Console real time strategy (RTS) games have long suffered from limited usability and the speed limitations that occur from having to use sticks and a few buttons, as opposed to a mouse and keyboard.
In a high speed environment such as that of your usual RTS, this has always been a mitigating factor, and it is precisely this that Ubisoft have attempted to correct with Tom Clancy’s EndWar with the inclusion of voice support.
Considering the level of risk that can be involved with trying new approaches to traditional formulas, Ubisoft have outdone themselves, and we can honestly say that we have been very impressed.
The story is that the US and the EU sign the SLAMS (Space-Land-Air-Missile Shield) Treaty, effectively bringing nuclear warfare to an end in 2014, as missiles can be destroyed before reaching their targets. The Russians were left out of these negotiations and effectively accelerated their own research and development. However, in 2015 an energy crisis hits, as oil companies have been overstating the state of their reserves. A push begins as countries attempt to secure oil.
The countries in Western Europe merge to form the European Federation, a world power to challenge the likes of the US and Russia. The US begins a push to take control of space, and in 2020 when set to launch a ground breaking space station there is a terrorist attack on the launch site, as well as on numerous sites in all three regions. Due to the tension between the US, the EF and Russia each begin blaming each other and as momentum increases they head towards a full-scale global war. The scenario is frightening and plausible, and after all, Tom Clancy previously predicted the Georgian conflict in the original Ghost Recon, right down to the month of the year.
Tom Clancy’s EndWar in single-player puts you in a turn-based global map where you can see World War III panning out across the US and all of Europe. Fortunately Australasia has been left out of this one, so the game doesn’t get too personal. On this map you can see which battles have been won, and which need to be fought in any given turn. You can then select just one of the battles available to fight, and by winning it you will win it for your faction. This can gain you a tactical advantage in the next battle, for example capturing an airbase will provide you with air-support and additional reinforcements in your engagements that are within range of the air-base. This makes the tactical aspect of the game two-fold, once on the world map and then of course in the battles.
Each mission can be either a Conquest, Assault, Raid, or a Siege. Each have different victory requirements; Siege for example requiring you to capture a capital city uplink point within a time-limit, and hold it against a wave of attackers without access to reinforcements.
The battles will require a cool head and keen senses. You need to be fully aware of what is going on on the battlefield, as every unit has pretty strict advantages and disadvantages against units, particularly when you can only have a maximum of twelve units on the battlefield at one time. The majority of these will need to be called in, as you gain command points for capturing points on the map, and also slowly over time. Riflemen gain range, damage, and protection by hiding out in buildings, gunships are excellent against tanks, and tanks are excellent against anti-aircraft. If you aren’t aware of this order you will most certainly be annihilated, and it pays to always keep in mind these limitations as you send units around the battlefield.
Having a command vehicle provides you with a sitrep, an overhead map that allows you to command vehicles from the map - opposed to from a camera situated overhead of the vehicle. This helps because the camera is tethered quite close to a vehicle, giving you a similar line-of-sight as that of the unit, thus doing away with the usual fog of war approach. This does put you up close and personal with your units, and Ubisoft have added chatter to the units to make them appear even more real.
The only downside to the combat is that often when units get into trouble it is difficult to get support to them in time which can be frustrating when you have a crack infantry squad being blown to pieces, but that is why tactical thinking is very important in this game. There is however no base building at all, which means you are solely in charge of units and calling units onto the battlefield, which does allow you to concentrate more on the battles.
The use of cover, as well as taking to higher ground is exceptionally important, particularly with infantry as detailed above. Infantry are not limited to entering buildings however (which they do Rainbow Six style), but can also take cover in craters and behind debris, over which they will take pot shots at the enemy. It can be quite amazing seeing your units in action, and it simply shows what an exceptional job Ubisoft have done creating a realistic battlefield experience. Other units included in the game include artillery, as well as engineers. All your units can be upgraded over time with funds that you gain by winning battles. This will moderately alter the unit, for example at the highest level your riflemen will be made into a sniper unit. These changes can be made to all of your units with enough funding, and seeing the changes you make in effect on the battlefield is thrilling.
