Genre: Real-Time Strategy
Developer: Ubisoft Shanghai
Release Date: November 4, 2008
When we took a look at Tom Clancy's EndWar earlier this year, it was a concept with some rough edges but a lot of promise. Over the past five months, Ubisoft's Shanghai team has been working on polishing up the game mechanics and tweaking the voice recognition in preparation for next month's launch. We took another spin with the game to see how it was shaping up.
The most notable feature in EndWar is the voice command system. While you can always default to button controls to navigate the menu tree, using the voice command is much preferred simply for its speed. In general, the voice command works well, but we noticed a few glitches during our time with the game, mostly due to the sensitivity of the mic. If you're playing in a quiet room, EndWar's voice command works wonderfully. If you happen to have background noise going on, the recognition can be a bit spotty.
The reason for the difficulty has to do with how EndWar's voice command system is implemented. Rather than learn your voice, EndWar simply listens for pre-programmed words. Say the words that it expects, and you're golden. Say the wrong word, or have a syllable from the wrong word get picked up by the mic, and you get hit with the wrong command. Michael DePlater, the creative director on the game, explained to us that when you're going through the calibration screens, you're not training the game, the game is training you how to speak to it.
As the story goes, in the near future the Middle East enters a nuclear war and devastates the world's oil supply. This leads to America arming up, Europe becoming united and Russia re-emerging as a global military superpower. Without warning, an unknown terrorist group starts attacking the superpowers around the globe, sparking the war to end all wars.
Much of EndWar will be focused on the online campaign, where you'll face off against other players in a global battle. Like a massive game of Risk, the game servers will take the average of all the global skirmishes in order to determine which faction wins which territory for the day. The overall results will be visible, so all players can see where each faction has gained and lost.
In the single-player campaign missions, you'll get a chance to try out each of the three major factions and learn their strengths and weaknesses. The Russians are slower but have heavier weapons than America and Europe so when they hit, they hit hard. Europe's troops don't pack the same punch, but they're faster and more agile. American troops are the balanced force, having slightly better combat drones than the other two factions. The differences continue on in the upgrade trees. For example, the Russian troops can unlock flamethrowers to mount on their tanks, while Americans get the deep strike ability, which allows them to air-drop troops behind enemy lines.
Troops gain experience from every battle, evolving in status from recruit to veteran to elite. Because elites have more value than raw recruits, players are encouraged to keep their forces alive rather than merely using them as cannon fodder. In a single skirmish, it may not seem like a big deal, but when heading into the online war, having a force of elites is going to give you an advantage over an opponent fielding new recruits. This little twist is likely to impact online play as players learn to be somewhat conservative. After all, do you press an attack and possibly lose your best squads just to gain a temporary victory, or do you retreat in order to return and fight another day?
Each mission starts with the player choosing a starting force and heading into battle. The single-player missions will have a variety of goals, such as eliminating the enemy or defending a key point, but the multiplayer objectives will center around capturing territory on the battlefield.
In the battles we fought, capturing the first point was easy enough, but taking control of the entire field proved much harder. If we left a squad to defend, our overall strength was depleted, but if we went on full offense, the capture point was undefended and open to capture by the opposing faction.
Which squads you choose to use are part of the strategy, thanks to EndWar's "rock-paper-scissors" combat scheme. Every squad in the game has one opposing squad that is at an advantage and one at a disadvantage. For example, gunships (choppers) have an advantage against tanks, tanks have an advantage against transports and transports have an advantage against gunships. It's just like the circle of life, except with more explosions.
Because EndWar is focused on combat strategy, there is no resource mining in the tradition sense. Instead, you get command points at a constant rate. These points can be used to replenish a squad that has fallen in battle or call forth a new set of troops to fill an open slot when your army expands. As an incentive, anyone capturing a control point in multiplayer is gifted an addition four CP. Think of it as a risk/reward thing.
For the most part, coming back from the jaws of defeat in any real-time strategy game can be a bit difficult, so the team behind EndWar decided to throw a spanner into the mix in the form of nukes. Like many things in life, nothing is free, as the nukes aren't available from the outset. Instead, the nukes unlock in multiplayer once one faction has taken control of more than half the map. The game goes into Defcon mode, and the losing player can let lose the dogs of war. Of course, once you press the shiny red button and blast half of your opponent's troops, their nuke becomes unlocked, and they can return the favor. It's a desperation move to be sure, but sometimes a Hail Mary play works.
Having played a few rounds against the AI as well as a few rounds against human players, we're duly impressed with what Tom Clancy's EndWar appears to offer. Rather than simply try to woo players with a shiny new interface, the team at Ubisoft Shanghai seems to have crafted an original take on the RTS genre that could just end up working well on consoles. Sure, it's not the keyboard and mouse interface that longtime RTS players have come to know and love, but once you get used to the voice command system, you can navigate pretty darn quickly.
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