Tom Clancy’s EndWar Review: Voices Of The Battlefield
Once in a while, a game comes along that changes people minds’ about an entire genre of gaming, and, when that happens, it really speaks to the quality of the game. Few titles in the past have been so expertly crafted, with such a broad appeal, that they have actually convinced gamers to make the jump into unknown territory. In recent memory; “Advance Wars” showed gamers that turn-based strategy games were as addictive as they were complex, and “Guitar Hero” proved that rhythm games can be more than just dancing on a mat. Over the last few years, these games have not only defined their respective genres, but they’ve refined gaming as a whole. There’s now another title worthy of adding to that list, “Tom Clancy’s EndWar.”
“EndWar” takes the normally very complex, very niche genre of real-time strategy games and actually makes it accessible for your standard gamer – make that standard console games. Fortunately, Ubisoft Shanghai’s definition of accessible doesn’t mean dumbing the game down, or making it easier just to sell more copies. Their way of making the game accessible actually makes the concept, gameplay, and controls of the game less intimidating, while still retaining the crux of the RTS experience. In other words, “EndWar”’s appeal is unique enough that it should cross the line and appeal to gamers that have never before tried an RTS game, as well as longtime fans of the genre.
The one feature of “EndWar” that immediately stands out is the ability to control the game with your voice. There may have been some games have tried to do this in the past, but never on a console, and never on the scale of “EndWar.” While it is a vastly complicated system, with multiple branching trees of commands and options for your troops on the battlefield; it boils down to you basic RTS controls of telling your men who and what to attack.
For example, if you want your gunships to take out the tanks that are across the field all you need to do is state the gunships unit, what you want them to do, and who you want them to do it to – “Unit, 3, Attack, Hostile, 5” – each step being one level of the command tree. While that may be oversimplifying the vast branches of the command tree, that’s mostly what you end up doing.
The commands range for anything and everything you would need to do on a battlefield; from securing enemy bases to calling in weapons of mass destruction. It can all be done just by saying the correct commands. Unfortunately, the amazing new control scheme actually leads to one of shortcomings of the game. There are a lot of commands, many of which your standard gamer won’t be familiar with. For example, the targets on the battlefield are labeled with letters of the alphabet, and, in order to distinguish each letter clearly, they all have words associated to them. Anyone that has played “Call of Duty” before will be familiar with the lingo for “C.” “O,” and “D” (Charlie, Oscar, Delta respectively), but did you know “Lima” is “L,” and “Yankee” is “Y.” While it doesn’t completely hold the game back from greatness, since the command tree offers a visual progression of what is being called out as it is being said, you are still at a disadvantage from the outset of the game, and may have some homework. It may also make for some level of hesitation on the playing field, and, even in the solo campaign, a little bit of hesitation can get you killed. Perhaps including some kind of field manual/reference guide with the game would have solved this problem.
The game does a good job of recognizing the voice commands; just make sure that your controller’s battery is charged, and that you speak clearly into the microphone. The technology is very impressive, but a little bit of laziness on the player’s behalf when you’re calling out your commands, can result in a whole lot of frustration - accidentally calling in an airstrike on the uplink you were trying to secure.
For those of you out there who may not be comfortable yelling at your television (although, you have a legitimate reason for once) you can still control the game entirely with your controller. In fact, Ubisoft Shanghai have included multiple ways to do virtually everything on the battlefield. You can execute most of your commands simply by selecting the unit you want to do use, and pointing the reticule at what you want to interact with. Additionally, if you have a Command Vehicle on the field, you can play the game from a much more relaxed, top-down, virtual view using the game’s SITREP. While each mode offers its’ advantages and disadvantages, having them all available allows the player to really decide what’s the best way for them to play the game.
While the controls of “EndWar” may be a departure from anything that has ever been accomplished on a console, the same can’t really be said for the story. It’s your standard Tom Clancy fare, with the world on the brink of World War III, it’s up to you to control one of the warring factions and carry them through to world domination. On the plus side, the story is dynamic, and allows you to choose which side you’d like to fight the battle as, either the United States of America, The European Federation, or the Spetsnaz Guard Brigade. The story plays out on a map of the world that should remind most players of the board game Risk, and as you progress through the battles of the game, your performance influences everything else that is going on in the world, including the story. For example, if you raid an enemy base, you cut off their mission support for three turns. Again, it’s a really deep experience all around.
The game’s depth brings difficulty. There is a whole lot going on, both on and off the field, in “EndWar,” and it definitely can be a bit much for someone that’s just looking for a pick-up-and-play game. First, you need an understanding of the rules of the battlefield – what beats what (tank beats transport beats gunship beats tank) - as well as each unit’s abilities and shortcomings. It’s a wildly deep game, and it’s really easy to get lost with everything going on. The game offers a lengthy tutorial, but it still might be a bit much for some gamers to juggle. Just like in a real war, if you can’t process everything that’s going on with all of your units on the field at one time, it’s going to be a really short battle.
On the battlefield, the gameplay is fast and furious, with the missions being broken down into four separate types of battles - Conquest, Assault, Raid, and Siege. Conquest missions are a race to secure half of the uplink points on the map before the time runs out. Assault mode is an all out attack on your opponents, where the goal is to defeat all of your enemies. Raid matches put you either on the offense or defense of strategic targets on the board, and you have to either destroy or defend half of them before the time runs out. In Siege mode, you need to take the critical point on the map, while your opponents try to take you out.
And then there’s the multiplayer. RTS games may have great, in-depth stories in their single player campaigns, but their true quality, and longevity, usually comes from their multiplayer capabilities. Pitting your combat skills against another human being in an RTS game can prove to be a truly amazing (and time consuming) experience, unlike other multiplayer games. The same can be said about “EndWar.” Matches are available for competitive and co-op play, and, should you chose to, you can take part in a giant, worldwide meta-game called “Theater of War.” You choose a side, and play for domination along side thousands of other players who are aligned with you in a persistent campaign of World War III.
At its’ heart, “EndWar” is truly an RTS game, complete with everything that comes along with RTS games like resource management, and point spending, as well as and battalion upgrades based on your performance in battle. The RTS elements have been a bit simplified on the surface, but if you really want to dig in, and upgrade each of your individual units, you could spend hours perfecting your task force. “EndWar” has just the right balance of depth and simplicity to open the door to new gamers, while not deconstructing the game to a point where fans of RTS games might be turned off.
For a genre that hasn’t ever really done well on consoles, from a studio that has never done an RTS game, “EndWar” is a welcome change for anyone that is looking for a new experience – whether you’re an RTS gamer or not. The voice controls are not a gimmick; they work exceptionally well, and the result is one of the most immersive experiences ever offered on a console. “EndWar” is definitely one of, if not the, most innovative games of the year. It’s also an experience that you need to play to fully understand. “EndWar” is twitch gaming for the mind, and one of the freshest and most exciting experiences available this generation.