Reviewed: November 28, 2008
Released: November 4, 2008
If you have followed any of my reviews in the past, it is pretty obvious that I am a tried and true disciple of Ubisoft’s military simulations. In fact, even with the recent dirge of co-op titles hitting our collections (Gears of War 2, Resistance 2, etc.) that really should be taking up our time, the members of my weekly Xbox Live party still prefer to stick with Ghost Recon Advanced Warfighter and Rainbow Six Vegas – because the games are that good.
Whether we are talking about the Rainbow Six, Ghost Recon, or Splinter Cell franchises (all set in the Tom Clancy theater of war) – there is no doubt that the folks at Ubisoft know how to make a great tactical military simulation. Naturally, when Ubisoft made an announcement about EndWar; a new real time strategy (RTS) title based in the Clancy lineage, it received a bit of attention.
The RTS genre has had a very difficult time crossing over from the point-and-click micromanaging realm of the PC to the controller gripping sofa soldiers of the console world. So, when the folks at Ubisoft mentioned molding EndWar’s gameplay mechanics around a Madden-like play-calling framework to make the game friendlier for the console gamers – it further peaked our interest in the title.
After a year and a half of press, we finally have a review copy of EndWar in our hands; and while it delivers on all of the technical promises made by Ubisoft Shanghai, most seasoned console gamers will find the end result a bit too confining for their tastes.
As with most Clancy titles, the game takes place in the near-distant future of 2020. The story states that in 2015, after it is discovered that the world’s leading oil companies have been overstating the amount of available oil, the world’s three major superpowers (US, European Federation, and Russia) suddenly begin clamoring power too control the remaining reserves.
The story goes on to say that 2018 finds the US announcing the production a manned space station that will pull double duty – first as a research lab, and second as barracks a group of highly trained Marines that can deploy anywhere on the globe in 90 minutes time. The EF and Russia see this move as a violation of a previously signed disarmament agreement, and decide to separate from NATO – signaling the beginnings of World War III.
As any Ubisoft vet knows, the opening cinematic cutscenes of any Clancy-branded title are a real treat, and EndWar’s are definitely worth the price of admission. But as with any Clancy game, the story is interesting but not integral to the gameplay – as in the end it basically boils down to good versus bad – friendlies vs. tangos.
EndWar opens by giving gamers a handful of single and multiplayer game types. Assault plays like a standard death match (or sharpshooter without respawns to Clancy vets) mode; i.e. kill everything. Conquest plays much like the Battlefront style skirmishes, with “uplink sites” that need to be controlled for 5 minutes time.
Raid is similar to Conquest, except the objective is not to control uplink sites, but to destroy (or defend) specific targets within a specific 10-minute time frame. Finally, Seige is like a hybrid of the above, with offensive forces given a 10-minute window to gain a specific uplink that defenders must keep secure without supporting troop re-spawns.
Up to this point, EndWar sounds a whole lot like any other RTS title. But where the game really stands out is in way it approaches the aspect of control. As mentioned previously, EndWar was designed with the console gamer in mind, as opposed to the point-and-click world of the PC. As so, the Ubisoft developers dug into their box of tricks and came up with an incredibly innovative form of input – voice control.
Any seasoned Rainbow Six vet knows just how well Ubisoft’s voice recognition coding works –gamers have been using voice input to direct their Rainbow Six teammates to do tasks like “Hold,” “Follow,” and the more complex “Flash and Clear” and the like. While Rainbow Six’s level of voice recognition has kept gamers astounded for the last half a decade, what we find in EndWar is significantly more intriguing.
The developers wanted the voice input to be conversational as possible, and other than a few simple rules that need to be followed; it is definitely more human than robotic. The voice commands have three basic parts; who, what, and where. The “who” refers to the unit that is directly receiving the order. The “what” is the action the order is calling out. Finally, the “where” is the destination of the order – generally an enemy unit.
