With Perimeter, Codemasters announces its intentions right under the game title on the box. “Real-Time Strategy Reborn†is the tagline, and it’s clear the game aspires to be different. Being different isn’t always a recipe for success, and Perimeter is an excellent example of how a lot of good ideas can fail to gel into a genre redefining whole.

15Developer K-D Lab’s previous game was the trippy Vangers, a game so strange that it left people cross-eyed. Perimeter carries on this fine tradition of impenetrable fiction by placing players in the position of a Legate commanding a Frame on a journey through dimensions discovering new worlds in missions set up throughout the universe. The strange fiction surrounds innovative real-time strategy gameplay. One key is how you utilize your structures to extend and support the perimeter shield.

Terraforming the planet’s surface is graphically impressive and central to base building in the game as you can’t build structures willy-nilly across the landscape. Instead, you have to level the ground to accept buildings providing builder fans with a lot of nifty eye candy before combat occurs. It’s fascinating to watch nano-machines mechanically morph the terrain. Terrain defense and management nicely figures into the action too as buildings can be crumbled by earthquakes which can split the ground underneath your structures.

Power for everything comes from interlocking conduits built to extend your domain, and these are the same conduits that create the game’s titular object, the perimeter. When activated via a single button push, it protects your structures from invaders at a high cost in energy. The game makes good use of this tradeoff in the single-player missions. It forces you to actively manage energy, the game’s single resource, through judicious use of both the perimeter for defense and the building of small transformable robots and structures. The need for energy forces you to extend both your terraformed land and the perimeter itself, potentially exposing more of your base to assault.

Defenses include both stationary and mobile units but given the need to see the bigger picture much of the time, these units are often far too small to make out among the chaos of the battlefield. It’s common to completely lose sight of entire squads. To top it off, subterranean attacks are possible and it’s even more difficult to spot these approaching. With no way to “see†underground, you have to look for the buckling surface to spot the attackers and it’s extremely difficult to defend against.

10Mobile units are capable of becoming any available vehicle determined by your currently built Labs. The number of vehicles you get is determined by the different numbers and combinations of base robots you have in a squad. While it’s a cool idea, it creates a lot of confusion even when you are a seasoned player. You can have up to five squads, but each can only be of one unit type. It gets downright confusing figuring out how many base units are needed in what quantities to make some number of a certain vehicle.

You will long for the simplicity of pushing button to have a fighter pop out of a building. Perimeter seems to thrive on this kind of complexity just in the name of being different from the pack. If changing unit types in the midst of battle really made a difference, this approach would be great. Unfortunately, in most cases everyone dies if you morph during a fight, making it next to useless.

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Despite all these pieces not coming together so well, there are moments of brilliance. Everything to do with the terrain is amazing and is superbly integrated into gameplay. The weirdness of the entire setting is compelling, and even though it’s filled with technical gobbledygook, you want to press on through the entertaining campaign.

The AI isn’t going to win awards, but the game’s unorthodox play style makes that less important for a long while. With some of the gameplay features just not clicking so well—an absolutely annoying female warning announcer that repeats over and over and a generally lame, ambient soundscape that has no punch are two obvious issues—Perimeter ends up falling into the middle ground of real-time strategy gaming.

System Requirements: Pentium III 700 MHz, 256 MB RAM, 64 MB Video, WinXP

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