One of the first things you wonder about any console real-time strategy games is how well it controls. While EA has done a generally good job translating the mouse-and-keyboard setup to a console controller with their Command & Conquer series, and other companies are also jumping in on the act, it still remains largely inferior. But now Ubisoft has entered the fray with a control scheme that’s…well, different. You see, the control scheme in question is your voice.
It’s been the major hyped feature of Tom Clancy’s EndWar, so how about we start things off by judging how well it actually works. To issue commands, you hold a trigger button and say a number of preset commands into your headset. This generally involves selecting a unit by number, and telling them to attack an appropriate enemy. You can also do anything from calling in reinforcements to centering the camera on a particular trooper.
If you speak in a clear voice, and there’s a minimum of background noise, the system works surprisingly well. At its best, the gimmick actually feels useful, and gives you a sense of immediacy that can be lacking in these kinds of games. Mind you, it also makes you sound like a bit of an idiot if people keep walking past you.
There are a couple of downsides of course. If you’re not careful in your speech, the game will do the wrong thing, which isn’t very good when you’re in the middle of battle. You also can’t forego the controller in the slightest – it’s still needed to set waypoints and the like, and can sometimes work out faster than ordering your units one by one.
So how’s the actual game? Well unfortunately, it could have done with a bit more depth. It’s World War III, again, with the United States, Russia, and Europe as the main superpowers. You can play as any of the factions, but coming off of a character-driven piece like Red Alert 3, I was disappointed by the lack of much exposition. You essentially play through a series of escalating battles against the AI, with a fairly basic thread tying things together. It’s a bit of a change from the usual Tom Clancy games that offer clichéd yet compelling stories.
Still, the main focus is on the gameplay itself, which is largely a typical rock-paper-scissors system. Infantry, tanks, artillery, gunships, and so on all have strengths and weaknesses compared to other units, and figuring out how best to deploy each type will ensure a victory. For a seasoned PC RTS player, it’s going to feel a bit basic pretty quickly. But even if you’re new to the scene, you’ll have gotten the hang of it all well before the credits roll.
While it gets a bit samey after a while, however, it can still be fun in a cinematic kind of way. The close-in camera gets you more involved, and the graphics and animation do a good job of providing eye candy. I just wish a bit more character had been deployed to spruce things up a bit and make you care for what was going on.
The AI is a bit of a letdown, however – you need to constantly give them new orders so they don’t get slaughtered while ignoring the enemy right next to them. I would have liked to see the voice system used in conjunction with more automated troops, leaving me free to plan my strategy on the map a bit more. As it is, I was babysitting my units more than should have been necessary.
Multiplayer, as usual, is more fun than playing against the computer. Modes are pretty basic, so I’m dubious how long this one will stay in your must-play list, but the occasional game against an evenly matched opponent is a good enough time.
Overall, EndWar got right the part I thought would go horribly wrong – the voice system – yet didn’t manage to get the more traditional RTS stuff up to the same level. As a result, this game is fun for a little while, but might not hold your attention for too long.