Marshaling Forces at a Word
Translating real-time strategy (RTS) games to consoles used to be a very tricky prospect; mouse and keyboard-driven controls are simply the most efficient human interface devices for the genre. However, recently, a few developers have been able to make RTS controls function admirably on the current generation of consoles.
Nevertheless, it’s still a feat that only a handful of developers are able to pull off. As such, RTS games are typically best left for strictly PC gaming – until now, that is. Ubisoft Shanghai has implemented a voice recognition command system for Tom Clancy’s EndWar that not only works as intuitively as a mouse and keyboard, but also heightens the experience by making players feel like a true battlefield commander.
EndWar takes place in the near future, 12 years to be exact. Energy independence has become more than just a hot-button issue and Election Day talking point; it is a crucial concern for any nation’s prosperity and survival. In 2020, the world is lead by three superpowers: the United States, the European Federation, and Russia. Ever since the 2016 tragedy in the Middle East (Saudi Arabia suffers a horrible nuclear attack that killed six million people and utterly crippled the world’s most important oil refineries), the U.S. and the European Federation have instated a ban on all nuclear weapons, launching a network of Reagan-esque Star Wars satellites to combat the future launch of such weapons. However, all is not so pacific. As the world rejoices in the glow of an age without nukes, Russia begins a massive military ramp up after securing their place as the world’s number one producer of fossil fuels. In response, the U.S. has constructed the Freedom 4 fleet (a military space station to secure its own defense) – a move that threatens to undermine the Russian military advantage and reignite a new Cold War arms race. Add to this pressure cooker some underhanded scheming and a terrorist threat from the shadowy group known as the Forgotten Army and you’ve got a recipe for WWIII. Thankfully, this is all just a figment of Tom Clancy’s imagination (though he’s often eerily prescient in his stories), and players get to take advantage of the deadly scenario to play war games.
EndWar is an RTS that has players take the side of one of the three factions in WWIII. You will control faction-specific units in order to secure objectives in any one of the multitude of interesting maps in North America, Europe, and Russia. Units include Riflemen, Combat Engineers, Combat Transports, Tanks, Gunships, Artillery, and Command Vehicles. Each unit has its own strengths and weaknesses and should be deployed accordingly in order to combat opposing units efficiently and secure specific objectives in a timely manner. For instance, in classic RTS fashion, Tanks beat Combat Transports, which best Gunships, which in turn trump Tanks. Keeping the various unit triangles (Combat Chains) in mind proves decisive during combat.
Every faction’s units also have unique characteristics that will influence players’ faction selection: the U.S. Joint Strike Force uses precision attacks, stealth, and robotics to win the day; the European Federation Enforcers Corps are urban specialists, use electronic warfare, and have vehicles with outstanding mobility; the Russian Spetsnaz Guard Brigade uses heavy firepower and the strongest, gun-laden, armored vehicles to enforce their will upon the battlefield. Regardless of faction, units that survive battles acquire experience, rise in rank from Recruit to Legendary, and are upgraded in any of four areas: Attack, Defense, Mobility, and Ability. This upgrading of units over time will have players doing their best to protect and take advantage of their forces without simply calling in reinforcements willy-nilly to secure objectives.
Objectives (Mission Types) include controlling a map’s data uplink sites (Conquest), holding out against invading forces on defense or besieging a strategic zone while attacking (Siege), taking out/guarding key energy installations or crippling/protecting important military sites (Raid), or simply obliterating all enemy units from the battlefield (Assault).
Players can battle it out against heady A.I. in the single-player campaign or head online and test their luck against human counterparts. The game modes include Solo Campaign, Skirmish, and Theatre of War. The Solo Campaign is a great way to get your feet wet against solid (even grueling) A.I. and familiarize yourself with the various Mission Types. Also, the engaging storyline of EndWar is revealed through this mode. While enjoyable in its own right, the Solo Campaign is really just a way of sharpening your skill for online play; I doubt players will get addicted to the single-player experience after going through it once. Skirmish and Theatre of War are the modes where the game really shines.
Skirmish, like Solo Campaign, can be played alone, but it also allows you to jump into any map with custom mission parameters online. These one-off battles are great for playing against challenging human competition without getting too involved. However, you can significantly up the ante by entering into the Theatre of War mode. This persistent world is a massive online campaign that pits player versus player and faction versus faction for international bragging rights. Beating people and getting your hat handed to you online is both incredibly rewarding and humbling. As such, future EndWar players are likely to gravitate toward this special mode.
Without a doubt, what separates EndWar from every other RTS out there is its innovative order system. Instead of dealing with clunky menus, players will simply issue commands with their voice. By holding down on the RT or R2 buttons, players call out commands such as “Unit 2 Secure Foxtrot,” “Unit 6 Attack Hostile 3,” “Unit 5 Move to Zulu.” Surprisingly, the units respond flawlessly, and you don’t have to speak slowly either. The game will calibrate itself to your voice prompts, so you’ll never be frustrated by misunderstood orders. I was in awe of just how well this system actually works, and I think RTS fans will love the level of realism it delivers. You truly feel like a field commander!
Graphics and sound in EndWar do a good job of telling the tale. The 40 available maps cover many real-world locales. These distinct battlefields keep things fresh. However, they’re not nearly as detailed as I had hoped. In fact, the world does look a little barren except for key landmarks; it’s simply not a living world. Also, it can often be challenging to get a good view of the battlefield from a unit’s perspective; the withdrawn camera is frequently obscured by trees and buildings. As such, players will need to keep a Command Vehicle deployed at all times to gain access to real-time maps in order to marshal units effectively. Consequently, you’ll be starring at a boring map with tiny, transparent icons that doesn’t communicate the drama of the battlefield. Graciously, sounds are much better. The voice work is excellent; all the actors are quite believable. I especially liked the extremely varied and smart troop comments while selecting units; it’s a great way to gauge unit morale and to get a chuckle. Also, the funky bass riffs during menu selection screens are nice.
Tom Clancy’s EndWar is a solid RTS that fans of the genre shouldn’t miss. The new voice command system works flawlessly, and players should find it to be a mighty rewarding experience. Still, gamers who aren’t into strategic war-games will likely find the title to be dull. As such, it’s not a must-buy across the board. Nevertheless, it is a noble effort by Ubisoft Shanghai, and one that will doubtless lead to the birth of a strong strategy franchise for the future.
RATING OUT OF 5 RATING DESCRIPTION 3.6 Graphics
The visuals do a decent job of communicating the ambience of the different locales, but unit-perspective camera angle are often obscured, so you’ll have to rely on the boring real-time map to command effectively. 4.5 Control
The voice command system works perfectly. I expect it will be even more refined in future installments. 4.3 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
The voice work between levels and even during troop selection is fantastic. The funky bass riffs on the menu screens are nice. 4.0 Play Value
The single-player campaign is probably only worth one playthrough, but the multiplayer online modes are solid. Still, I doubt non-RTS fans will find the magic. 4.0 Overall Rating – Great
Not an average. See Rating legend above for a final score breakdown.