On top of this units will increase in rank and skill, and these increases will make you all the more cautious to not lose the unit in battle, as they are not necessarily simply replaceable.
The innovative part of Tom Clancy’s EndWar is the implementation of voice commands for your units. After a short introduction to the voice command system you are dropped in it, but you will quickly find that the system is intuitive and reasonably intelligent. It can correctly interpret nearly all of your commands, and when it couldn’t it was usually because we were speaking too quietly. This could be a physical limitation on the Xbox 360’s headset, but overall it didn’t impact the gameplay considerably.
Commands will read something like this; “Unit 3 secure Bravo” or “Unit 3 engage Hostile 2”. Once you have commanded units across a few battles, you will be quite familiar with the commands, and for those of you having to play quietly to avoid waking a sleeping partner need not despair, you can revert to more traditional controls using the buttons, but you will soon miss the edge that voice commands can give you, particularly when shouting “Unit 5 retreat!” into the mic.
Only on occasion did we have a problem with commanding units, when they take a long route to what should have been a simple destination, but overall they were pretty smart about it. Soldiers will often attempt to move along the side of buildings, rather than through the open, or through trees to use them as cover. This helps when they do come under fire as you can get them to hunker down, although getting units to take cover can be occasionally tricky as it does require you to select the cover, and to our knowledge there is no voice command to that effect.
Graphically EndWar isn’t absolutely stunning, but it does look very good considering the open 3D RTS environment that has been created. It is highly functional and the environments are very interesting, especially at locations such as Paris with the Eiffel Tower in the background. Burnt-out units will end up littering the battlefields, and units will smoke and look beaten up when they get hammered. This will happen when a unit's shield is dropped and they take hits. If you can get them to safety for their shield to regenerate, you can minimise the damage. It's a good system that works well due to the limited number of units you can access, therefore using each unit to its full potential is vital.
What is fun, is that when you do begin to lose a battle, access to some WMD's will be enabled which you can then launch at your enemy. This allows you to either go out with a bang, or turn the tables in a tricky situation. These include air-strikes as well as tactical lasers, each looking spectacular.
The single-player campaign comes in a range of difficulties, but it certainly is a challenging experience. It does do a very good job at mimicking the tactics employed by real players online, and therefore can prepare you quite well for the task ahead in the multiplayer.
The multiplayer mode is really worth raving about. The Theatre of War mode involves a raging World War III being played out amongst players all around the world. When you login in you will be presented with the same map as in the game, except that the battle lines are drawn every 24 hours depending on which factions won and lost in which battles. It weighs this up and declares a faction victorious in a region, thus shifting the battle. Ultimately each faction has some victory conditions which need to be met, therefore ending the global war and what we can only guess means restarting it. This is a great concept, as you cannot simply shift factions as you please without incurring a penalty.
So far we have struggled to do too well online, but as you play more you get a better handle on tactics that work and you start to win matches as well. The same upgrades and ranks apply in the multiplayer, again meaning you need to manage your units carefully. We noticed absolutely no lag online and the implementation of the global war map with the game is exceptionally immersive, making you feel like an important part in the fight. There is also a skirmish mode which will allow you to fight your friends in non-ranked matches, but the Theatre of War mode is quite a bit cooler.
Overall EndWar is an excellent RTS. The emphasis is strongly on tactics and the right unit for the job. The graphics are great and the units are responsive and act very realistically. The voice commands are well implemented and accelerate the response times for your units considerably, because the faster you can give them a command the sooner they can enact it, and it is important to get a good handle on these commands. Ultimately if you are an RTS fan you will almost definitely enjoy EndWar.
There is no unit production or base building, but the game puts you firmly in the shoes of a commander in World War III, and does a great job of making you feel the part.
Some minor issues with path-finding, and the frustrations that can arise regarding your enemy exploiting your soldiers weaknesses can be irritating, and do scale up the difficulty curb somewhat. But it's not enough to detract from what is a truly solid title. Top this off with some exceptional multiplayer allowing you to play a part in World War III online, and Tom Clancy’s EndWar is certainly one of the best console RTS titles to date.
If you'd like to see a trailer for Tom Clancy's Endwar, head over to GP Downloads (160MB).