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Come with me on a journey into space to play the Syd Mead-inspired strategy war/mining simulation that is Maelstrom. Jonathan Maddock grabs his gun and shovel and heads off to war.


Look at the state of this country, and the government is to blame for it all! Now it's not like me to start a political rant at the beginning of a review, but I have my reasons for this outburst. How many times have you thought that you could run the country better than some of today's hapless politicians? Well, now you can get first-hand experience of running not only a country, but a whole planet courtesy of Maelstrom, Empire's brand new simulation.

PAS Systems have spent the last two years developing Maelstrom and have tried to achieve maximum realism not only in terms of the mechanics of running a government and fighting a foe, but also in terms of the interaction between people and factors in the game.

As in real life, Maelstrom features a galaxy that is never constant: its characters have moods, its technology is fallible, its leaders are whimsical and its masses unpredictable.

Maelstrom provides you with all the tools for interacting with an entire galaxy while controlling your military, secret intelligence network, research and mining operations.


You were once an officer of rank in the Syndicate forces. You were given a one-man's mission to investigate the planet Harmony for a possible take-over. Knowing the explosive composition of Harmony's surface, you were looking for a means of take-over other than a space-ground assault.

During the flight, second thoughts entered your mind. Though you were not of the highest rank, your knowledge of the Syndicate's methods of colonisation turned you against them.

Harmony is a peaceful mining community and it bothered you that you were helping the Syndicate usurp the government, as this would've meant killing innocent miners and their families. When you reached Harmony, you detected and joined the people of the planet.

The people, pleased with this transition, appointed you to the position of Overlord. This puts you in charge of all operations. You must stop the Syndicate before they capture Harmony and change the galaxy in a ruthless dictatorship.



Syd Mead is the man who inspired Maelstrom. Syd is a world-renowned industrial designer and futurist and is perhaps best known for his participation in designing Blade Runner. Mead has also been a major contributor to other feature films including 2010 Aliens, Star Trek: The Motion Picture and the Disney classic Tron.

This is not Syd's first game though, because back in October 1993 he had a hand in producing CyberRace on the PC and Macintosh for Cyberdreams, the company behind the highly successful Dark Seed.



It's quite a hard task to find a game that you can compare Maelstrom to, as it contains a lot of different gaming elements. The closest game that I can think of is Virgin's Dune 2, which received 81 per cent back in September 1993 and was highly acclaimed by critics and punters alike.

The gameplay consisted of constructing new buildings, repairing any existing and damaged buildings, scouting out new areas of land, mining and destroying the opposing forces.

Dune 2 is one of those games that grows on you, if you stick at it. There's plenty of depth and challenge in Virgin's strategy game and it's quite well executed. Dune 2 was a good attempt at a difficult genre to succeed with.



If you're looking for an orchestral atmospheric sweeping soundtrack, layered with ear-enlightening sound effects, then don't buy Maelstrom because the sound is virtually non-existent. I'm not saying that Maelstrom particularly needs amazing sound, but a slight touch of music here and there would've gone a long way to improving the game and giving it that much need shot of atmosphere.

The only sound effects you'll hear are a few beeps and bangs and even they aren't exactly awe-inspiring. If you want good sounds, then you'll just have to go somewhere else I'm afraid.




Maelstrom isn't the sort of game that requires state-of-the-art graphics and most of the time the screen is full of words and figures for you to interpret to decide what you're going to do next.

The only section where you get lots of visuals is when you're talking to various people through the Televid screens. This is used for contact with all the important people in the galaxy, including your cabinet on Harmony. In addition to talking to these people, you can also view their personal files for background information.

I suppose the only section of graphics worth mentioning is when you select the sector map or when an event occurs and you get a short animation. The sector map gives you a comprehensive representation of the entire galaxy, all presented inside a 3D grid.
It's handy for finding those planets, but once you've found them there isn't a lot more the map can do, so it seems that this is quite a superficial addition that really isn't necessary.

The animations are quite nice, but they're definitely not integral to the gameplay and seem to have been put in Maelstrom so that you forget about all the other "basic" graphics.




Maelstrom is an incredibly in-depth strategy game and one which seems to have more bad points than good. For instance, because it is so open-ended you don't actually have much idea of what you must do.

When things like battles and the event animations do start to happen it does get slightly more interesting, but these events won't hold your attention for long. The game is supposedly very realistic in terms of interaction between people and factors, but total realism isn't always a good thing in computer games.

If you are a fan of this genre then you will definitely need a hard drive unless you've got the patience of a saint. It all comes on six disks ad has loads of annoying swaps which constantly interrupt the game.

