Real-time strategy games on consoles. The mere prospect is enough to send shivers down the spine of gamers from all corners of the world. I’ll spare you the gruesome history of failed attempts and sum up the entire console RTS genre as hit or miss. Actually, scratch that. It’s more like hit or MISS, with the latter making up roughly 99.7% of the lot. The main problem with the genre as a whole is that RTS games were simply made to be played with a mouse and keyboard, and there’s really no arguing that. The complex tech trees, hundreds of units on screen, and intense strategy has always screamed “PLAY ME ON A PC!”.
Ubisoft hopes to take the limitations of the console and completely negate them by allowing you to play the entire game using your voice as the virtual mouse and keyboard. Tom Clancy’s EndWar is the first game to use voice control and expand upon it to the point where it becomes a control scheme in and of itself. An ambitious goal to be sure, but one that they have done a remarkable job attaining. Or, at least, attempting to attain. For the most part, Ubisoft actually manages to pull off the whole “voice-is-the-new-mouse” system they were going for. After a short calibration session you’re ready to use your spoken words as the ultimate tool of destruction. Using these commands in-game is just as smooth as the set-up, which on its own is an amazing accomplishment. Spoken commands are broken down into just a handful of words and the system does a fantastic job of understanding you, even if you happen to stumble over a couple of instructions here and there.
OK, so the voice control is great, the system understands nearly everything you say, so that means the units must control like a breeze right? Not so fast. Yes, the recognition system is fantastic. Yes, the tech involved here is truly impressive. That said, using your voice to issue commands is just about as vague as it can get. Making the system simple enough to recognize all the commands (and in every accent imaginable, no less) also hinders the ability of the player to be specific enough when issuing orders to really pull off some of the advanced strategy the genre is known for. The way troop/unit movement works is that the game breaks down the map into sectors. So, for example, if you want your troops to move to a sector which is currently occupied by an enemy, you’d simply say “Unit 2 move to Sector 5”. Then, once the units receive their command, you sit back and watch as they make their way over to the destination in any way they please. This might seem just fine, but in a genre defined by strategy, commands that sometimes require a bit of specificity are often lost in translation. No more sending a single unit to one side of an enemy base in order to draw attention while your big guns move in from the opposite side. This particular complaint may anger some hardercore RTS-ers, so it’s definitely something to be considered.
If you’re looking for some fun though, and feel like laying on your couch and screaming at the television, there’s plenty of fun to be had here. The units are plentiful and varied enough that it’s hard to get bored, and the game even comes with a fold-out quick-start guide so you’re never in the dark about how to best defeat a combination of enemy units. This is extremely helpful early on in the campaign and will surely be a godsend to newbies of the RTS scene.
Speaking of the campaign, that’s another area of the game that could have used a bit more attention. As the name implies, EndWar serves as a bit of a climax to a host of Clancy storylines that lead up to this point. Still, the campaign itself seems to suffer a bit of an identity crisis. EndWar tries to wind up as much Clancy lore as it can, and some familiar faces do show up eventually, but I couldn’t escape the feeling that it could have been fleshed out so much better. Yet, the story is broad enough that even if you haven’t been a Clancy nerd up to this point you’ll still get the gist of why the entire world is up in arms (no pun intended).
As far as graphics go, EndWar is a pretty game. It looks great in HD and there is a ton of detail to the troops, units and environments. Unfortunately, while the detail and technology are there, the flair is not. The whole game has a bit of a “blah” look to it, with very little personality finding its way onto your screen. Perhaps it’s just the fact that C&C Red Alert 3 has been attacking our PC monitors with bright and colorful videos and screenshots, but EndWar seems to take place in a rather drab universe. That may have been exactly what Ubisoft was going for, what with the world on the verge of ending and whatnot, but it still brings down the experience and doesn’t do a whole lot in the way of creating a world that seems fun to return to.
The online multiplayer set-up is certainly a high point in the EndWar experience. The overworld map creates a real feeling of urgency when choosing your battles and in the games I tested the connections were all rock-solid. Commanding your units works in the same way, of course, and the only real difference between playing online or against the computer is that often times the computer is far less forgiving.
Overall, EndWar is an amazing example of how voice control could really be the next big thing in the gaming scene. At its best, it’s an exciting RTS romp with a ton of online replayability and an extremely impressive control system. But at its worst, it’s a confusing and slightly frustrating example of why the genre was created for PCs to begin with. However, despite its shortcomings, EndWar is still mighty enjoyable. You’ll find ways to work around the slightly vague voice commands and once you do, you’ll find a refreshing take on a decidedly old-school genre. Give me the ability to scream at my TV over a dual-analog RTS control scheme any day. ATTACK!
- The game actually understands what you’re saying!
- Multiplayer can be addicting.
- Doesn’t bombard you with Clancy lore.
- Smooth voice control leaves you with fewer strategic options.
- “Blah” aesthetic at times.
- People playing online are probably 100X better than you…just saying.