Monday, 23 February 2009

Review - Tom Clancy's EndWar

  • Game: Tom Clancy's EndWar
  • Format: Xbox 360
  • Other Formats: PS3, PC
  • Developer: Ubisoft Shanghai
  • Publisher: Ubisoft
  • Genre: Real-time Strategy

Another month and another Tom Clancy game appears galloping towards us from the dusty horizon with more American gusto and patriotism than a bald eagle donning aviators, loosely based around another book that he didn’t actually write. With all of the pessimistic post apocalyptic games currently out - detailing how our current lives are all useless as we’re all going to die anyway – it is refreshing to finally be given the chance to actually aid in the events leading to Judgment Day, instead of scrounging for pressure cookers and bottle caps to throw at irradiated zombies.

As the name (vaguely) suggests, Tom Clancy's EndWar throws you knee-deep into the conflict of the third World War, taking you for a ride on the RTS wagon. From the word ‘go’ I was bombarded with several industrial tankers worth of information and as a result of my obviously inferior brain I took in absolutely none of it. Regardless of my complete lack of understanding, I managed to win my first mission apparently entirely by accident and as to this moment I still don’t know what my objective was or how I achieved it. After blundering through the first few introductory missions however, you soon get the hang of how the game wants to be played. For instance, my initial thoughts of the camera – perhaps jaded by the generous top-down views from many other RTSs – was that it resembled a horny dog tethered to a leash at Crufts, and no matter how hard you fought, it would still be hauled back in to who was holding it. After a while of play however, I found that the style of locking the libidinous hound of a camera to the selected unit’s perspective forces the player to utilise certain squads as scouts and even garner the high ground purely for the advantage of sight – something that adds a small amount more to the ‘realism’ tally against methods such as ‘Fog of War’ utilised on older style RTS games for the same purpose.

The main premise of the game is to rather predictably ‘win the war’ by siding with a superpower – America, Europe or Russia – and seizing control of the capitols in each of the three territories. Naturally, I chose to root for the home team and selected Europe in the hope to realise my childhood dream of annihilating America at the hands of Britain. Granted, at the time I envisioned doing so with ninjas riding dinosaurs. After a few plays through with the blue army though (apparently we’re blue), it came to my attention that there is a distinct lack of Britain being involved in WWIII. Now don’t get me wrong, I understand that France is a big mover and shaker in Europe, but playing as the cheese-eating surrender monkeys for pretty much every mission is a bit of a letdown. You would have thought that Britain as one of the world’s leading powers today would at least get a passing mention in the next world conflict. Even the Aussies don’t get a look-in, and according to Halo they’re more abundant than Americans in the future.

The big draw of the game that I have purposely not touched upon until this point is the headset support, where a player is able to issue orders like a walkie-talkie throughout the battle. For the most part, this method of commanding works remarkably better than I had anticipated – picking up a great range of regional dialects – but predictably there are mishaps where squads don’t understand the soothing sultry tones of my voice. The key to victory is securing uplinks dotted about the maps, and when the game mistakes the words, “Unit 2, Secure, Alpha”, for ”Unit 9, Eat, Nuclear Waste”, I take that as a personal insult - implying something in the area of my vocal chords being no better than that of an electrified, epileptic strobe victim. With this attack on my ‘mouth noises’ (and my apparent tendency of taking things a little too personally), I find it much more effective and indeed faster to issue certain orders via the controller.

What you can't see in this image is Unit 9 eating nuclear waste

As the loading screens of Call of Duty 2 once told me, ‘there are no winners in war’, and this becomes increasingly apparent as the campaign progresses, with regions trading hands like the village bicycle and no progress in one area without losing another on the opposite side of the globe. When you think you just might capture Washington you have to run back to defend Paris before they start bleaching their flags. And while the unpredictability of it all might be realistic in some respects, after a while I can’t help but think it is a method of artificially extending the game’s lifespan as I fight the same battle again for seemingly the tenth time. But if a commander is not savvy enough during battle, they can find the tides turning far too quickly. Taking the Napoleonic approach with my French troops against the Ruskies, one battle saw me ploughing through their first wave of units in a heartbeat – taking my mighty fist of a battalion from point to point and securing them like the bitch that they are. Just when that little voice at the back of my head patted me on the shoulder, congratulating me on my sure victory, a giant turd of a Russian WMD annihilates my entire army, save for a single unit of cannon fodder who were running late to the party because Jenkins had a poorly tummy. Retaliating with an orbital laser of my own, I felt sure that victory was rightly grasped after that little blunder – but alas, a lone unit of Dmitri’s tanks had survived – presumably also due to poor punctuality. Taking immediate action, I sent my lads packing with their tails between their legs straight back to control point Alpha to do some emergency renovations to mission supports – all the while with hot doom fired over their heads from a distance. In the nick of time, my boys manage deliver a swift EMP to disable the enemy shields and dive into the nearest building to contemplate life and death. I quickly send in the NPC supports and take out the Boris while he’s weak to scrape a victory like plaque from the jaws of defeat.

Graphically the game leaves much to be desired, as I assume the general thinking from Ubisoft was that you’d be so far away from the action that you wouldn’t notice that the infantry look like little plastic toy soldiers, in both detail and animation. I found myself thinking that they should have their trousers round their ankles purely to complete the effect. I probably shouldn’t look further into those thoughts and neither should you. Aside from this though, the game runs very smoothly and can handle a great deal going on at once, so I can’t complain too much.

Signing into the ‘Theatre of War’ mode will hurl you into the ranked multiplayer of EndWar, and upon doing so for the very first time I was greeted with a right royal slagging-off from my commanding officer as he spouted insults about my absence from the multiplayer campaign and even accused me of desertion from my duties. If that wasn’t welcoming enough, he then proceeded to convey how disastrous the last week was for Europe. Now armed with morale-boosting thoughts, I selected a battle to fight that pointed out to me how matchmaking rivals Gears of War 2 for mind-numbing, soul-crushing lack of speed in finding opponents; unless that is, you pick a battle where your side has a distinct and unavoidable disadvantage, and suddenly finding someone to play against is almost instant. My point here is that people are bastards. I hate people.

Overall, Tom Clancy’s EndWar is actually a competent RTS and fills a nice little niche in the home console market. It’s not perfect, but it does the job – much like a gummy hooker. There, I managed to bring this review back down to my usual standard and all is well again in the world.

Single Player Score – 8
Multiplayer Score - 7

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