In days past, if you wanted to play an RTS (Real Time Strategy) game, you were pretty much limited to the PC. As of late we have been gradually seeing more and more RTS games on consoles. We have even seen some nice ideas on how to get an RTS game to work well without a keyboard and mouse, which is by no means easy. Notable efforts include Halo Wars, and the intuitive voice control system of Tom Clancy’s EndWar. The latest new console RTS to hit the scene comes in the form of Stormrise.
Upon booting up Stormrise you will be taken straight into the tutorial mission. Upon first look you could be forgiven for thinking that this is a 3rd person shooter. The camera takes on an up close perspective on the unit you are controlling, similarly to the camera of EndWar, which managed to really bring you onto the battlefield better than the standard isometric viewpoint adopted by most RTS games. Unfortunately the Stormrise version of this doesn’t achieve this, as it just feels clunky and out of place. Due to the way the controls are laid out, and the fact that you can only use the left stick to move the camera, navigating around the map can wind up being really quite frustrating.
Continuing this frustration are the controls. The reason you can only use the left stick for the camera is because the right stick is used for the ‘WHIP’ selection system. Basically, moving the right stick in the direction of another unit will move you over to that unit. Sounds simple enough, and it is. The problems however start to occur when you have multiple units close to each other, as it can become seriously frustrating trying to get control of the unit you want. However this is no way anywhere as annoying as the lack of an option to select large groups of enemies. The best that you can do is to group together up to 3 different units, and even this is annoying to do. Nothing about this control scheme is even remotely nice to use.
Aside from the unique (but horrible) controls, the other key point in this game is ‘Verticality’. What this boils down to is rather than having a flat playing field like most RTS games, you have playing fields with multiple levels. For example, in a city you can actually use the buildings to your advantage by sending troops to high up vantage points on the tops of buildings. It’s a really nice idea that has some definite potential. Unfortunately the controls ruin this potential, as it bad enough just ordering units around on the ground level. When you have to start focusing on multiple levels things just get really quite difficult to control. It’s a real shame because I think that Stormrise may be on to something with the vertical element, and I can only hope that some other RTS will use the idea in a batter way in the future.
Graphically the game isn’t up to much. The setting is one we have seen many times before; that of a post-apocalyptic world. Unfortunately this post-apocalyptic world looks like no end of other games with a similar setting. The colour scheme is bog standard greys and browns, with everything just looking horribly generic. Even the units don’t have any originality to them. Both races (Echelon and Sai) have numerous infantry units that look barely any different from one another. The units that do look different generally look like they have been ripped straight out of other games. I was playing a game and built a big spider-like creature, and once it was built my only thought was “OMG, that’s a Corpser from Gears of War!”. Topping this off are the stiff and blocky unit animations which are just downright horrible.
The audio is just as disappointing. None of the units sound at all realistic, particularly the larger ones. The big armored suit that you start the game in makes a tiny tapping sort of sound as you walk. Where are the big pounding footsteps? This is a big, heavy, metal suit, and I want to hear that when it is moving! In terms of music there are a couple of nice pieces of battle music that dynamically changes as you are playing. This decent music is completely ruined however by the fact that it kicks in at silly times. For example, when I was playing a Skirmish game I got a great piece of action music kicking in, and I was just waiting for this huge battle somewhere. In the end it turned out the only reason it had started was because a couple of infantry units were taking pot shots at me from the roof in the distance. Lame. The only slight saving grace in the audio department is some solid voice work during the single player campaign.
Speaking of the campaign, I should let you know that if you don’t play it, you won’t miss out on much. The story of the struggle between the Echelon and Sai is hugely forgettable. While the voice acting may be good, the script is anything but. The plot is loosely linked together throughout the missions, but very quickly you’ll just end up not giving a damn, and that’s only if you can actually stand playing the game to try and work your way through the campaign, which isn’t very likely. You can always however try the multiplayer of the game with up to 7 other people, if you can find them. The online community for Stormrise is tiny, and finding a game can be a real chore. Then once you actually do get into a game you are of course still actually playing Stormrise, so it is still no fun.
As if all this wasn’t enough, Stormrise is full of technical issues and bugs that further hurt the game. The most obvious of these is how units react when they are fighting. You will often be watching infantry fighting, only for some of the units to drop dead when absolutely no-one is firing. Similarly to this I would occasionally get a message saying that I had defeated the enemy unit, but there was still one or two of the infantry alive when this happened. A couple of seconds later they dropped dead for no reason. Moving large units around is a huge pain due to their inability to move over small objects. Why on earth can’t my huge spider walk over a small sandbag wall? Even worse than this is the framerate, which is choppy most of the time, and can even grind completely to a halt at times.
I know that RTS games on consoles are somewhat thin on the ground, but there really isn’t any reason to buy Stormrise. It’s quite a shame really, because it has a few nice ideas in it, but unfortunately they are buried beneath a mountain of mediocrity. As it stands though, this is a game that isn’t even worthy of the bargain bin, rather the trash bin.