Perimeter: Emperor's Testament is the follow up expansion pack to an innovative real time strategy title released two years ago. Although the original may not have landed the same sales as perennial favorites like Age of Empires, Perimeter garnered serious critical acclaim for its fresh approach to the often derivative strategy genre. Perimeter is created overseas and the long storyline backdrop is indicative of that. Humans attempting to migrate away from Earth are trapped in a strange dimension of space. From this, they have separated into different factions. The Harkbacks, for example, want to return to Earth. On the other hand, a faction called the Empire want to stay and colonize the area.
Emperor's Testament takes real time strategy out of the traditional Clone and Conquer realm. There are a few elements to base building and one resource to harvest but for the most part these have been simplified so more emphasis can be made on combat. Going against the recent trend of sprawling technology trees, Emperor's Testament features only a handful of useful buildings.
The objective of the game is command and control. The occupation of the most territory typically wins the game ex cathedra. You begin with your Frame (Warcraft equivalent of a town hall) and assemble builders who will go out and construct energy cores and transmitters. In order to harvest energy, you need to level the land and convert it to your cause. This also has strategic value to it as well. Once you come up against the borders of another land, knocking out the opponent's energy grid will let your area influence take over any buildings left behind.
How do you knock things out? Emperor's Testament comes with a mix of officers, technicians and soldiers. Alone, these units can do very little but you can morph them together to make helicopters, artillery units and an assortment of other vehicles. If the developers skimped on the upgrade tree, they didn't skimp on the number of units you can make. One neat thing about this is the ability for you to disassemble and recombine your base components into different units. This lets you adapt your forces to changing threats. It makes the game more efficient too. If you spend too much on building a super unit, you can simply morph it into smaller more useful units.
When playing the single player portion, I found the missions didn't really have a particular flow to them. The backdrop of various human factions sparring with each other appears artificially imposed on the in game objectives. One could easily exist without the other. For beginners, you will be replaying missions often to see what transpires and then use the acquired foreknowledge to solve the mission. Some missions require you to occupy certain areas to succeed, although there isn't a big red marker around the area showing you that. Some of the later missions are just plain difficult. Novices will take awhile to overcome the initial learning curve.
The visuals are colorful and exhibit a 'xeno-graphic' look to them. The terrain has an unmistakable organic feel to it and the developers do a good job in changing the landscape to reflect areas of influence. Some strategy games are only beginning to incorporate terrain changes now so it's clear Perimeter was ahead of the curve back then. Sound effects, on the other hand, lack the exotic variety of the visuals. The presentation is serviceable but not groundbreaking. The graphics are complex enough that you can't install it on a low end notebook computer.
Emperor's Testament needs more variety. Even the surprise plot twist in the game doesn't enable Emperor's Testament to break the formula. It looks to be a must have for original fans at $19.99 US. While its design principles are solid, it's inexcusable to not have some kind of a tutorial component. There aren't even beginner missions or in-game pop ups to help ease someone into the game. This will severely curtail the amount of new players and ultimately restrict the inroads Emperor's Testament can make into the Clone and Conquer crowd.