a young female, test an uneasy truce. All of these twists and character introductions add up to what is unfortunately a bland and predictable plot for Tryst. While new units, abilities, and missions add to the experience as the story progresses, it never really becomes more.

If Tryst‘s story isn’t enough to keep you returning, then the gameplay might have some things to offer.

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Unit customization offers strategic choices.

Missions start off as objective-based, with linear paths and click-filled combat. Soon enough, the staples of real-time strategy games, base-building and resource-gathering, are introduced, and the maps become more open, if only slightly. The maps never really offer more than an “all roads lead to Rome” formula and over-used desert and tundra environments. Where they do offer more are the highly customizable units.

In the campaign, you start as the Humans, where the Rhyn Tech and Rebel forces form an alliance, whose buildings follow the standard building structure. There are three kinds of buildings and one central hub, each with its own upgrades. The buildings aren’t the only ones which are upgradeable. The majority of units can be given abilities that effect divergent paths for each unit type. A medic can increase his healing abilities on others or wear more durable armor. In addition, some units have A.R.M. abilities inherent in their unit type. These abilities differ with each type, but are typically confined by a limited effective time and cool-down rate.

Humans aren’t unique to customization in Tryst. The Zali can be be augmented as well, though their method of creation differs. First, more powerful units do require the requisite building to unlock, but creating them offers a new twist. Rather than building new units, the basic units are created, which then are combined to create a single, more powerful unit with new powers and abilities. This method of creation adds a new twist since the effectiveness of one stronger unit must be weighed against the strength of a single advanced unit and its abilities. Second, the buildings do not follow the standard tree format, but rather a more linear branch. Each of the three basic structures can be advanced without the need to upgrade the central hub. While each structure doesn’t build specific units, they do unlock which upper variations can be created from the merging of lesser units or augment certain abilities.

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Optional objectives add experiences and difficulty.

Units are only as good as the missions they’re used to complete. In this case, Tryst has a few good ideas, a few shining moments, and a ton of glaring issues.

The missions are straightforward and linear “complete these objectives” examples of the RTS genre. What can be forgiven in the earlier levels when introducing new mechanics can only be seen as a crutch in later levels. Fortunately, despite not having difficulty levels or open worlds, BlueGiant Interactive has found a more personal way around these functions: optional objectives. Other games do have optional objectives as well, but these features stand out in Tryst as a bright spot on an otherwise bland and predictable backdrop.

By including optional objectives, Tryst allows you to create your own difficulty level. These additional pieces of a mission can be rated Normal or higher, and while they aren’t required to complete the level, they add game time and are often rewarding. For those of you concerned with Achievements, this is another area that is well planned out in Tryst. Many of the Achievements are tied to these optional objectives, some require choosing one or the other, meaning at least two playthroughs are required. Whether you want to go back and complete them is another story, however.

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Get used to this view if you want to learn more useful commands.

Anyone familiar with the real-time strategy (RTS) genre will know his way around the heads-up display (HUD) and controls in Tryst. That’s a very good thing, considering how Tryst’s campaign teaches you its mechanic just barely. The most basic of commands such as moving and targeting are introduced, but anything more will require accessing the in-game Help section. These seven tutorials walk through a few of the basic areas of command in a voice-over video format. The lack of more in-depth tutorial missions could be forgiven if these commands and abilities weren’t required, but simple commands that are typically required in the fast-paced RTS genre aren’t explained anywhere else.

The tutorial does walk you through some of the simple commands, but in a simple voice-over format that exaggerates the independent nature of the BlueGiant Interactive developers. The sound quality of these voice-overs and inability to control the tutorial videos beyond start and stop just leaves a feeling of lacking in design.

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Anyone home?

So what happens when you beat the campaign? You hop into the mulitplayer to look for more matches with other players, of course. At least you would if there were other players online. The developers do have standing gaming nights; otherwise, finding opponents can be a veritable hunt-and-seek mission of its own. In many cases, it is simply faster to create matches populated with CPU Bots.

When limited to only two races, no matter how many customization options there are, it doesn’t offer too much variety. Even the map selection only offers five maps: two 2v2 and one each for 3v3, 4v4, and 5v5 maps. Each of these maps offers player teams and colors, with bases located on geometrically opposing sides and resources spread predictably along quadrants.

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Colorful dialogue and environments abound.

If this were the end of the review, we wouldn’t be in a bad place. So the campaign and multiplayer have problems, but for an independently produced game – and a sub $20 price – it does offer a number of changes. There is a decent game behind all the standard RTS archetypal features; however, you might never get to truly enjoy them. Throughout the time spent playing Tryst there were a number of bugs and glitches that left their scar on the experience. Commands not registering until – crucial – moments, costing the game, unit selection requiring multiple clicks, and save files disappearing are but a few of the issues that arise.

Tryst offers few interesting things, unfortunately buried beneath tons of standard elements that would have been playable – even if forgettable. Many of the ideas, environments, story, and features could be found in some of the earliest real-time strategy games of years past. Tryst could have become a homage to classic game telling if only there weren’t so many bugs and a general lack of interest. If it weren’t for some of the unit customization, this could have been a “how to make a standard RTS” formula. Overall, there is nothing to make Tryst stand out among its peers that couldn’t be spent more worthwhile on other experiences.

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Tryst‘s RTS elements appeals to you? Read our PAX Prime 2012 Hands on with End of Nations.