World War III Funtime!
Military-themed movies always seem to have it. Serious-looking square-jawed men stand around command centers staring intently into monitors displaying unrealistically complicated UIs showing off real-time data about the battle at hand, all the while sternly barking orders into their super-sleek headsets. This of course means it happens in real life, right? Eh, maybe not so much. But none of that matters, since Ubisoft decided to let players live out their own Michael Bay commander fantasies with Tom Clancy’s Endwar. By flying the coup and going with an entirely new control scheme, Ubisoft Shanghai has managed to create an incredibly engaging, if occasionally shallow, new take on the strategy genre.
EndWar’s biggest hook is its voice control system. While the game can be
controlled (and controlled well) with a boring old controller, voice commands are the way Ubisoft intended players to fight World War III. The commands work in a simple “who-what-where” structure. Every friendly and hostile unit is given a number (the who). Short directive phrases are given to determine the unit’s actions (the what). Objectives scattered throughout the maps are given call signs (the where). All other voice commands build up from this basic cornerstone. The flexibility of the system allows players to get as complicated or stay as basic as they want in their strategery. Above all else, though, the system plain works. The voice recognition is spot-on for the most part, even with background noise. Now, a certain amount of enunciation is required, but unless you drain a bottle of Jack before playing, most will be just fine.
The single-player acts as both an extended introduction to the voice controls and to the basic framework of the Theater of War multiplayer mode. The story focuses on the lead-up to and the actual combat of WWIII. The United States, the European Federation, and Russia are pushing each other around over space supremacy. This quickly escalates into a shoving match down on Earth—certain things are blown up, certain people are pissed off, and WWIII soon begins. The exact storytelling in mostly forgettable, consisting of generic techno-thriller events peppered with the occasional Tom Clancy reference like the appearance of Scott Mitchell (of GRAW fame).
Playing through the campaign offers a nicely varied romp through the world, with fighting taking place in a number of different locales. This doesn’t translate to dramatically varied environments, though, as the battles outside of the main set pieces usually take place on generic countryside or urban landscapes. Players are tasked with taking over territories in a RISK-esque fashion, and victory can be achieved through a few different methods like controlling a certain amount of territories to capturing a rival faction’s capital.
At the beginning of the campaign, you’ll be presented a choice of faction and of specialization. The European Federation’s Enforcers Corps specializes in speed, the Russian Spetsnaz has brute force, and the US’s Joint Strike Force (JSF) offers a comfortable mix of the two. Past that, battalions within the faction you choose offer expertise in specific types of combat, giving both increased amounts of certain units and special bonuses. While the bonuses are certainly welcome, the gain in units of one type comes at the loss of another. The varied tactics used in combat don’t completely lend themselves to a plethora of a couple types of units. On top of that, the factions themselves play in basically the same ways, just with slight edges in certain areas.
When fighting actually begins, the action is fast-paced and fluid. Basebuilders need not apply. You won’t build a single thing. All commissioning of units is done through a point system that replenishes throughout the fighting. Everything works on a rock-paper-scissors level, though a few wildcards are thrown into the mix. Tanks beat transports, transports beat helicopters, helicopters beat tanks. Outliers like infantry and artillery shake things up. It’s an easy to understand system that works effectively and never allows players to become too comfortable with their tactics. Succeeding in combat grants you CR, which is used to purchase upgrades for units under your command, and higher ranks for your units, which allow them to use the higher-level abilities you’ve purchased. The system gets you attached to the best of your best, whether it’s because of their high rank or an especially awesome call sign (mine was “Nacho”).
Outside of the units, you’ll have a number of special abilities at your disposal. Airstrikes, EMPs, and reinforcements are available to add little boosts to your chances. WMDs are also available, but only for the losing side at first. The winning faction can only use their own boomstick once they’ve survived the brunt of their enemy’s. It’s a clever implementation of a game-changing weapon that forces you to make sure you really want to use it if you’re on the losing side.
You’ll view all the carnage from a zoomed-in isometric perspective that allows you to get close to the action. Besides keeping you involved, the perspective allows you to get a good look at the great detail on the individual units. The animation, especially with the infantry units, is also well done. As stated before, the environments tend to be rather “meh” but they aren’t painful to look at either.
The campaign acts as a great stepping-stone to the Theater of War multiplayer, which is essentially the single-player experience with real, thinking humans inserted. While it may not seem revolutionary, it certainly is fun. The new dynamic that comes to the game from real people ratchets up the need to be smart but also makes annihilating your opponent that much more satisfying.
The main issue that presents itself in EndWar is a lack of depth. While a degree of choice in units and tactics is present, it pales in comparison to what is usually present for a RTS. Perhaps this should be expected since the game is on a console, but the solution shouldn’t necessarily have to be dumbing down the genre. And in many ways, the game is a one trick pony. The voice command system is a great trick, but it can be leaned on a bit too heavily at times. Other areas of the game can feel a bit neglected because of it and one can’t help but think more could be done with what’s present.
EndWar represents a great first step in a new direction for the real-time strategy genre. While it cuts a few corners to fit the game on consoles, the voice command system makes fighting a World War surprisingly enjoyable. The fact that you'll look sort of crazy while playing it? Well, nothing to really help that.