Pretend, for a moment that humanity actually stood a chance of surviving itself, through war and famine and opportunistic avarice, becoming some sort of template sub-deities to the universe, anchored by a lethargy born of syndicated sitcom reruns that were copulated and sustained from our current time, a distant past to the RTS universe of Perimeter. Lofty, no? It almost appears that K-D Lab, in a mad cry to declare gameplay innovation, has also decided to fold a sort of loose spirituality into their RTS, and it actually works quite well, aside from some clunky interface designs and overtly sequential objectives.
Innovation is the big word associated with Perimeter’s structure. There are a lot of ideas that break far from what one would consider the basics for an RTS. The majority of the missions revolve around Frames, which house around 100,000 human inhabitants, bound to cross dimensional planes from worldscape to worldscape, returning ultimately to their origins and destiny. You’ll be responsible for keeping these Frames whole and healthy by completing the missions’ objectives and continuing down a path to what is ambiguously called the Exodus. Every journey needs a villain; hampering their flight is an enemy of banal proportions called the Scourge, which are apparently the manifestations of Man’s worst nightmares – if man was largely afraid of Play-Doh-colored ants and Kamikaze fruit flies. No matter – treachery amongst some of the other Frames (as there are many) will keep your defensive juggling in high gear.
Lots of credit needs to be presented for the ideas involved in Perimeter’s play structure. Terraforming, as atypical as can be, is a central piece of attaining victory. Flattening the land provides a smooth base required for building energy cores, factories, and laboratories, and becomes a strategic imperative when the health of your base depends on the condition of its groundwork. Nanotechnological drones are dispatched to clear the path, providing an interesting challenge depending on the terrain. Leveling the ground to “0” will naturally be easier if the ascension/descension of the original landmass is closer to that number. Once leveled, the next objective is to put down power cores – spires that draw energy from its surrounding earth, and are the lifeblood of the laboratories and defensive units that surround them. These same energy cores provide additional services to the needs of the Frame, creating a linked path - similar to power lines - where the Frame can move, and a defensive shield that can be expelled to thwart invaders.
The rest of the units and buildings are largely auxiliary, but no mission could be completed without them. Different factories produce different offensive unit types (soldiers, technicians, engineers), which combine to form other mechanical weaponry and utilitarian items, like sub-terrain drills. These mutations are available at the behest of a squad’s mutation energy level, and the number of upgrades researched at labs of pointed study (like the laser or anti-grav labs). As a player, you’re also challenged to find the best usages for your transforming foot soldiers – for instance, transmogrifying them to an airborne state to traverse an impassable sea, and then transform again on the other side into subterranean units able to infiltrate a well-defended base, corrupting its terraformed foundation. This portion of the game actually gobbles up the other portion of your time, the first portion being the critical terraforming and power core installation. If you balance out one against the other, it’s an easy to put together a well-defended base of operations, and build powerful armies to take down adversaries.
Game AI isn’t too bad, and rides the tide of relatively simplistic for both ally and enemy. I saw some flanking here and there, but it didn’t switch up much, and I could determine route patterns too easily. What really made some of the levels arduous was the key steps involved in attaining victory – not necessarily specific goals, but things like “upgrade this to make that unit” or “employ this tactic to block that attack”. I don’t want to be spoon fed, but a preview mission would have been welcome for a few of the sections. Run any of the missions a few times through, though, and you’ll come out victorious. It’s certainly not crippling.
The other iffy factor was the interface, which came off as visually intuitive and graphically vague at the same time. Many of the buttons explained themselves well, while others, seemingly more obvious, weren’t as clear. Its saving grace is an explanatory mouseover pop-up will show if you forget what a certain building button is. Overall, complaints are minimal – it’s a familiar system for a new RTS structure.
The visuals are relatively underdeveloped in Perimeter, and I say that with regret and disappointment. They certainly do their job well enough (endorsed by the nVidia label in one of the opening scenes) and are designed to be brightly representative of dusty, futuristic real estate, but the environments don’t really tell the story. The worldscapes are colorful, detailed and diverse, but not immersive or mind-blowing. It’s a small point, and does not detract from the game. If anything does happen to fall, it’s the silliness of the Scourge enemy, and the simple design of your own units. It’s hard enough to imagine a Frame as a monolithic tetrahedron housing tens of thousands of humans, but even that barely tangible scale gets diminished as soon as you see that your fearsome adversary is nothing more than a collection of swarming ants. Ants which pop out of existence as soon as they touch your defensive shields. No satisfying splat, no blood, no drama – nothing. Slowdown also made an appearance as enemy and friendly unit numbers increased, but by the time I noticed that, I was already dismayed with the onscreen presence.
Multiplayer should be something that’s enhanced by the human element. Here, it’s cut short with deathmatch as the only real PvP alternative to the campaign play. However, I’ll hand it to anyone who does find the game enjoyable that some very interesting battles could develop in an RTS environment unlike any other.
Whatever else is said about Perimeter, there are a lot of very good, very different ideas coming together here. RTS's have a hard time breaking from their typecasting, and it’s wonderful to see the risks that K-D Lab took developing Perimeter. Earthly dependencies, spiritual guides, and a macromanagment scheme that works are triumphs here. Taking part in whatever Exodus humanity must endure is surely no worse than some of the prosaic incidental music, which thumps and grinds in the background to no particular conductor. It’s dismissible though, a consequence of such involved gameplay. For those that understand the genre and are bored with current conventions, give Perimeter a shot – you will probably like it, or at least find it equivocally puzzling.