Of Mechs and Mutants
Translating the RTS genre to home consoles is a very tricky proposition. While a few developers have managed to make quite respectable entries, most games aren’t worth the time and effort it takes to play them. Such is the case with Stormrise for the Xbox 360 and PS3. While the game was built from the ground up to bring RTS to home consoles, the intuitive controls of a mouse and keyboard are sorely missed.
The touted Whip Select control mechanic is foiled by the multitude of tiny troop icons, frustrating players’ tactics rather than facilitating their strategies. Moreover, the red vs. blue, black and white world of Stormrise makes for a trite narrative that won’t compel players to see the campaign to its conclusion. Fortunately, a deep and accessible co-op and multiplayer online feature helps to somewhat redeem the package, though not entirely so, as the controls manage to overwhelm the title’s best quality.
Stormrise is set on a weather-ravaged Earth. Humans managed to control weather patterns through technology. However, wielding such power proved to be far too great for them, resulting in a global disaster known only as The Event. As the heavens unleashed their fury in the form of unrelenting firestorms, only a fortunate few, known as the Echelon, were able to escape its wrath by heading into underground bunkers and cryogenic sleep chambers. While this remnant of humanity slept, a handful of surface survivors managed to eke out an existence, all the while evolving and mutating thanks to the radiation of the storms, eventually transforming into the Sai. As Commander Geary of the Echelon, you’ll have to hop in your mech-suit, head out into the wide world, and combat the Sai forces through pitched RTS battles.
Unfortunately, this post-apocalyptic storyline quickly unravels once we begin to meet the supporting cast of characters. Much of this is due to less-than-witty banter and uninspired voice acting, but also has to do with the mundane, predictable nature of the narrative and the way in which it is revealed; the story seems to move along too quickly, as the enemy’s cards are nearly revealed during the tutorial segment. Low-brow plot devices are prevalent throughout the campaign, accentuating the banality of the subsequent twists.
From a gameplay standpoint, Stormrise fares better than the story due to its cursory approach. Unfortunately, the controls do their best trash the experience. Stormrise certainly is an RTS in that you will have to marshal troops and attain objectives. However, all this is controlled via a third-person view from your units’ perspectives on the battlefield. While I enjoyed seeing the action up close, I really found the lack of an all-encompassing overview to be frustrating, making the execution of my strategy feel haphazard. Some may argue this constrained perspective makes Stormrise more realistic. I would argue it just makes it terribly inefficient. Besides, there’s nothing realistic about the conflict between the Echelon and the Sai.
The developers get around the necessity of including an overhead view by creating the Whip Select system. Whip Select is employed by holding or flicking the right analog stick toward troop and emplacement icons at the edges of the screen. Holding the right stick allows you to highlight a specific icon. Letting go of the stick confirms the selection. On the other hand, quickly tapping the right stick in the direction of the troops will allow you to cycle through your units. While I enjoyed this mechanic with just a few troops at my disposal, it becomes utterly chaotic when participating in large battles with tons of unit icons onscreen. The game does allow you to group your troops into companies for easier management and a stronger punch. Also, specific units can be mapped to the D-pad for instant access. Even still, wading through the host of tiny icons is unruly, making tough battles exponentially and artificially more difficult.
To make matters worse, the poor orchestration of your units is intensified by serious pathfinding issues. While the maps are interestingly laid out – making for a lot of strategic opportunities on the ground, in the air, and on the tops of buildings – getting your units to those spots is often a micromanagement nightmare. This intense, hands-on approach is supposed to be abated by the ability to issue movement orders via holographic control point icons. Unfortunately, troops inevitably take the scenic route, making orchestrated pincer moves utterly trying. This is an especially detrimental flaw in Stormrise, as catching the enemy in a crossfire is essential for putting them down efficiently and taking the objective.
Instead of building various strategic installations such as resource depots, factories, harvesters, etc., players simply have to bounce from control point to control point, establishing energy nodes and portals. These points prove to be essential to success, as they are what allow you to summon new units. The game mostly revolves around capturing these points, and then protecting them with turret emplacements and shields, and expanding their functionality and efficiency with refineries.
All these pesky and disruptive control foibles make the game exceedingly wearisome. Unfortunately, the game’s presentation isn’t a whole lot better. As previously mentioned, the voice over work is poor. While the actors are obviously professionals, the voices used are so cliché and typecast it makes the characters completely unbelievable. Moreover, the barrage of repetitive, in-battle unit comments are grating! Graphically, the game looks sharp but doesn’t hold up when put through its paces. The framerate is a constant issue and platoons glitch their way around the battlefield. Even through the frontline, third-person perspective, the action tends to be too small and chaotic to truly appreciate what’s going on.
While the single-player campaign is entirely forgettable, the online and LAN co-op and multiplayer features do their best to extend the life of the title. Matching up with players is easy enough, though getting the maximum contingent of eight players is never really possible due to the lack of community. While I found playing with and against random players to be frustrating, I can see how many will find this to be the game’s best facet. Playing in a party with a group of friends or even lining up a set of consoles and linking them together could be great fun. Unfortunately, players will still have to deal with the shoddy controls, making competitive and cooperative play less appealing than they otherwise could be.
While Stormrise was a noble effort by The Creative Assembly to develop an RTS from the ground up with an original control scheme, in the end it falls flat on its face. In fact, the controls prove to be the game’s worst aspect, and the single-player campaign is additionally marred by a pedestrian storyline.
RATING OUT OF 5 RATING DESCRIPTION 3.0 Graphics
While the game looks sharp, getting into action reveals major framerate issues. 2.5 Control
The controls aren’t broken, they’re just terribly inefficient – a true no-no for an RTS. Pathfinding issues also do their best to put the kibosh on the strategic elements. 2.5 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
Though the voice acting is professional, the cliché voices used and the low-brow dialog make the game painful to listen to. 2.5 Play Value
This game will be a struggle for aficionados and novices of the genre alike to get into. If you can somehow manage the controls, online play may be worth your while. 2.5 Overall Rating – Average
Not an average. See Rating legend above for a final score breakdown.