Ubisoft challenges our tactical prowess and vocal chords alike in this near-future RTS console title based around World War III
There are always things in life that don't quite work well together – dipping toast into tea, trying to fit a round plug into a square hole, your best friend and that girl he hangs around with... and of course strategy games and the home console. Strategy games just generally require a degree of attention and micro-management that the console simply isn't built for, and it's a fact that won't be going away any time soon. Still, people like strategy games, and people like consoles, so the demands there - many attempts to blend the two concepts have met with varying degrees of success...and failure.
At first glance, Ubisoft may seem like it's just the latest in a long line of developers who have tried to create a console strategy game. Like Bungie has done with Halo Wars, Ubisoft's Shanghai studio has built this game from the ground up, making use of the popular Tom Clancy universe for their title. Most RTS console games tend to be ports of PC games that were released before them, and this is usually the reason why they tend not to do so well, although there are exceptions. (Civilisation: Revolution springs to mind – the turn based nature of the game and the trimmed down micro-management suited the home console quite well.) But not only have Ubisoft built this game from the ground up, they've also thought long and hard about the problem, and have come up with a fairly unique solution.
Airstrikes can be useful in a pinch, and can quickly turn the tide in skirmishes
WMD's are only allowed to be used in 'dire' situations, usually towards endgame
Tom Clancy's EndWar utilises an innovative voice command and recognition system that quite honestly makes the game what it is. One of the major problems with previous console strategy games is that the controller pad makes giving commands slow and a bit cumbersome – the case is no different in Endwar (Although they have made efforts to streamline certain commands, and made a lot of actions context-sensitive). The voice system however deals with this problem to such a large degree that EndWar is easily the best designed strategy game on the consoles. That's not to say the voice system is perfect – despite claims that it can recognise dialects and accents, lazy or quiet speech may sometimes throw it off, and you'll find yourself from time to time having to correct a misheard command.
Still, with this new system, commands can be issued in mere seconds, even to multiple units. Only a set number and pattern of in-game words and phrases are accepted, but learning these commands is easier then riding a bike. On the downside, it can be very frustrating when the voice command fails, and you have to do whatever it is you wanted to do manually – it seems like it takes forever. But saying that, it works, it really does work, and people who say the game would be nothing without the voice system, whilst speaking the truth, are making a redundant criticism. One could argue that Call of Duty 4 would be nothing without the modern setting.
Like any decent strategy title, there's plenty to do in Endwar if you don't mind a bit of repetition. Apart from the single player tutorial and then 'grand' campaign, you can engage in skirmishes, and compete in the games online mode 'Theatre of War'. It is in this latter mode that the game truly shines, as it compromises of the standard private matches, but also a completely dynamic online grand campaign. The way it works: players pick a side and a battalion, just like single player, and then fight other people on the opposing side on the campaign map. A turn lasts around 24 hours, and players have until the end of a turn to wage war in the available locations to try and win that location for their side. The only downside to this is that the matchmaking utility makes no account for experience, and it is possible for a new player to come up against someone who is far superior in terms of upgrades and unit level – and there's no way to gain these without playing online.
You can purchase upgrades for your units, making them more versatile in battle
The 'sitrep' top-down view can provide enhanced tactical insight, at the detriment to the more 'up-close' view.
The combat dynamics of EndWar are a bit simplistic. The limited diversity of the units means that your basically playing a fancy game of rock, paper, scissors, but one could argue that it's best to keep things simple in cases like this, especially when you are trying out new technology. There's still a diverse range of units to chose from, with their various strengths, weaknesses, and role on the battlefield. Battles themselves are on a smaller scale then say the Total War series, almost to the point where the game has been dubbed a 'real-time tactics' game in some circles. This is probably meant to reflect the nature of War in the modern era, and the fact that you control just one regiment or battalion, as opposed to an entire country's armed forces.
Still, Ubisoft goes to some length to add in potential to the system, as one of the games other features is the 'persistent' Battalion. As you fight, your units gain experience and you earn money for upgrades. Upgrade a unit enough, and it becomes a force to be reckoned with, and it's entirely possible to break out of the rock, paper, scissor trap in certain circumstances. You've got to be careful though – when a unit is defeated, it gets a chance to be evacuated so it can live to fight another day. Unless you're careful, or if you're facing someone with some blood-lust issues, these units can by physically killed, and so get replaced with a rookie unit.
Commanding the battlefield also challenges the player in a more general sense, as you can only see what your units can see. If you summon a command vehicle, you can also use an overhead tactical display known as the 'sitrep'. The latter of the two is easier to use in most cases, so there is a tendency to rely on the top-view more. However, it doesn't always provide an accurate picture as to what's going on, so it helps if you try to blend the two modes. The maps themselves are divided into a couple of different games types – Conquest, Raid, Assault and Siege. Each game type is different, and provides a unique challenge to both attacker and defender, whilst also preventing players from getting bored from doing the same objectives each time.
Gunships beat Tanks, Tanks beat Transports... Transports own Gunships
The grand campaign map doesn't actually look like this, but you get the idea...
Despite all the talk about RTS and consoles, a PC version of the game is also supposedly in the works. Although Ubisoft have already said it's going to be delayed, possibly over their dislike of piracy. Another review of the PC version may be needed, as whilst this game is perfectly suited for the home console, it may seem a bit shallow and boring for those hardcore PC enthusiasts – we'll just have to wait and see.
It's easy to criticise EndWar for relying on the voice command system too much, or for only having a limited number of units. What people forget though is that EndWar is trying something new, and despite it's flaws, it's actually been more or less a success. If the voice system can be perfected, the this could potentially open up a lot of doors development wise of the home console, perhaps even the pc gaming scene. As a strategy game it is rather basic, but there's enough there to keep you occupied for a while, and pitting your strategical prowess against your friends, even strangers, is actually very satisfying. A worthy addition to Ubisoft's portfolio, and probably one of the more decent strategy games to grace the home console.
TOM CLANCY'S ENDWAR VERDICT
It’s easy to criticise EndWar for relying on the voice command system too much, or for only having a limited number of units. What people forget though is that EndWar is trying something new, and despite it’s flaws, it’s actually been more or less a success. If the voice system can be perfected, the this could potentially open up a lot of doors development wise of the home console, perhaps even the pc gaming scene. As a strategy game it is rather basic, but there’s enough there to keep you occupied for a while, and pitting your strategical prowess against your friends, even strangers, is actually very satisfying. A worthy addition to Ubisoft’s portfolio, and probably one of the more decent strategy games to grace the home console.
TOP GAME MOMENT
Winning a match that was touch and go from the beginning.