Name: Tom Clancy’s EndWar
Genre: Real-time Strategy
Platform: Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, PC (Reviewed on 360)
When you think of the Tom Clancy brand, chances are you think of established franchises, and not new IPs. Ubisoft is not only looking to change the way you think about Tom Clancy games, but also about real-time strategy games as well, with the latest entry into the fold, EndWar. Designed with the home console in mind, EndWar planned to dash conventional point and click controls, going with gameplay based solely in voice command. It’s never easy putting an RTS on a console, but Ubisoft stepped up to the plate, touting an experience like no other title in the genre.
Immediately upon starting up EndWar, players will be asked to test out the vocal controls in some simple command giving exercises. The commands are very short and basic, and rely more on proper inflection than they do on the player remembering lengthy word chains. After you experiment with the feature, the game allows you to play through the prologue of the story, which translates to a live training session. Through several missions, which increase the amount of troops under your control, not only is the backstory for the world of EndWar is laid, but players are able to see just how fun and easy playing this game can be.
By calling a units number, players are able to execute a number of orders. Depending on the type of solider, these commands range from “Attack” to “Secure” to “Move to,” and so on. As you progress in the game, more and more units come under your control, thus making the battlefield more hectic. As you gain more troops to command, the voice recognition tends to become a little less cognizant of what you’re trying to do. In fact, the way the computer tells me it can’t execute orders because it couldn’t understand me gave off a HAL-9000 vibe. It was almost as if I was losing control of the battlefield at some of the most inopportune times. And forget shouting to get your point across. The voice pattern recognition has a window of optimum volume levels, and if you speak too quietly or loudly, the game won’t comprehend the point you’re trying to get across. It’s slightly forgivable given the scope of what Ubisoft is trying to accomplish, but it still gets annoying. Hopefully the next version will have an even better system, eliminating some frustrations.
There are three factions in the game (the US, the European Federation, and Russia), with six different military units available on the disc, each with their own strengths and weaknesses. It’s easy to remember which units can defeat others since EndWar uses a Rock, Paper, Scissors combat scale. Ground troops beat transports, transports beat gunships, gunships beat tanks, and so on down the line. Knowing which units to deploy at the right time can make all the difference, and streamlining the “who beats whom” aspect of the game allows for players to concentrate on the commands versus worrying about match-ups. Technically, just about any force can take on any other force, but knowing where the unit lies on the scale helps. Or you could do what I do and just order everyone to attack the same enemy unit. It’s not exactly the soundest of strategies, but will generally work early on in the game if you’re having trouble. Along the way, your units will earn upgrades and ranks depending on their performance in battle. The longer you have a unit by your side, the greater the ally they’ll be further down the line. It’s a nice touch, and shows not only how good of a leader you are, but how good you are at strategizing.
Players will spend most of their time in the single-player campaign battling in one of four modes: Siege (capture a critical building in a capital city), Raid (destroy the majority of critical targets), Assault (eliminate all hostiles), and Conquest (secure the majority of the uplinks). All four game modes are easy to play, but the computer AI can occasionally get a little cheap. During the Conquest, Assault, or Siege modes, the team who is closest to losing gains the use of a WMD. These can be used to destroy or incapacitate critical buildings, thus evening the playing field. Or, at least they’re supposed to. Every time I’ve played Siege mode, the computer has called down the WMD on the one building I’m supposed to capture, thus the game becomes unwinnable at that point. Sure, the computer is responding in a way that makes it difficult for me to win, and I appreciate a little challenge, but when the AI knows there’s no possible way to win, I get a little ticked off. Thankfully, win or lose, each skirmish contributes to the end result, so the game isn’t truly over until one of the three factions has gained majority control of the world.
I was a bit late to the game, so I was very behind in getting online. One of the crowning features of EndWar is a persistent online battle between players acting as the different factions for global dominance. The game lasts a certain amount of turns, and the leader at that point could claim victory for that cycle. Unfortunately, your troops progress the same way online as they do in the single player, so when you first sign up, all your forces are low-level soldiers, and you can only access the early story missions. I honestly spent about 15 minutes on several different occasions waiting for an opponent. I never got one. Instead of getting to try this cool new premise, I opted to just play quick 1 vs 1 matches, where units were equally mid-level for both sides. EndWar is fun to play against another person, but since the game relies on voice chat for commands, there was no way for me to talk to my opponent during the skirmish. It may not be that big a deal, but there should’ve been an easy way to communicate with them other than sending them a text message.
Stories in the Tom Clancy universe are often complex political thrillers, with as many twists and turns as a telenovela. Getting a chance to play through the story from three different perspectives provided a depth to this game that is missing from many Tom Clancy. Of course, the superb voice acting and impressive visual presentation may have had something to do with it as well. There’re even a few nods to other games in the TCU, particularly General Scott Mitchell, who fans may remember as the lead character from Ghost Recon Advanced War Fighter. The game transitions smoothly from unit to unit across the battlefield, and watching buildings crumble in real-time is certainly much more interesting than if it were to happen in a cut scene. True to the other games sharing the Clancy lineage, Ubisoft has put together an impeccable visual package, which other games in the genre should look to as the benchmark.
Even though the game has its flaws, Tom Clancy’s EndWar ends up being a fairly impressive effort. The voice command controls work well most of the time, and teamed up with the rest of the presentation, you have a solid start to what will most likely be another decent franchise bearing the Tom Clancy name. If you’ve never played an RTS, or only played them on PC, EndWar is a great introduction to the genre. I look forward to what Ubisoft will be doing with this game in the future. EndWar shouldn’t be missed, and if you can find the time to get into it, you’ll be pleasantly surprised.