The most basic of the commands would be “Unit 1 Attack Hostile 1” – but these commands can get much more detailed as the game becomes more involved. Thankfully, the game helps keep the commands straight with on-screen command tree that helps fill in any blanks by automatically showing the available commands. It is very difficult to do it justice on paper, but believe me when I say it is amazingly intuitive.
To keep from having stray noise and sound affecting the gameplay, EndWar requires gamers to pull a shoulder button to initiate the voice commands. With the voice control, the camera control, and the D-pad hot swapping between units, it pretty much sums up the extent of the controller usage. The game does support DualShock 3 rumble, as well as the SIXAXIS motion for jumping between units (although I prefer the D-Pad).
While the early levels of EndWar start off easy, the game quickly ramps up the difficulty level – and what begins as calculated and calm direction of your various land and air supports, quickly becomes frantic hot swapping between units and barking of orders. EndWar is no walk in the park, and every new battle will leave you mentally and physically exhausted – making the victory that much sweeter.
For those looking online play - the battle gets even more intense when EndWar is taken to PSN for the 4 player skirmishes. Much like any title, the online foes far outweigh the preprogrammed AI. I myself could not hold a candle to my online combatants, but it definitely was a treat to see those masters work the battlefield.
EndWar looks great as well – the folks at Ubisoft really know how to utilize the Unreal engine to make realistic looking locales. For the most part, individual battle units move realistically, and break from hard formations unlike many other RTS titles. The explosions are particularly appealing, as well as the aftermath as felled helicopters spiral to the ground.
The overall presentation is top notch – especially the between-mission briefings that are on par with that of Splinter Cell and Rainbow Six. Again, none of it really affects the gameplay much, but it does help break up the monotony that many RTS’s struggle with.
The audio is great as well – with access to one of the best wartime sound effects libraries in the industry, the developers at Ubisoft Shanghai have been able to deliver an incredibly realistic audio experience. Again, the explosions are real highlight – the thunderous booms, especially in 5.1, give new meaning to shock and awe.
But while it may sound like I am gushing over EndWar, the game has some definite and significant faults. Not the least of which is the confining nature of the physical controls. Most console gamers like to have direct control over the onscreen action. Imagine the frustration in seeing one of your battle vehicles surrounded by a unit of enemy helicopters, and you have absolutely no control over the unit other than screaming at it – you can’t make it go faster, or slower, or dodge, or weave, or anything.
Then there is the anxiety factor – which can get a tad too frantic for my tastes. Sure, the victory is sweeter, but if it comes at the cost of a nervous breakdown, I’ll just have a candy bar. Seriously, EndWar is one of the most mentally taxing games I have ever played, and while it was definitely rewarding in the end, it was not the relaxing escape I typically search for in my gaming.
Finally, in order to fully utilize EndWar, gamers absolutely MUST have a BlueTooth® headset – which can be a substantial investment. I would suggest that if any interested gamers do not have a headset already, that they search around online before they pick up one of the 3rd party units being sold at the game stores.
BlueTooth headsets typically run anywhere between $20 and $100 dollars from cell phone dealers, whereas game stores charge about $50. But with frugal shopping at sites like Overstock.com and Buy.com, headsets can be found for substantially less cost. The headset I use works perfectly fine, and I picked it up holiday time a year ago for a grand total of $0.99 with free overnight shipping after setting up a Google Checkout account.
After following EndWar’s development progress for all these months, I have to say that I am hugely impressed with the delivered product. EndWar definitely takes the RTS genre to the next level with its amazing use of voice recognition technology and highly intelligent AI. And while I can say that the game was entirely rewarding, it was so mentally challenging that I began to dread each new battle.
EndWar is definitely a game that Ubisoft’s military simulation fans need to look at, as it is a natural extension of the gameplay that you (we) hold so dear. But EndWar is not for the faint of heart, and will ultimately only appeal to select console gamers.