Have your units be all that they can be
On one of your free weekends, when you’re double checking your list of “Childhood experiences everyone should have” (and if you don’t have such a list, get writing!), make sure you have a check mark next to “Play with Plastic Soldiers”. Action figures don’t count, mind you, but ‘Cowboys and Indians’ or even a solid set of Lego figurines will do just as well. Plastic army playtime is such a fundamental part of play that a few years ago when one of my roommates casually dropped a five dollar bag of plastic soldiers in my dorm’s common room, it was surprising how many of my college buddies put down their Gamecube controllers to fiddle with their small armies. The point is that there’s no more classic arena of play than making your own small army. Similarly, there’s no more classic conflict of play than humans versus aliens. Smack these two facts together, and the new RTS game Tryst is built on rock solid ground.
Tryst has all the basic features that you’d expect of a good RTS: well-balanced tech trees, a straightforward resource system, varied terrain maps, etc. The game’s resource management is capture-node based, with a two-type resource system of Ore and Energy (or as I like to call them, “Not minerals” and “Not vespene gas”). The node-based resource system greatly simplifies that icky economy side of the macro strategy in the game, and your production facilities produce quickly enough that you’d only build more than one of the same building if you were going to dedicate your entire army around one unit category. As much as I am a great fan of familiar Warcraft and Starcraft macro mechanics, having capture points serve as your source of income is quickly becoming a standard in the modern RTS for some obvious reasons: it lets you get right into the thick of gameplay, making your individual battles meaningful even in early stages of the game.
As a work of fiction, Tryst sadly doesn’t have much to offer. The world-building seems fairly standard, generic science fiction, with only the Zali aliens having much of a unique flavor. One area where the game admittedly makes up for this somewhat is in the fact that the humans have a stunning array of accents: Russian, Jamaican, British, and I thought I even heard some cockney thrown in. Thankfully, the voice acting is spot on, and the unit lines are delivered with great gusto and character that never gets old. The story in campaign mode is passable, but obviously made without great effort, and the unit designs themselves are something of a mixed bag: although your larger ships and vehicles are unique enough to pick out easily and distinguish at a distance, your ground troops often look so similar that it’s difficult to tell them apart and almost not worth the effort to try to specifically select your healers and spell casters. Although the Zali have some interesting unit designs and portraits, the human character portraits are mostly zombified blank-faced models. I would’ve preferred 2D portraits, as long as they had some character.
Tied into the fiction, the campaign in Tryst is difficult to enjoy due to what seemed like a multitude of small annoyances. There’s no difficulty setting and no way to skip cutscenes or dialogue. Several of the missions include the classic requirement of keeping your heroes alive, but in some of them (particularly one small-party mission where heroes composed your entire army), this was so troublesome that the only way to progress was by “save scumming” or hiding your heroes away from the action instead of being able to make use of their abilities. The scripting in the campaign seemed a little buggy, and frequently dialogue would be introduced mid-sentence, or cut off awkwardly. One gameplay aspect specifically advertised by the game that was at least entertaining was a focus on objective choice during the campaign missions. Most missions will offer you either competing goals or enough secondary objectives that it’s a difficult challenge to get them all. It gives the campaign good replay value.
The music provided by Daniel Sadowski is appropriately reserved and allows for focus on the game, but is somewhat marred by a poorly-implemented dynamic music system, which triggers the transition from ‘combat music’ to ‘safe music’ far too easily and quickly. Even if your army runs into a single wandering enemy unit, the starting music will fade out into the new key for a few seconds, and then immediately fade back into the old after your one-shot dispatch. Sound design also seemed to have some minor rough spots (the Zali language seems mostly just human speech run through a random transform, and some of the alert sounds are outright jarring), but for the most part is able to provide good distinguishing associations between weapon and unit types, which is the most important job for sound in any RTS title.