Good games entertain but great games change the world. Some define a generation or spawn new genres, others push the boundaries of what’s possible in programming and approach - say it quietly - art.
Tryst is not one of those games. It is brown socks. It is basics cheese. It is the Biro.
But hey - everyone knows how to use a Biro. And almost everyone will know how to play Tryst, a sci-fi RTS plodding along well-trod tropes - war between alien species, base building, resource gathering... you know the drill.
There’s something to be said for sticking to what you know as anyone with a rudimentary understanding of the genre can pick up the game right away. Collect your resources, build a base, develop an army - you’ll either love or hate the general format before you’ve got past the intro. And so Tryst falls into the time-honoured trap of appealing to people who already know what they want, before disappointing those same people for being just the same as everything else.
There are two playable classes, Human or Zali. Although both can field the usual range of units - infantry, land and air vehicles - their methods of upgrading differ. Humans develop their units in the usual manner - Engineers create buildings for the particular units you want (such as barracks for infantry) and spend resources on upgrading their damage, armour or buffs.
The Zali, on the other hand, mess with the tried and tested mechanic described above. The standard engineer/ worker unit is replaced by the Harvester - a floating scarab-like creature with weak defensive capabilities (sidekick drones) but the ability to resurrect fallen allies by collecting their remains. They’re accompanied by Morphers, grunts with basic offensive and defensive capabilities. Creating advanced units is achieved by the building of “shrines” to unlock tech, before combining Harvesters and Morphers to generate something new altogether.
For example, building a Shrine of Strife opens up the offensive tech tree; you can now combine two Morphers to produce a heavy-infantry Striker (manga-looking robot ninjas with the ability to fly short distances and inflict serious damage). With the Shrine of Preservation, on the other hand, combining Morphers gives you the Guardian unit which is excellent for defense.
This mechanic presents some interesting gameplay options - you can plump for the straightforward Humans or experiment with the less predictable Zali combinations. Although the Humans are (arguably) easier to use, knowing the nuances of the Zali allows for interesting combinations and adaptation to your enemy’s army on the fly. Merging units in the heat of battle is easier said than done however, and you’ll become frustrated with trying to select units when your army gets to a decent size. Also, the range of unit types is pretty similar in both races - heavy and light infantry, artillery, skirmishers etc - and so the potential for experimentation is not as varied as you might think.
Tryst adds more flavour to the mix with the A.R.M. (Augmentation Research Mechanism) where players spend points mid-game to upgrade units of their choice. Enjoy swarming your enemy? Upgrade the armour and damage-per-second on cheap cannon fodder to spew units across the field. Prefer turtling? Pour points into artillery to extend their range, damage or area-effects (such as slowing units).
The A.R.M. has good potential to produce strategic matches. Players upgrade their HQs to gain access to better and better buffs, with a choice (usually) between two options for each of the three to four levels. Medics can be upgraded to initially heal a larger radius of troops and later to damage enemy units with swarms of nanobots. As all unit types have upgrades of these sorts, you can tailor your army to suit your playing style, but you can’t pick two from the same level so you have to make an early choice about how you’re going to approach the match.
Unfortunately there are some big problems. Firstly, load outs are bought with resources during a match and as your choices can’t be reversed, you’ll become mildly panicked staring at the options and reading the cramped text - for the indecisive, it’s Chinese Water Torture. You’ll be choosing between fiddles while your base (plasma) burns. This is definitely more true of the Humans and so immediately puts beginners (who will tend to start here) on the back foot.
Secondly, you can upgrade all types of units but you can’t focus on just one “favourite”. For example, if you’re looking for the Zerg rush you can’t pour all your efforts into upgrading your cannon fodder and just forgetting about everything else. All types of units can be upgraded, but you can’t upgrade one exclusively. This might seem like a minor point but it removes the total freedom you might expect (crave!) from the A.R.M. mechanic. Reaching and producing top-level tech units across the board is very unlikely, and so the subtle balances you’ve been agonising over may rarely come into play.
Finally, the overall package leaves something to be desired. With basic graphics and risable voice acting, everything feels a bit low budget. This isn’t the end of the world but there are other problems with a dodgy cover system, poor AI (units don’t always return fire when attacked) and a non-interactive tech tree help menu which gives you very little info. A better version can be accessed during matches but games are not paused while you access it (even in single-player)!
The single-player campaign is standard fare - six to eight hours to complete but only if you don’t come across bugs, which are frequent. I had to restart one mission four times to complete it because of an undisclosed error just when I was about to finish. There are occasional spikes in the learning curve but these sadly stem from undisclosed information about the game - such as when all units stop firing just as you’re about to win. Are they out of ammo? Being frozen by some enemy unit? I never found out... developer support will hopefully iron these issues out but they are a common tale from gaming fora, so caveat emptor.
Tryst will live or die on its multiplayer and online community. The six maps currently available have some charm and diversity but may tire quickly with prolonged play. BlueGiant Interactive are offering free access to the multiplayer for Steam users, so my suggestion is try it out and see what you think. At worst you’ll enjoy a mild distraction and nostalgia kick from the slightly retro feel, and at best you’ll tap into something familiar, get hooked and keep an eye out for the Christmas sales.