Oil is a much needed commodity. In a world where there is no oil, society pretty much crumbles. Wars will start, people will inevitably die; all over some sticky black liquid. Welcome to the extremely sombre world of EndWar. Nuclear weapons pointed at each other, forces lining the borders, Russia, Europe and America fight it out to try and gain territory and the last few drops of oil left. As with any Tom Clancy game, EndWar is full of political speculation, criticisms and harsh truths on the state of the world. This depth, however, does not transcend well into the actual game.
Of course, the console market is a very harsh terrain to traverse when you are a strategy title such as EndWar. Only two franchises, Civilization and Command & Conquer, have made it through the desert of nitpicky control vultures and Covenant skulls that line the ground alive. Ubisoft have attempted to shake things up a little bit by adding something new to the genre; voice control.
Ubisoft has a long history of voice control in games. The Rainbow Six series contained, in it’s late Xbox to current period, voice control allowing you to move your team around and order them to perform actions. This worked extremely well and gave a sense that you were leading this team of elite soldiers through the scenarios. The natural transition would be to a strategy game, allowing the player to feel like an armchair general. The voice command does work well, both in theory and in practise and is something Ubisoft should be quite proud of.
After you’ve calibrated the voice controls, it is pretty easy to get into a routine of shouting simple sentences such as “Unit 1 move to Bravo” into the headset when needed. The use of simple sentences such as the above makes memorising the commands a lot easier, allowing you to perform the necessary commands quickly. Used in conjunction with the D-Pad (which is also an option of controlling your troops) it allows for quick and easy manaevuring of units around the maps and into position. The problem I found with the voice command feature is that, very easily, the game will mishear what you say and end up sending your units in the complete opposite direction. This can get extremely annoying at times to the point where I ended up shouting into my headset. Obviously, with a bit of fine tuning I’m sure the feature will work fine but in it’s current state it sometimes makes EndWar unplayable.
The strategy of the combat comes in a simple rock-paper-scissors function where the transport units beat the helicopter, the helicopter beats the tank and the tank beats the transport. Other than these three units you have a number of others including basic riflemen, engineers and artillery. These units allow some discovery as to the best tactics for the situation. For example, do you house your riflemen in a building near the objective you need to defend to keep them safe or do you attack the enemy with a barrage of artillery to stop them from advancing.
The game leads you through a number of different types of missions, which don’t differ much from each other but allow you to incorporate different tactics in each case. The first type is Conquest, during which you must capture and hold over half of the uplinks on the map for 5 minutes or just completely wipe the enemy out. The second is Raid, which involves you defending or destroying key buildings for ten minutes. The third is Assault which is a straight up, no holds barred deathmatch and the final mission type is Seige where you must attack or defend a crutial uplink on the map. The missions themselves do nothing else but to boost up your units with upgrades you’ve acheived through the missions ready for the grander battles near the end of the game.
EndWar is very stripped down. There is no resource management, no buildings that need to be made. It’s all about the combat. You can gain Command Points to call in troops as reinforcement or to use the WMDs by waiting for the points to regenerate or gaining bonus ones through capturing uplinks or killing enemies, which saves all the fiddly micromanagement that could halt a fast paced game such as EndWar to nothing more than a snails pace.
EndWar provides some truly amazing battles…that could be more amazing with better AI. The brilliant set pieces, such as a war torn Paris, aren’t enough to hide the fact that the AI is pretty poor throughout, be it on your team or the enemies team. You may, for instance, order a squad of riflemen to capture an uplink. They will, nine times out of ten, take what seems to be the longest route possible when you yourself can clearly see a much quicker path that is a lot safer too.
This leads me to another problem I have with the game. The camera. Traditional RTS titles allow you a full view of the map, even if some parts are shrouded in the fog of war. EndWar, on the other hand, keeps the camera behind the squad you are currently commanding if you wish to do so. You can flick cameras between units but your range of movement is limited to the immediate vacinity of the unit itself. You can’t explore the map or anything similar, you are restrained to seeing what the unit sees in effect. This is probably my ingrained familiarity with the free roaming camera, but I really hate being restricted as to where I go. I’m the damn commander for goodness sake! There is the SitRep view, which can be called up if you have a Command Vehicle, but it doesn’t really make up for the stupid camera.
The online mode of EndWar, Theatre of War, sounds good on paper but is just too confusing to work well in the game. The map is essentially the same as the map in campaign. You pick an area to invade or defend as your country and wait for someone to pick up the defense of the country or attack your area. It is the campaign but with real people instead of AI. Every 24 hours, battlefields are re-assigned depending on the victories or defeats held there to suit the action in realtime. However, jumping into it just doesn’t make much sense.
Only a few games have managed to make a console RTS work. EndWar is not one to add to this pile. It is fun in places and the voice command is a nice addition, but in it’s current state it just doesn’t seem all that enjoyable. A few tweaks here and there could get this game up to scratch, but it’s one to leave or rent for now.