November 18, 2008
It would be cliché of me to start the EndWar review with a Tom Clancy joke about how Ubisoft have him locked away in a cupboard somewhere at the Ubisoft HQ, but dammit, his name seems to be on everything these days. It might have something to do with them now owning the rights to his name ... Or was that his soul? Anyway, the latest franchise, EndWar is unlike anything we’ve really experienced in the gaming world, let alone the RTS world; and how many people can put their name to that. It’s the next step in a mechanic that could define the games we play for years to come; of course, I’m talking about a voice control gameplay mechanic.
Tom Clancy’s EndWar is an honest and disturbing depiction of modern day warfare where you’ll see the paranoia and irrationality of international governments overpower their common sense and civility. It takes you on a trip across some pretty fantastic places across the world, building up to, and throughout World War III. You’ll find yourself fighting the snowy Aurora Borealis ridden plains in cold Russia, to the more than epic landmark soaked Washington DC, fighting on the steps of the US Capitol. If the end of the world was ever going to happen, this is a pretty good way to do it.
The main unique mechanic in EndWar is no doubt its voice control system; a system which on the whole works a treat, but when it doesn’t, it’ll be just like pulling your teeth with a pair of pliers. Even after calibrating my voice, it sometimes found it necessary to hear my 2’s as 7’s or 10’s and my “target” as “Lima”, which is incredibly frustrating. Luckily, this only happened around 5% of the time, the rest of the time, I was plain sailing. The command system in reality is pretty basic, but that’s what makes it so accessible; working on the basis of three command types as its main foundation; who, what and where, this is what you’ll need to master if you want to win the war for your faction.
Throughout the single player campaign prologue, you’ll find yourself learning the basics of combat and squad movement, but the real action doesn’t truly start until you’ll select your faction and jump in to “dubya-dubya three”. Whether you fancy representing the European Federation, Russia or the Americans who have the ever present Ghost Recon star, Scott Mitchell, it doesn’t matter, but from here on out, it’s war.
There is definitely a steep learning curve to the game but no different than any other RTS; in fact, it’s probably the simplest RTS out in terms of units and the “rock, paper, scissors” mechanic but the controls can be a little overwhelming at times, especially if the voice commands aren’t being as productive as they can be. The learning curve comes with knowing what the units do and how to navigate the field with them; so tanks beat transport which beat helicopters which ultimately beat tanks, completing the circle. Remember that and you’ll have no problem with EndWar, that is however if you can get to grips with the field navigation, or if Defcon mode doesn’t grant the opposition a cheap win.
The whole Defcon scenario brings in to question EndWar’s balance because it pretty much punishes the stronger team by allowing the losing faction a way back in to the game. The premise is simple; the team on the brink of defeat can activate a WMD when they enter Defcon mode and not only can this tip the balance, but depending on the situation of the battle, that nuke can eliminate your remaining forces and ultimately gift them the win, so sometimes it pays to be on the losing team ... Wait, that’s not right ... Surely? Thankfully, this doesn’t happen too often and technically you’ll benefit from the flip side of the coin although I never did.
I think one of EndWar’s let downs, is its lack of variety when it comes to its campaign objectives and in all there are only 4 match types to get to grips with; Siege, Conquest, Assault, Raid. Don’t get me wrong, the whole prologue to the war and the war itself is pretty engrossing and you’ll be sucked in every second of the way, but each campaign is ultimately the same but on a different map; requiring you to secure uplinks and demolish the enemy to advance.
A trivial niggle that bugged me throughout the game, was the camera’s perspective. To give you the true war experience, Ubisoft Shanghai have positioned the camera with your troops on the battlefield. Whilst the game’s visuals are detailed and the environments are rich, it really isn’t very practical for an RTS and can become a little finicky, especially if you’re defending or attacking on two different sides of the field. It’s even locked to individual units so you’ve also lost the whole free roam aspect with your camera which is very uncharacteristic of an RTS.
