Tom Clancy's EndWar
EndWar takes place in the future, presumably in the same universe that all other Tom Clancy games call home. Rather than focus on a particular person or group, EndWar tells about a global conflict in which the nations of the world rise up to kick the crap out of each other. Basically it all starts when a nuke occurs in the Middle East, killing millions and devastating the world's oil supply. This sets the stage for skyrocketing oil prices, which combine with the threat of nuclear attacks makes for some very nervous neighbors. The EU consolidates its powers into the European Federation, the U.S. takes control of the skies with satellites and technology, and Russia becomes the world's leading supplier of crude oil which uses the profits to bolster its military.
In all honesty the plotline here isn't too far off the mark considering the way world events are currently spiraling. All the stuff happening in the Middle East, Russia cutting off its neighbors, and nations such as Korea and Iran talking about nukes all could easily reach a boiling point similar to events that happened in this game. Sadly as interesting as EndWar's stage set up is the game doesn't really explore it in depth as you play. Sure you'll get mission briefings, cut scenes, and what have you, but right up until the end the narrative is rather minimal at best. Then again, considering this is a strategy game I suppose you're here more for the gameplay than plot exposition anyways, right?
The real-time strategy genre has had something of a bad wrap when it comes to home consoles. For whatever reason, developers just haven't really been able to nail the feel of a PC-style RTS on systems due to the dual analog control and lack of keyboard and mouse. Sure there have been some glimmers of hope along the way, but EndWar's approach revolutionizes the genre and extends many possibilities for other game types as well.
Games in the past have attempted to use voice recognition, but their success stories have been spotty to say the least. If you have ever found yourself yelling at a voice prompt on an automated telephone service you'll undoubtedly understand where I'm coming from. While EndWar does offer the ability to use conventional controls and there are still times you'll have to use your controller, the majority of your time with the game will be spent talking to it.
When you fire up EndWar there is a brief tutorial that gets you through the basics of issuing orders to units and gives you the gist of basic controls. It takes a moment to learn how to talk again and there is a rather sizeable learning curve with regards to learning all of the commands, but once you get the hang of it all you'll fall in love. The voice command in this game is entirely intuitive. It instills a sense of freedom that other games can't match and in all honesty it is so well implemented that it can't be pawned off as gimmicky. It's a solid and viable way to experience EndWar and it's because of this unique interaction that the game truly stands out.
The way the voice command works is quite simply really. You may feel the urge to speak slowly, yell into the microphone, or look for what you need to say on screen. Quite frankly you don't need to do any of that. The best way to be successful with EndWar is to speak normally and clearly. Saying "Unit 1 attack hostile 2" or "Unit 3 secure bravo" is about as easy as it can get and once you get the hang of it you'll be pulling off maneuvers lightning fast and in constant succession.
Aside from the voice command structure the rest of the gameplay in EndWar is rather straightforward RTS fare. The gameplay is a little faster in terms of pacing, the action feels dialed up a tad, and there's definitely a strike first and strike hard mentality. Holing up behind a shell and building your forces isn't the way to play this game. You're better off launching assaults, moving forces, and securing sites as quickly as possible. This is made easier with smaller unit numbers and the ability to select them on the fly.
Throughout the game you'll be subjected to numerous missions and scenarios that all require something different to achieve success. Sometimes you're up against the wall and defending, other times you're on the offensive, and sometimes you just need to blow some crap up with a WMD. In between battles it's also possible to upgrade surviving units, which gives a definite sense of progression and purpose. Whatever the case the gameplay in EndWar is different, yet similar, to other RTS games and it does take some dedication to go through the game's single player component. Now, the multiplayer Theater of War mode, that's another story.
Theater of War is most likely the place where you're going to be spending most of your time. With matches supported with up to four players (two versus two) there's all kinds of stuff to do. The game's modes are plentiful enough to be long-lasting and there seems to be a decent enough community. It's also nice to know that even if you can't get four people you can use the CPU as a handicap of sorts or even team up with a friend against the AI. It's worth noting that if you're playing Theater of War against human opponents you better be damned sure you are adept at using the voice communications, otherwise you'll have your ass handed to you in no time flat.
EndWar is a great addition to the RTS genre. It doesn't do a lot of original things with regards to the overall gameplay, but the voice command is simply too good to pass up. Sure it's not perfect and there will be times you'll have to repeat yourself, but by and large it's just about the most unique control system I've played in a while. It gave the genre new life on the console and it doesn't hurt matters that the game is actually a lot of fun. The single player campaign can get repetitive, but Theater of War is where it's at. Check it out if you're looking for a new RTS game or if you're simply curious about the voice commands.
The graphics in EndWar are good, but not quite up to par with other Tom Clancy and Ubisoft titles. Character and vehicle models look decent enough and the environments are detailed to a point. Some very nice effects are implemented here and you'll definitely get a nice sense of the action as you pop between units. Unfortunately there are some framerate issues from time to time, the animation can be choppy, there's clipping, and texture quality is sporadic. Overall the game looks pretty good for an RTS, but it could have used a little more time being polished.
For the most part you're providing a lot of the chatter while playing this game. I mean you are talking to it after all. Even so there's still plenty of voice acting within the game itself and it's all fairly decent with regards to quality. Some voices are better than others and some accents are cheesier than they should be, but all around the cast did a decent job. The music and sound direction also lend themselves well enough to the game with some hard hitting notes and nice effects. The game also crafts a decent sense of immersion as well with the rear channels getting some appropriate play.
If you're looking for an RTS that is cut from a slightly different cloth then EndWar is definitely the way to go. The voice controls are so refreshingly accurate that they actually work to the game's favor, which is quite a feat. You may look like an idiot playing the game, but so what! EndWar is so much fun you won't care what you look or sound like. There may be some nitpicky flaws here and there and the game doesn't have the level of polish that it should, but all around this is a lasting experience that is worth checking out.