The word “tryst” seems like an odd title for a real time strategy game. In the dictionary, it can either mean a meeting between two lovers or an appointed meeting place. Those hoping for an RTS dating game will be left disappointed as it presents a planetary conflict between Russian-accented humans and a race of deadly aliens called the Zali. Tryst offers a cookie cutter approach to design and is hard to differentiate it from another sci-fi game designed by Blizzard in 1998. While Tryst is easy enough to get into it lacks the cohesion, originality and comfort of the games it attempts to emulate.
Tryst will be immediately familiar to anyone who has played any strategy game within the last twelve or so years. The single player campaign is broken down into different story-driven missions, each tasking the player with conducting war operations from an isometric point of view that is obscured by a vast fog of war. Missions involve guiding hero units around the map on seek and destroy sorties or establishing and maintaining bases in order to develop a strong, healthy war machine to fend off enemy hit and run attacks while attempting to destroy their base. Bonus objectives will pop up during play, offering additional war materiel for completing them, as well as scenarios that force you to choose between one course of action over two or more. These situations offer some incentive for replay as additional in-game achievements (apart from Steam achievements) are earned for completing these side missions. When finished with the brief campaign, head over to Skirmish mode to take on stand alone missions or test your mettle against human players in Multiplayer.
Tryst wouldn’t be a proper strategy adventure without units to build and control. You’ll find a standard collection of soldiers, medics, engineers and vehicles that offer their own services, skills and advantages. Engineers are the most valuable characters to play as they are the only units that can build command structures, turrets, barracks and airports. Placing these objects requires a specific amount of Ore which is automatically harvested by pre-built processing plants, offering the player an out from the burden of constantly guarding their revenue stream. When the enemies start pouring in, you can create a number of individual combat teams made up of soldiers or hulking death machines to fend off the alien menace. Hero characters and a few combat units have additional abilities that can boost their offense or defense capabilities. As combat usually descends into a war of attrition, it would behoove you to construct as many units as possible.
Again, all this is nothing you haven’t played before.
Tryst’s graphics are just as dated as its gameplay. Tryst won’t make your eyes explode but at least it is functional. The retro look to to the game’s assets (I don’t want to use the word “cheap”) won’t put a strain on your system and as long as you can differentiate units from one another the fidelity doesn’t matter, right? This is where the game hits a snag: some of the infantry units could have been designed better. When you’ve got huge mobs of soldiers cluttered together, it can be hard to pick out certain classes out from the crowd. On the other hand, hero units get the treatment they deserve (as they should, they’re incredibly important!) and can easily be identified in battle. It’s hard not to wince a bit when you see the heroes up close during pre-mission briefings. Their mouths don’t move when they talk and their upper bodies move with the grace and fluidity of an old G.I. Joe action figure.
Although I can count the number of RTS games I’ve played on one hand, they’ve provided experiences that were considerably more enjoyable than Tryst. Apart from a few technical bugs, the game’s biggest stumbling block is a distinct lack of important gameplay information. There are mechanics and situations that are frustratingly glossed over, leaving the player without the necessary instructions needed to complete certain actions or proceed to victory. During the “Armed to the Teeth” mission, I had to restart three times because my troops would run out of ammo. At no point did the game tell me that this could happen. After the fourth retry, somehow my troops managed to get resupplied, although I never could figure out the how and why. In other situations, completing objectives and surviving large battles was largely thanks to blind or dumb luck, making victories feel hollow and unsatisfying.
Another example of confusion are the power-ups that appear after an enemy unit is killed. As enticing as they appear (they glow and pulse), there is no visible means to pick them up. A note on one of the loading screens makes reference to a harvester-type unit that can collect them and respawn units, but those are not initially available so you’re stuck leaving hordes of precious looking power up to waste. Why? Why not let the hero units pick them up at least? Or make the harvesters available sooner? Why have them at all? I tried to seek out help for this and the “Armed to the Teeth” mission and grew concerned by the rather silent community on both Steam and the official website. The in-game tutorial feels inadequate and when it comes to cover advanced base building techniques, it does so strictly from the Zali’s point of view. An oversight? Or is it because the human side is an obvious rehash of every other game in the genre?
Tryst is a decent game for a decent price but know going in that it has a fair number of issues that (hopefully) will be patched. Chief among them is an experience mired by a lack of fun and necessary information. By not properly introducing important concepts and gameplay mechanics, the player is force to contend with a foe more dangerous than the Zali: confusion. If you’re looking for an RTS game on the cheap, you could give Tryst a try. On the other hand, I have to imagine that StarCraft, Dune, WarCraft or Command & Conquer are available at a more fetching value, both in price and experience.