Tom Clancy's EndWar
The fourth collaborative IP between Ubisoft and Tom Clancy sees the majority of creative thought being put into unit detail, story back-drop, and a rather unique control system. EndWar attempts to reinvigorate the troubled console RTS genre by introducing an advanced voice recognition-based control system. Although the game lacks in some areas, with occasionally repetitive singleplayer and average visuals, the online mode makes for compulsive gaming and the control system is mercifully implemented extremely well.
The specifics, then. The year 2020AD sees the breakout of a conflict between the world's three major super-powers - Europe, Russia and the USA. The build-up story is actually pretty good, involving a number of political movements which go misinterpreted, and the intervention of a mysterious terrorist faction which ultimately sparks World War III. Oh, and the oil is running out, inevitably. However, after this initial display of narrative splender, the plot becomes little more than a backdrop and the only updates on the story come in the form of news blurbs and mission reports. This essentially downgrades the singleplayer to little more than stack upon stack of only-just-in-context 'versus' battles.
Importantly, the voice command control system works surprisingly well and words are recognised by the game with ease. Commands are issued in the form unit, action, destination - for example "Unit 4 - attack - hostile 3" or "Unit 2 - move - waypoint 1." This control system soon progresses beyond a gimmick and contributes to the general immersion of the game; furthermore this approach is a noticeable improvement on the troubled systems employed by other RTS games using console controllers. The only real downside to the vocal controls being that unit movements have had to be limited to pre-defined map waypoints.
The game utilises the age-old rock-paper-scissors triangle as the base for battle dynamics, and aside from utilising captured "Uplinks" to order special attacks, such as air-strikes, there is really little more strategy to the game. Gunships defeat tanks, tanks defeat transports, and transports defeat gunships. Infantry are weak against everything without cover, but they defend well and they are the only unit able to capture buildings. The tactical simplicity of the game is exposed fully by the relative weakness of the enemy AI - and in fact the game only really becomes a proper challenge in online play.
Over time units gain experience and can be issued with cash-bought upgrades. These upgrades are relatively valuable and prove effective in battle, the game rewards highly units of veteran status and this dynamic helps to undermine the role of rush-based tactics, and instead rewards players who are efficient with individual squads. Upgrades take the form of stat-based improvements which increase unit attacking power, speed et al.
Unit vitality is comprised of both a shield bar and a health bar. The shield bar recharges naturally over time and will protect a unit's critical health. Once a unit's health has diminished to 30% an extraction chopper is automatically sent to take them to safety. If the chopper is successful, units can potentially be rescued from extermination. If the unit is instead killed, then all the upgrades and experience points earned are lost permanently.
Money and command points are issued at the end of each mission based on performance and time taken. These can then be used to, as mentioned above, upgrade units, or can be used in conjunction with uplinks mid-battle to utilise special attacks - such as deliciously powerful WMDs and EMP attacks.
EndWar's online play takes the form of a persistent online campaign world. Organic frontline evolution can be observed over time as real players battle it out between the three factions to secure a victory. Once one team wins, the world resets, and the battle begins again. This mode is competitive, compulsive, and provides much more of a challenge than the limp AI featured in singleplayer game. As in this mode, victory is secured via the capture of all three capital cities or by taking a controlling majority of sectors.
Graphically, EndWar does not particularly overwhelm. Although the overall look is slick, the special effects and detailing is nothing to write home about. Furthermore the units themselves are rather bland, and the environments can at times be a tad uninspired. Some of the big cities, at least, provide interesting backdrops to the combat.
Sound-wise, on the other hand, EndWar is very good indeed. The sound effects are adequate, but the voice acting in particular is top notch. Units can often be recognised by their unique accents, and many lines of incidental radio chatter have been recorded in which your units will comment on in-battle events, such as the deployment of WMDs or the capturing of Uplinks. This provides a rich and varied audio experience.
Tom Clancy's EndWar is not a classic, but it is something different, and it has its moments. It is the first instance of voice command-based RTS, and it really implements the style well. Perhaps it will even mark a change in dynamic for a console genre which is well over-shadowed by its PC counterpart. The online multiplayer is addictive and fun too, thanks to the context provided by the evolving world, and although the game is marred by weak singleplayer narrative and lacklustre AI, the lasting impression is still well within the positive.