Tryst is a sci-fi themed RTS game, reminiscent of the more well-known Starcraft series. It centers around the conflict between humans and a race of aliens known as the Zali. Like most games in the genre, gameplay in Tryst focuses on gathering resources, constructing bases, and maintaining a military force to fight the enemy. However, unlike most RTS titles, seemingly little effort goes into detailing the storyline or gameplay mechanics necessary to make the most of your play time.
The main campaign of Tryst is divided into several missions, each prefaced by a bit of exposition explaining your situation and objective. As you make your way from point A to point B, additional sub-missions are offered. In an attempt to avoid feeling overly linear, many of these extra objectives present you with a strategic choice. Will you travel to a neighbouring base to prevent the destruction of an important resource, or help some allied units fight off enemies nearby and then recruit them into your army? Chances are, you’ll want to try both. Although most choices won’t alter the gameplay experience much, you will be rewarded with in-game bonuses as well as more Steam achievements for your collection.
That’s not the only reason you’re likely to try out different strategies though; most missions will take a few playthroughs before you succeed anyway, at least at first. While Tryst does offer a decent variety of units and buildings for strategic variation, the in-game tutorials are horribly insufficient at explaining things to you. It’s difficult to build up an effective fighting force when the game neglects to tell you how. Even if you take the time to watch through the tutorial videos provided, you’ll find that basic information like “how to build a human base” is completely absent. There is little time to learn the game as you go, as combat is very fast paced. The battles themselves are definitely the highlight of the game, and are probably better appreciated in the Skirmish and multiplayer gameplay than in the short campaign. If multiplayer isn’t your thing, the option to play through the campaign again as the Zali instead of the humans gives the game a little more life.
The controls are pretty typical for an RTS game, with plenty of keyboard shortcuts for building and unit management (even if the game doesn’t tell you what those buildings and units do). One glaring absence is a keyboard shortcut to bring up the menu/pause screen. That’s right: pressing ESC does nothing, so if you need to pause the game, change settings, or check the help files, you’ll have to physically click on the “Menu” button to do it. There also doesn’t appear to be a way to customize the keyboard shortcuts to suit your playstyle.
The graphics don’t auto-adjust to your computer’s capabilities, instead defaulting to low quality at 1024×768 resolution. Even after adjusting the settings, Tryst’s visuals are noticeably dated. This might not be a problem for those who see gameplay as a far more important review metric, except that it has the unfortunate side effect of making it difficult to distinguish different unit types. I often found myself clicking through several soldier units before I finally located the engineer I was looking for. More frustrating than the sometimes indiscernible units is the disappointing soundtrack. The music is decent, but your troops will insist on yelling out unoriginal catchphrases in poorly done Russian accents after every command you give them. Since navigating through fog of war means movement must be done incrementally, and each separate click counts as a command, this “feature” quickly begins to annoy. I muted the game somewhere around the 30th “Oscar Mike!”
Tryst isn’t a bad game, but it does feels incomplete and outdated relative to others in the genre. A forgettable storyline leaves the game feeling shallow, and the lack of instruction means that most of your victories will come down to blind luck, offering little replay incentive. Tryst seems to be targeting people looking for an RTS experience at a lower price point, and I think there might be something here for those gamers. Meanwhile, the game’s developers are promising bug fixes, fleshed out tutorials, and DLC to make the game worth the price for the rest of us.