Malkari is an ambitious attempt to create a simultaneous-movement turn-based strategy game that appeals to veteran strategists and casual commanders alike. This type of engine, where players issue all of their orders and then the computer executes them simultaneously, comes with many unique problems, including complex instructions, order of resolution and conflicting orders. Because the game supports up to 40 players, it was effectively forced to adopt this complex type of design, as a purely turn-based game would take an eternity to play (even with turn limits) and a real-time game would likely devolve into pure chaos.
To its credit, Malkari overcomes many of the simultaneous-movement obstacles with a streamlined order system which has several extra, optional layers for advanced players who wish to squeeze every last ounce of effectiveness from their forces. Turn time limits assure the game moves along, but there’s no way to prevent the AI from taking over your forces if you run out of time, sometimes resulting in moves which compromise your strategy.
Unfortunately, the order system has other flaws. Conflicting orders can be given to units such as telling a space station to repair a damaged craft while telling another to modernize it. The software does a lousy job of policing this for you, and the consequences of a lapse are severe. Combine repair and refit orders on a ship, and it becomes permanently damaged; tell a transport to pick up ground units but then change your mind, and your hapless ground units are swept into oblivion.
On the upside, Malkari contains some very thoughtful mechanisms to promote an enjoyable multiplayer experience. The politics are cemented, promoting cooperation within a guild but ruling out diplomacy. The 3D space combat looks good, but once the novelty of 3D movement wears off the actual combat is rather dry. The ship design system is unique, describing hulls by a series of “slots” that can only host certain types of components. Ships may be constantly upgraded, preventing your fleet from becoming outdated every time you make a technology breakthrough.
Plus you also have the bugs and random crashes and freezes. Text overflow and loss runs rampant, the interface is impractical, and one of the innumerable bugs even prevents you from saving the game. The clunky main interface toggles between two settings, and a recurring glitch has the odd effect of making one set of controls active while displaying the otherâ€”try to create a new ship design, and find yourself in the game options menu instead. Cumbersome keystroke and mouse combinations are unnecessarily tedious where existing icons could have substituted with multiple toggle states. The aforementioned holes in the order interface can render ships permanently damaged, or cause you to simply lose units.
Malkari has some intriguing elements, and it’s a shame they were not better implemented. The interface, with all its shift-clicks and counter-intuitive sequences, is a burden to play with and presents a steep learning curve. If the game had forgone the goal of hosting 40 players (tedious via email, nigh impossible simultaneously) it might have been an exciting real-time or turn-based game. For all its bugs and interface problems, Malkari would need heavy patching to realize its full potential, but even that potential seems mediocre.
System Requirements: Pentium 90 MHz, 16 MB RAM, Win95
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