For a product that has taken two years to develop, I expected to get a lot more. Maelstrom is just so-in-depth that it actually makes the game not very very exciting, not very entertaining and not much fun.

If you're looking for a decent strategy game then take a look at the excellent K240 or Dune 2, but I would only recommend Maelstrom to the die-hard fan.

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It's funny, but every strategy game set in the future seems to have one thing in common. Some years before the action starts, there is always a Great War. These Great Wars always kill everybody bar the main protagonists, and blow away the galaxy.

Maelstrom does not disappoint. Many years ago, there was a Great War - civilisation was given a severe pasting, and some bright race took it upon itself to create a huge empire by not entirely fair means.
These chaps are called the Syndicate, and you are a fully paid up member until you decide you don't like seeing poor but happy people colonised and killed.

You last mission of the bad folk was to check out planet Harmony, but you defect and become Overlord. Your task is to protect Harmony and stop the Syndicate overruning the galaxy.

Despite Harmony's vulnerability, there are huge resources to hand (you could even afford to sign Roberto Baggio, but he probably wouldn't be very good at war) so with careful research and development, and some bad-assed no-nonsense violence you must set about re-balancing the power-base in favour of the little guy.

Get a grip on the galaxy
Actually, it's a bit more complex than that. There is a huge cast of characters with a whole range of personalities and you've got to assign personnel to tasks best suited to them. To fund operations you must generate finance by selling Harmony products (the hairspray goes down a bomb) and mining.

There are also wider issues to be considered such as the Syndicate's grip on the rest of the galaxy. Phew. Got time for a nice cup of tea?

Writer Syd Mead is not known for his cute platform affairs, and Maelstrom is one mother-ship of a game. Every decision you make has a knock-on effect and if you can't keep the folk back on Harmony, er, harmonious, then you won't last long.

The icons are simple enough to follow and Maelstrom is well set out. Bradley as Overlord didn't last too long on his first few attempts, but perseverance brings reward. The animated sequences work well and those with a penchant for strategy should find plenty to go at in Maelstrom.

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Wenn das mal keine bemerkenswerte Premiere ist: diese "unspezielle 1200er-Version" wurde zwar extra für Commos Jüngsten entwickelt, sie läuft aber, mit einigen Abstrichen bei Grafik und Handhabung, auf allen Amigas!

Bei diesem hochstrategischen Genremix mimt der Spieler den großen Boß auf dem Planeten Harmony, unter dessen Oberfläche das wertvolle Mineral Fitzholnium schlummert. Gerade darauf hat es aber leider auch ein kriminelles Syndikat abgesehen, das unserem Imperator mit allen galaktischen Tricks das Leben schwer macht...

Somit besteht die Hauptaufgabe letztlich darin, es den bösen Syndikalisten richtig zu besorgen, doch bis dahin ist es ein steiniger Weg: Über eine Vielzahl von Menüs und Icons muß man die Wirtschaft auf Harmony ankurbeln, das Militär aufrüsten, Raumschiffe bauen, Spionage betreiben, Wissenschaftler und Arbeiter einstellen, Fitzholium abbauen und mit Gott und der Welt kommunizieren.

Zwischendurch platzen immer wieder Mitarbeiter mit wichtigen Nachrichten herein,z.B. wenn sich eine Entführung ereignet hat oder die Gouverneurin des Nachbarplaneten um Beistand bittet. Durch derlei Sonderaufgaben lernt man allmählich alle Funktionen des ziemlich komplexen Spiels und die geheimnisvollen Zusammenhänge in der Maelstrom-Welt kennen.

Auf dem 1200er entspricht die Präsentation nahezu hundertprozentig dem PC-Original. Grafisch sollte man sich dennoch nicht zuviel erwarten, vorwiegend gibt es eher zweckmäßig denn schön gestaltete Menüscreens zu sehen, die nur gelegentlich mal durch hübsch gemachte Filmsequenzen aufgelockert werden.

Die Handhabung benötigt ein wenig Einarbeitung, aber dann machen eigentlich weder Maus noch Menüs große Probleme; auch vor den acht Disks braucht keiner zu erschrecken - sie gehören schlicht und ergreifend auf die Festplatte, mit der zumindest die meisten 1200er ohnehin ausgestattet sein dürften.

Der einzige wesentlich Unterschied zur PC-Fassung betrifft den (dort nur spurenweise vorhandenen) Sound, der am Amiga kräftig erweitert und an das Geschehen am Screen angepaßt werden soll. "Soll" heißt, daß er bei unserem Testmuster noch fehlte, weshalb wir natürlich auf eine Bewertung dieses Punktes verzichtet haben. Und schließlich muß sich auch niemand über die englischen Texte auf den Fotos grämen, denn hierzulande wird das Game komplett in Deutsch ausgeliefert.

