Tom Clancy's EndWar Review
By Monica Bair |
Tom Clancy's EndWar is interesting because it's essentially a real-time strategy game built around overcoming the console platform's limitations with the genre. What do you do when you try to control numerous units over a large battlefield and you don't have a keyboard and mouse to rely upon? Earlier console RTS efforts tried to map complex controls to the gamepad, but EndWar introduced a fairly reliable voice command system that let you verbally deliver orders to your units. Now EndWar is on the PC, a platform that has a superior control scheme for RTS games. As a result, the console-friendly design of EndWar ends up feeling lightweight for PC standards, but it does incorporate some cool new ideas.
The end of the Cold War has really put the hurt on the traditional US versus Soviet Union struggle featured in many military-themed games. So in EndWar, a convoluted and slightly silly plot is required to explain away a three-way war in the near future between the United States, Europe, and a resurgent Russia. Yes, all three superpowers are busy trying to kill one another, and you can play for any faction, taking command of a military battalion with units that upgrade and improve over the course of the war. EndWar's best idea is the persistent campaign that lets you decide where to fight next as you attempt to take over key sectors of the map.
Transports kill choppers. It's that simple.This is an idea that works in both single-player and in multiplayer, where an online Theater of War keeps track of multiplayer battles on a day-by-day basis. This persistent campaign adds a strategic layer to the game and ties the individual battles together nicely. While not as deep or as intricate as strategic layers found in other games (such as Sega's Total War series), it does give the player some semblance of control. You analyze the map every turn trying to figure out where to focus your effort for maximum effect.
Where EndWar struggles a bit is in its tactical battles. Units in EndWar adhere very strongly to the rock-paper-scissors philosophy of RTS design. For example, tanks are great at killing transports (APCs) but are chewed up by attack helicopters. Attack helicopters are great at killing tanks, but are chewed up by APCs. It's true that many other RTS games carry a similar philosophy, but few of them take it quite as seriously as EndWar. That's due to the extremely short engagement ranges for all units; if you're a student of modern tactics, you'll be disappointed to hear that, aside from artillery, units have to be practically on top of one another for them to engage.
The incredibly close engagement ranges make EndWar feel more like a real-time board game. A tank unit can see an enemy unit less than a kilometer away, but it won't open fire until they see the whites of their eyes, figuratively speaking. It feels like a contrivance in that defies everything that you know about modern warfare. The camera also doesn't help, as the game doesn't let you pull the camera out very far from the ground, so it's hard to get a good view of the battlefield. To complicate things further, your camera is also affixed to your units, essentially limiting you to only what they can see.
What about the $600 toilet seat upgrade?EndWar's battles also feel more like skirmishes than real fights. They're designed to last around 15 minutes; there are no epic, hours-long slugfests here. In each mission, your units deploy onto the battlefield, and you have accomplish various objectives, from destroying a number of key targets to seizing and holding critical uplink nodes on the battlefield. Or, you can simply just destroy the enemy, which is a faster and simpler task. But even then, combat feels weird, as units in EndWar have energy shields that you have to deplete before you can actually inflict damage on the enemy. This results in lots of wild firing back and forth as the damage-per-second model kicks in effect. And before you can destroy a unit, you first neutralize it, which takes it out of the fight. A neutralized unit will call for evacuation from a rescue helicopter, but if you're feeling merciless you can destroy the unit before that evacuation comes.
A bigger issue is the game's slow pace, which is almost languid. This is probably due to the fact that it's designed for voice command. Let's get this out of the way: you don't need to have a microphone, as the game is entirely playable with just a keyboard and mouse. However, if you do you have a mic, the voice commands are interesting, but the novelty wears off quickly once you realize you can do everything much faster and simpler with the keyboard and mouse. For instance, in the time required to speak the sentence, "Unit 2, attack hostile 3" a veteran RTS player could give all of his units an order to attack hostile three with his mouse and keyboard. Grouping units together can be done by voice, but again, it's far faster and simpler just to lasso the units you want with the mouse and use the keyboard to group them.
It looks pretty, but EndWar is sort of shallow.EndWar's voice commands also require you to speak in rigid, formal sentences all the time. Commands have specific phrases that you must use over and over again, such as "attack" or "move to." It doesn't feel like you're talking to anyone human; it just feels like you're talking to a machine. And while the voice system is better than most it still has issues. Every now and then it'll not understand what you're saying, so you have to repeat it until it gets it.
It's too bad, because the production values of EndWar are respectable. The detailed graphics bring the futuristic units to life, and the game abounds with nice visual touches, like the cinematic way your infantry storm into buildings or climb aboard APCs. The sounds are also nicely done, if a bit sparse; after all, you're supposed to be doing a lot of talking throughout the game. Still, if you listen carefully enough there's plenty to hear, including the grumbling of your troops on the ground.