RTS games are still considered most at home on PC, but Ubisoft Shanghai has taken a bold step in changing that with Tom Clancy's EndWar. With the PC version of the game not due out for several more months, EndWar rolls its way onto the Xbox 360 and PS3 packing several console friendly features, but is it deep enough for purist RTS fans?
World War III
EndWar's story takes place about a decade from now. In 2016, a massive terrorist attack in Saudi Arabia kills millions, and all but ends the world's supply of oil. In 2017, the US and Europe put a global missile defense system into production, effectively ending the threat of nuclear war. Meanwhile, Russia's economy has skyrocketed as they have become the world's leading supplier of natural gas. Russia uses this leverage to bolster their military to Cold War-era status. Around the same time, Europe unites to form the United States of Europe. Not surprisingly, tensions rise between these three superpowers and World War III begins.
But before you can start calling in your gunships and securing Uplinks, you need to prepare yourself. You'll do this by playing through the Prelude To War mini-campaign which will introduce you to all three playable factions and a variety of mission types. Once you clear these missions, you're given the option to choose your faction to lead to victory: the Joint Strike Force (USA), Enforcer Corp (Europe), or Spetsnaz Guard Brigade (Russia).
Even before entering the Prelude of War, you'll want to grab your 360 headset. As most of you know, one of EndWar's most intriguing features is the ability to control your forces with voice commands. While all promotional material I've seen for the game shows the wireless Xbox360 headset/mic, you can of course still used the tried-and-true wired one that came with the system.
An initial calibration tutorial leads you through testing your mic connection and positioning. The calibration phrase takes just a few minutes and explains the Overlord voice command system. Commands are focused on three elements: who, what, where. Picking up the command scheme in EndWar is easy if you just keep that formula in mind. Furthermore, on screen prompts will assist you through the command tree during each phase of a command. So to do a command, just hold RT and begin to speak. You can say “Unit five move to Bravo,” for example, and if it was understood, within a second you'll hear confirmation from unit five. In my experience, unless there was an unusual amount of background noise or I spoke too quietly, EndWar understood what I was saying with a pleasant and surprising level of consistency and accuracy.
Voice commands can do an awful lot for you in battle, and they tend to be quicker than using just the controller, especially if you're calling all units for a specific command. You can play completely without voice commands and still be successful, but the combination of both is the most potent. Getting your units to act quickly is best done with voice, but you'll need the controller abilities to handle a variety of other tasks, like hot swapping, zooming, and checking on available reinforcements. Hot swapping and zooming go hand in hand; you hot swap with X, and in doing so you'll switch the camera view between your current selected unit and the unit you were previously on. By pressing R3, you can zoom the camera closer to the battlefield; it's not so much useful from a tactical point of view as much as a nice way to watch the action unfold.
Reinforcements come to you in a couple of ways. First, depending on the mission, reinforcements may come after a period of time, i.e., when a timer expires. Other times you will have the option to call in reinforcements of your choosing – rifleman and engineers, tanks, transports, artillery, gunships – by using Command Points, which you earn by fighting the enemy, staying alive, and holding Uplink points. Holding Uplinks is vital for certain mission objectives, increasing available Command Points, and for certain special abilities. You can also upgrade Uplinks to provide you with air strikes, EMP bombs, and infantry reinforcements.
Getting a handle on the controls, the voice commands, mission types, and mechanics of EndWar doesn't take a lot of time or effort, which isn't something you can say for all RTS games out there. For me, I started just reading through the detailed manual that talked about every mechanic in the game. The included foldout unit guide was great too; it's a full color guide that depicts what units are effective against other units. For example, gun ships will tear apart tanks, but transports can take gunships out, who in turn can be taken out by tanks. Given that there aren't many unit types in the game, it doesn't take very long to get a handle on what units work best against other units.
You can tell pretty quickly when you have a unit mismatch, too. You'll be alerted in at least a couple of ways, both with an audible alert and by red flashing of the Unit Card. The Unit Card is like a mini-HUD that shows up for each unit across the bottom row of your screen. Each Unit Card is packed with info including a picture of the unit type, their current action (moving, engaging), and also their health. The health meter is a simple horizontal meter that has a white line cover around it that indicates the unit's armor.
Keeping your units alive from mission to mission can be accomplished by using them strategically. For vehicle units, this basically means keeping them away from unit types that can destroy them, while for your rifleman and engineers you should look to put them behind cover or inside a structure. By taking cover or garrisoning a building, these units are able to fire faster and stay alive much, much longer than they would otherwise. Units that survive missions have a ranking and upgrade system in which you can give them more firepower and hit points as they continue to rank up.
Missions in EndWar tend to be relatively brief if you're coming from PC RTS games like most gamers. The average mission time in EndWar is about thirty minutes, but many can be completed in under ten minutes, on Normal difficulty anyway. This seemed kind of problematic for me initially because I'm used to grueling battles on the PC, but for a console, where you can't save whenever you want to, it makes sense. Furthermore, the style of RTS that EndWar is promotes fast, constant action. There really is no base to maintain and resources to harvest in the traditional sense, so it's vital to keep moving and pushing, unless of course you're playing a defensive mission.
As one side nears its end, Defcon 1 status may become available to you or your foe, whomever is losing. In Defcon 1, the losing side is able to either crash an enemy Uplink or drop a WMD on them. Not until this happens can the winning side retaliate with a WMD of their own, which is often times enough to completey finish off the losing team.
EndWar comes packed with several other modes, too. Besides the solo campaign there is a Skirmish mode, great for practice against the CPU or a friend. Multiplayer action includes standard Skirmish and an interesting mode known as Theatre of War, in which players can hop onto XBL or PSN and engage in battles against players of opposing forces. These battles are persistent and allow for ranking, too. Every twenty-four hours the game world map is redrawn to show the balance of power amongst the forces. It's an innovative feature that I haven't spent a great deal of time with yet, but that is getting lots of positive reaction from other players.
In closing, Tom Clancy's EndWar has its shortcomings, but overall it's still an innovative and very respectable RTS. Some RTS fans will have wanted more depth in the form of additional units or structures to purchase and manage, other gamers may be disappointed by the visuals, but at the end of the day EndWar gamers ought to grab the demo or rent this one to decide for themselves; if you're like me, you'll be pleasantly surprised and impressed.