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
GUNS & AMMO
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.