Obwohl neben Merit Software auch die Company des Grafik-Genies Don Bluth ("Dragon's Lair") am Mahlstrom mitgemalt hat, liegt hier die Würze also kaum in der reichlich durchwachsenen Präsentation; schon eher in all den wirtschaftlichen, abenteuerlichen und (militär-) strategischen Zutaten, die zu einem recht stimmigen und vor allem sehr hintergründigen Cocktail zusammengerührt wurden.

Unter dem Strich erinnert das Echtzeit-Gameplay nämlich unwillkürlich an "Millennium 2.2" - und dieses Spiel hat es bekanntlich trotz seines bescheidenen Äußeren zum Klassiker gebracht... (mic)

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A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away an extremely large computer game was created by madmen.

The plot of Maelstrom reads like a tired old synthesis of Dune, Star Wars and Lord of the Rings. You know the kind of thing; there were frightful galaxy-wide wars in the past, people speak about them in hushed tones they were so terrible, yawn; the planet you've become Overlord of is basically just a huge slab of the most important mineral/rocket fuel (spice anyone?) in the galaxy, zzzzz; a big bad kick-ass-out-of-the-small-guys evil empire is swallowing up the free planets and putting them under its ghastly thrall, snoresville Arizona.

You were originally an agent for the Empire, on a reconnaissance mission to find out the best method of conquering the planet. Suddenly, in an Arnie Schwarzenegger Running Man change of heart, you switch your loyalties and decide to help out the inhabitants of Harmony (the fuel-laden planet that sounds like a hairspray).

Naturally enough, as planets under imminent threat of takeover tend to do, they appoint you, the turncoat enemy, as Overlord of the whole place. And that's where the game begins.

You sit at an Executron 1200 fully automated holo-desk. It is your interface with the cabinet of five, who run the most important facets of Harmonious life, namely: military, mining, research and development, secret intelligence networks and all the rest.

At first the control panels and method of interfacing with them (clicky point click click) seems like walking through a heavy fog while wearing badly misted-up glasses. Eventually though, through the blindness of confusion, tunnel vision, endless messages and a million different buttons to press, the gestalt falls into place (the completeness of wholeness of the game takes form).

Many of your decisions depend on the quality of the communications you receive. It is worthwhile taking note of what is happening and relating it to the bigger picture. Basically, you're a budget juggler, personnel hirer and firer, secret agent and military commander all in one.

Your income can come from many sources, the primary area, naturally enough, is mining (basic spaceship fuel component). From the mining panel you can survey areas, set up mines, and predict, or even work out, what your future budgets are going to be and plan accordingly.

As in real life, the quality of the work being done depends on the number of staff you have and the ability of your managers. Which is why the hiring and firing (personnel) panel is so important. It's worth checking out who's available at any one time; the perfect replacement for someone lacking in effectiveness may pop up at just the right moment.

Because of the large number of personnel you have to deal with, it can get to be a pain ensuring that you've got the most efficient teams for the job and constantly monitoring them.
You can get away with inefficient teams but you won't earn as high a profit in return as is possible. It can mean the difference between having enough of a space fleet to repel the invaders or becoming yet another notch in the big bad empire's belt. And that brings us on to the military.

They appoint you as overlord of the whole place

The military section is probably the most interesting of the lot. From here, you get to build spaceships. Ships consist of a hull, weapons systems, defence systems and computer systems. Each hull has limited sots for each type of system; a Fox stealth ship only has space for one weapon, three defence and one computer system, whereas a Dragon mother ship hold up to five weapon, five defence and three computer systems.

You have complete freedom to choose the systems you want to equip the hull with. It has to be admitted that system choice stimulates the imagination. Again, making sure that you've got the proper personnel is important. There's no point in handing over a state of the art battleship to rookies fresh out of college.

Your ships can be sent out on various missions of peace, reconnaissance and out and out skullduggery. And talking of skullduggery brings us neatly on to the Secret Intelligence Network panel.

The head of this section looks like Yul Brynner with biker shades on. He don't take no crap and he's willing to kick butt whether it be on his home planet or on other systems. Of all your budgets, this area is the one that is most likely to pay dividends. You can destabilise other planetary governments and safeguard your own.

There's no easy link from the last panel to the Research and Development panel other than it is no less important than any of the other panels. Breakthroughs in weapons, mining defence and computer technology can be made here. Anything good can earn you revenue or give your spaceships the edge if you choose to arm them with your new discoveries.

