Tom Clancy's EndWar Preview
|ESRB rating: T
release date: Nov 04, 08
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More and more real-time strategy games are making their way to consoles. Ubisoft Shanghai intends to go a bit further and hopefully stretch the boundaries of the genre. The company wants to break new ground with Tom Clancy's EndWar, primarily focusing on voice recognition. That's right, instead of using a traditional RTS control scheme, players issue a solid range of unique voice commands to move their units around the map.
Set in 2020, EndWar depicts a conflict between Russian forces and the armies of the US and Europe. However, the somewhat fragile alliance between America and Europe has the potential to widen the confrontation. To cut a long story short, a full-scale war breaks out and, yes, you find yourself right in the middle of it. You get to choose from one of the three playable factions: USA, European Federation and Russia. Each faction has its own elite troopers to send into battle. The Americans have the Joint Strike Force, while Europe relies on the European Enforcers Corps. Last, but not least, are the Russians, who prefer deploying the so-called Spetsnaz Guard Brigade (I thought Spetsnaz was a kind of donut - Ed).
Now, unlike most real-time strategies, which offer the standard top down camera, EndWar centers the view directly on one the numerous squads under your control. So, the "overlord" perspective customary to most strategies is gone. Conventional RTS mechanics and elements, like the fog of war, are no longer part of the gameplay. You'll be able to distinguish whatever comes in range of your squad's sight. But, if there are any enemies nearby, you're going to have to assume an appropriate tactical position without exploring the area from a bird's eye viewpoint. Mind you, the game does offer access to a tactical map, which gives you a chance to set waypoints and issue commands similarly to what was seen in Ghost Recon Advanced Warfighter. Still, most of the battles are fought "up close and personal" (Much like my divorce was handled - Ed).
The basic principal of voice commands is more advanced than what has been introduced in some of Ubisoft's earlier games. Commands could range from something like "Calling all gunships, create group" or "Calling all riflemen, create group." Sounds simple enough. But Ubi created an effective combo of actual voice orders and those issued via the game's command tree, which can be accessed and scrolled through using the gamepad. So, while speaking out orders like "White Team, attack Hostile 1," you may also refer to the command tree to carry out a completely different order.
So, like I said, the game doesn't force you to fight battles strictly through the voice control system. If players are shy about barking orders at units, they can simply command troops by using the 360 (or PS3) controller. Then again, saying orders out loud to send units into combat is going to be a unique feature, separating EndWar from other generic RTS titles. And, from what was revealed so far, manipulating units via voice recognition is extremely straightforward. Let's assume you want to center the camera on a particular unit. You just say which unit you wish the camera to focus on and you add the word "Camera" - so, the whole order should sound: "Unit One, Camera." Attacking is very easy too. Here's another example: "Unit Two, Attack Hostile One," etc. Well, you get the picture. (Any mention on when real life will support commands like "Girlfriend, Make Me a Sandwich and Bring Me a Soda"? - Ed)
The player may take control of 12 units at the most (at one time), bearing in mind units aren't controlled individually, but rather as squads. Units aren't just mindless drones you'll be sending off like lambs to be slaughtered. Every type of unit can be upgraded and, according to Ubisoft Shanghai, there are roughly 300 equipment and training upgrades in the game. Light infantry, like riflemen, may be upgraded to become special forces, heavy machine gun units, marksmen and so on. Riflemen are often very useful for stealth tactics, sniping and such. They are also effective at placing demolition charges and booby traps on the battlefield. But they do have their weaknesses just like any other unit. Their light weapons are ineffective against armored vehicles. That's where engineers come in; they can be described as heavy infantry units. Their specialty is using anti-armor weapons, in addition to being able to lay down mines, garrison buildings and use cover. What's more, engineers have the ability to place sentry robots as added support for your troops. As expected, engineers have their weaknesses too, as they are slow and easy targets for enemy riflemen.
Apart from infantry units, EndWar features an assortment of vehicles to control, like tanks and other heavy armor. Choppers, or rather heavy Gunships, should come in handy, especially when you're up against tanks. Gunships have mounted guns and missiles to deal with armored vehicles on the ground, but their light armor makes them vulnerable to AA weapons. Infantry transports will be useful for bringing in reinforcements, although they are weak against tanks and entrenched infantry.
Overall, the idea is to use the wide range of voice commands and exercise the various capabilities of each of these units in real-time. This should be the very meat of the game, provided all other aspects gel and that the programming team does a decent job with the AI and other technical aspects of such an intricate project.
From the details released so far, the game itself should prove entertaining enough. There are numerous ways in which players may approach each battle. They can send in special forces to destroy crucial enemy structures or they could go straight for the front lines and attack the enemy directly. Additionally, players may forge or break alliances at any time. Should you want to get really nasty, weapons of mass destruction will be at your disposal too - after the player issues a simple voice command, a satellite in orbit will transmit a powerful Kinetic Strike on a designated target. This weapon is capable of wiping major structures off the map.
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