Sunday, November 16, 2008
Tom Clancy's EndWar Review: Vocal Annihilation
As a new real-time strategy franchise, Tom Clancy's EndWar seems to have a lot going for it. First there's that gee-whiz technology that lets you order around grunts like you're McArthur at the Battle of Manila. But better still is the deep world in which the game is built. EndWar is meant to be the ultimate conflict in Tom Clancy's espionage and Cold War universe, a rolling end-of-days war peopled with Ghost Recon teams and Third Echelon black-ops.
But just how much of Tom Clancy got into Tom Clancy's EndWar and how much of it is just about the game's amazing tech?
Voice Recognition: Ubisoft's voice recognition software is by far the best thing about EndWar. There is virtually no set-up, few miscommunications and it runs seamlessly, making the experience of commanding troops not just easier but more immersive. There's nothing like bellowing out orders into a headset then watching them get carried out by soldiers, tanks and helicopters.
Streamlined Command System: Working hand-in-hand with the razor-sharp voice recognition software is a command system that makes speaking your orders as easy as a mouse click. By boiling almost everything down to four or five words, EndWar's control mechanic is easily the best around for a console-based real-time strategy title.
Global War to Local Conflict: The sheer scope of EndWar, encompassing skirmishes, raids and sieges in cities around the world, is impressive. Even more impressive is how the game ties all of these battles together to create the sense of world at war, where every conflict matters. Moving this idea online gives the real-time strategy game the feel of a massively multiplayer title where everyone has to pitch in to make a difference.
Vanilla Aesthetic: If Blizzard showed us nothing else, it's that the art style of units and backdrops can make or break a real-time strategy title. These are the units you will be ordering about for the entire life of the game, they are the settings you will fight through time and time again. EndWar's units are bland, mundane looking military knock-offs, and the settings begin to blend together after just hours of play. It doesn't help that there's really not much splash in the thick of battle either.
Poor Pathfinding: It's difficult in EndWar, unlike with mouse and keyboard titles, to nudge your troops to specific locations. Instead, you have to hope that "Unit 1 Move to Alpha" does the trick. Because the game relies on such broad commands it's problematic that units seem to be in desperate need of a map to find their way from point A to point B.
Muddled Story and Campaign: Despite a humanizing introduction and the tantalizing lead-in to the game, once things get going, EndWar is a surprisingly personality-free title. Sure you have tactics and enemy attacks laid out for you between skirmishes and the game tries to track which commanders you've fought against before. But it's such a web of battles that it's hard to tell when what you're doing makes any sort of difference and the plot quickly becomes nearly transparent window dressing.
Generic Strategy Gameplay: It feels that the team at Ubisoft Shanghai used up all of their creativity with that wonderful voice-recognition command system. EndWar is the epitome of rock-paper-scissors strategy. There are a few super attacks that can be unleashed, like mini-nukes and support forces, but in general the game is far too simplistic to have any lasting power for fans of strategy.
Needs More Clancy: It's got his name in it, right there at the top of the box, so why isn't more obvious this is a Clancy game? In theory, the Ghost Recon teams make an appearance as playable units in the game, but that's really just in name. And, from what I saw, that's it. Why use the Clancy name and not tap into the rich background it affords?
You really can't understate the brilliance of EndWar's voice command system. Even in this simple form it shows so much potential that I'm eager to see what game it shows up in next. But a new bit of innovative technology, no matter how amazing, isn't enough to support a triple-A title. The game works. Technically it is almost flawless. But there's no soul, no depth, no story, nothing really, to make even a hardcore strategy fan such as myself want to play the game for any length of time.
Tom Clancy's EndWar may have been worthy of a purchase at a time when there weren't so many other excellent titles vying for a shrinking budget, but not now. I just hope that now that the technology for this command system has been proven, it can be placed in a game with a bit more substance and character.
Tom Clancy's EndWar was developed by Ubisoft Shanghai, published by Ubisoft and released on Nov. 4 for the DS, PC, PlayStation 3, PlayStation Portable and Xbox 360. Retails for $59.99 USD. It was reviewed on the PlayStation 3. Played the single-player campaign, tested campaign coop and skirmish.