The whole RTS aspect of the game is pretty simplistic and almost generic, but how much variation can you really have to the traditional resource collection tactic that RTS games religiously adopt. The resources aspect revolves around your “command points” which you get as time goes by, but you can aid your cause by securing uplinks for a quick command point boost. Command points can then be spent on battlefield presence in the form of infantry, tanks, gunships and artillery, plus a few more, but be careful though, as you only have a certain amount of battlefield placement slots and your reserves aren’t unlimited. If that doesn’t take your fancy, you can do what I do; use the command points on air strikes and electronic warfare which is definitely way more fun, but these are only available to you if mission support is available.
Other than a fairly entertaining single player campaign, one of EndWar’s shining lights is its live, interactive and expansive online mode; Theatre of War. Of course, the skirmishes are present, but you can see this mode as being a bit of a cult classic. The premise is simple; you log on, choose a faction and get involved with like-minded individuals over Live as you try to play your part in an interactive war. Pretty nifty huh? Well it is considering that you can rank up your squadron and its troops just like in the single player campaign ... Well, they have to survive first if they want to keep their rank, and trust me, that’s tough online. People are ruthless! The AI is pretty damn decent in the single player, but it’ll never quite compare to the intensity of a human opponent. It’s a mode you could lose a lot of time in as you get attached to your faction, constantly logging in to check out how your comrades are doing. However, my current experience with the whole aspect has been plagued by the servers being down and long waiting times for games; other than that ... great. I just wonder what happens if one team truly wins the war?
The achievements are typical RTS achievements; long winded and a right pain in the ass. They’ll appeal to the hardcore RTS players, but I can’t see anyone else really enjoying the achievements here ... I know I didn’t. Not so much generic, but definitely grind worthy. Looking through the list, it’s pretty hard to pick out the list’s highlights. Sure the multiplayer is good, but multiplayer achievements shape an online game more than they ought to. It’s a shame that developers don’t grasp that and continue to put them in. You’re looking at a lot of hours for the 1k and a playthrough of the single player campaign will probably net you between 100 and 250 points, depending on the difficulty you select and your skill level.
For years I’ve wanted to shout obscenities at the games I play and have them actually listen; now that’s a reality, and yes, you can even slip swear words in and they still understand you. It’s safe to say that the voice command system in EndWar is one of the success stories of 2008 and its innovation and implementation is fantastic. Sure, it’s not perfect, but we’re not saying it is. We’re saying that Ubisoft Shanghai have successful integrated a voice command system as an integral part of a video game ... Take that everyone else. However, as an RTS title, it’s pretty standard and has its annoyances, namely battlefield navigation and the camera but despite them, they don’t even come close to spoiling the game, they just merely stop us from labelling it a great game. Either way, it’s got to be tried just for the voice control system and it truly is a great start for what can only be another Tom Clancy success story; we most definitely look forward to the sequel where we can hold conversations about our general’s families and the weather ... Too ambitious? Maybe, but it’s the start of something great.
Well, most the audio is your voice, so it depends on how much you love the sound of your own voice. As far as the score goes, it's listenable but never really stands out. I guarantee you'll be annoyed by your commander's irritating shrieks when he doesn't understand you though.
Solid design all round here. Whether you're talking the rich level designs and great recreation of locations around the world, or the detailed infantry and vehicles at your disposal. It all looks very decent ... Especially seeing the Northern Lights (that level is fantastic), but it won't win any awards for best looking game, that's for sure. Rest assured though, it barely puts a foot wrong.
Fantastically implemented voice control system that acts according to your voice commands the vast majority of the time, but it's not perfect. The lack of a free roaming camera was also a tad annoying.
Pretty standard RTS but a great experience nevertheless. Plenty of modes to keep you entertained for hours; from the single player campaign to the in-depth Theatre of War ... There are even the chances for skirmishes thrown in for good measure.
Too much grinding and too many multiplayer achievements for my liking. It seems to be the common theme for an RTS to ask for a ridiculous amount of hours from gamers. Not confident in their product? Not sure, but annoying as hell for regular non-hardcore gamers with only a few hours to commit a week to the title.
EndWar is all about its voice command system. Fantastically implemented with very few flaws, but you kind of get the feeling that underneath it all, the game is very shallow and relies on that to set it free. Nevertheless, the voice command system is present and it's one of the best innovations and implementations in a game for some time and surely this could become a staple in future titles; both Clancy and otherwise.