So there it is. I've hardly scratched the index of possibilities that exist with this game. I'm aware that much of the review has been a description rather than a criticism but due to the size of the thing, I couldn't really think of a better way to do it. It comes on six disks and is hard drive installable. It would be a real pain to play on a floppy based Amiga. Even with the hard drive some of the wait times are plain irritating.

Maelstrom has lots of budgets to be balanced, wages to be paid, credits and deficits to be audited, strategies against competitors to be thought out and implemented etc. Not everybody's idea of fun admittedly, but if you're a chartered or registered accountant, an RPG player, someone who loves football management games or just someone who misses the yuppie days of the eighties, buy this now.

If you're a normal human being with a daytime occupation and a life and have got a spare eight hours to kill every day of your life then give it a try, you might like it, Then again you might not.


Mongoose: Like its namesake, very hard to hit.

Lemming: Mother ship. Holds three computers. Handy.

Gryphon: Close to being as good as the Dragon. No cigar though.

Hawk: Fast and dependable. Military economical.

Ox: As slow as its name implies. Virtually indestructable.

Vole: This is the standard type of military shooter. Worth it.

Swarm: Five ships for the price of one. Hurrah.

Fox: Stealth model. Relatively cheap. Good.

Shark: Fast deadly efficient battle ship.

Bear: Excellent all round ship. Able to absorb lots of damage.

Dragon: Strongest, most deadly, top of the line model. Aces High.


Need something developed, see this man. Okay.

Need a military ship, contact fatty here.

Elysia Sybarite here, is a kind of super secretary.

Look out, it's a loose DPaint IV tutorial.

This bald guy is the head of intelligence.

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War games are often viewed as archaic, dull and of little appeal to anyone who doesn't wars an anorak. Fortunately, once in a while a game such as Maelstrom comes along to give people's views a kick up the bottom. Mark Patterson goes to war...

I don't know, all this talk of peace and disarmament, when you never quite know what's out there. Take the peaceful people of the planet Harmony in Maelstrom, for example. They had no weapons, long hair and preached peace and love. Then aliens invaded, destroyed everyone who tried to reason with them and subjugated the rest.

Without a clue of how to run a proper war and with passive resistance failing at every attempt, they call you in to work for their biggest corporation and to raise an army capable of freeing the planet - setting the scene for a high-tech interstellar wargame with you as the key player.

Any game where I get to be called Overlord and have a pretty PA is fine by me. All I was lacking were some grovelling subjects and peeled grapes. Even without, I was perfectly happy to wreak death and destruction on the forces of evil.

Unfortunately, bureaucracy is the factor which dominates this game. Basically the brief is - you want a war? You pay for it! Also, seeing that Harmony's sole income is from mining, you'll need to don your hard hat, grab your canary and head for the pits. The more your mines produce, the more dosh you have to spend on building armies. The mining section is similar in lots of ways to Virgin's Dune 2, although in this case it's very dull. There must be a more interesting way to limit the amount of money you spend on forces.

To start with, your army is weak and entering a battle is liable to earn you a scudding. However, a quick call to the research and development department followed by several large payments will lead to better weapons. Building your forces is your first task.

With only limited cash it's hard to decide whether to spend your money on ground forces, or build up a sizeable aircraft squadron. This bit is actually more absorbing than battles themselves, as you're never sure if you've got the right combinations until they've been slaughtered or return in one piece from the battle.

More important than any weapon is your phone book. Your video-phone is the most important bit of kit you possess. From the safety of your office you have to deal with government officials, scientists and soldiers. With this phone you can keep track of what's going on in the world, what your bosses think of you and any news which might give you a tactical advantage.

I would advise you to install this game on a hard disk, unless you're very patient. It comes on six disks and has loads of annoying swops which interrupt the action with irritating frequency. Extra memory would probably remedy some of the problem, but I wouldn't be so inclined to play this game without a hard disk.

Like most wargames, the graphics are extremely poor. Most of the time you're looking at dull text read-outs, punctuated by the occasional animated piccy of the person at the other end of the phone line. A bit more could have been done with the user interface, all the screens are accessed via a row of tiny boxes right at the bottom of the screen. Several times I accidentally clicked on the wrong thing to be faced with a multitude of disk swops before I got to where I wanted to go.

There's enough here to please ardent strategy buffs, which basically means this isn't the sort of game you can have a quick go on. I prefer Dune 2 mainly because it's more polished and far easier to get into. If you're the sort of person whose strategy game tolerance limit stretches as far as Powermonger, then this isn't a game for you.