Stormrise PC, Xbox 360, PS3 Review

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When a huge strategy giant, such as The Creative Assembly, announce a new real time strategy game, a lot of fans are going to be interested. This is especially true when they move away from a setting they are well known for – in The Creative Assembly’s case, the Total War series.

What’s even more interesting is that the development studio is also drifting from their PC roots for their next game, Stormrise. Heavily focused on getting real time strategy games to work on consoles, Creative Assembly has focused on creating an innovative control system to get around the control pad limitations. However, the review will be based on how well the game translates to a PC, and how these controls work on the keyboard and mouse, which are still the mainstay of RTS controls.

Stormrise is set in a post apocalyptic future. Scientists were commissioned to develop a solution to address the environmental decline, which led to the creation of a forcefield. At first everything seemed fine, but eventually nature had its way and vicious destructive storms ripped apart the planet and its cities. Survivors were either locked into underground security structures or left on the surface to survive. The surface dwellers ended up mutating and evolving into a new race, which the game calls “The Sai.” Once the danger had past and the underground cryogenic sleepers had awakened, it was time for them to reclaim the planet. Echelon was formed, and the battle for the planet with the Sai had begun.

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Taking control of Aiden Geary, a commander for the Echelon team, it’s your job to fight off the Sai. Stormrise isn’t your typical RTS game as the player doesn’t build a base; instead you capture points and can use these points to build reinforcements to help your fight. These points can be reinforced with defence, which you’ll most likely need. If you lose these points, you lose your ability to build anything if you don’t have any other capture points in the level.

Units are built using the energy you gain from capturing these points in the mission level. The capture points can also have upgrades which will pump out more energy, so you don’t have to wait as long to build the unit you want. As the mission progresses, you get to the point where you have so much energy coming out that you never really have to wait that long to build a unit, which keeps the game interesting, at least when it comes down to the action on the battlefield.

Now you’re probably asking, “how do you manage to select the units you want if you can’t see them or move the camera?” With the control system that Creative Assembly came up with, you can still select units, but it’s a frustrating and a slow way of going about it. The focus of trying to make the game for controllers has totally destroyed how it should play on the PC. The “Whip Select” system allows unit selection by requring you to “whip” your view towards a unit to take control of it. When you are in control of a unit, the camera is focused behind it, kind of like a third person view. The game does allow you to spin the camera around the unit and also allows you to do the most pointless zoom out. It’s rubbish since it doesn’t zoom out enough to be worthwhile. The only way you’re going to get a battlefield overview is by using an air unit, so you can see from above from the sky. I can see what they were trying to do with the idea, but it’s just not practical enough to be in a game.

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Once you’ve got the hang of the camera system, you have to get the hang of the whole unit control. Stormrise allows you to click using the left mouse button to move the unit you have selected. It’s also possible to look at another unit from the one you are viewing. Just click and drag from the unit to force them to move without you having to actually jump to them, though this stills requires you to get them into your line of sight.

To let the pressure off a bit, you can group units of three together. This relieves a bit of the whipping that you have to do all the time. There’s so much whipping in Stormrise, that there’s even an achievement for whipping in a mission 250 times. I did this on mission 3, which is early on in the game’s 12 missions, which should give you an idea of how many times you’ve got to do it. At least you can still link units to hotkeys, even though the game doesn’t actually tell you this in the tutorial part of the first level. I just assumed it would from trying it in all the other RTS games out there, and to my surprise, it worked. This ended up becoming vital in selecting units, rather than doing it the whipping way. You know there’s something wrong when gamers try to avoid using the intended mechanic.

It doesn’t help that when you’ve got a huge army of units that you need to control, you need to whip to all of these to move them individually, even if you’ve grouped them into three. Three isn’t enough when you’ve got say 12 lots of these three-unit squads on the move. It’s impractical and nearly impossible to handle a huge army in Stormrise; even with hotkeys, you still have to move these groups all individually, and from their camera point of view as well. When it all this comes together with the whipping, it just makes you get annoyingly aggravated to the point where you are hurling insults at the game. I did so numerous times.

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If you can’t see units to whip to, a little icon comes up on the side of the screen in the direction of that unit. Even so, you don’t know where about that unit is on the map, so you need to memorise it or use the radar map screen by pressing tab. Also having a large army throws so many icons on screen that you end up whipping to the wrong unit. It’s so poorly designed and results in nothing but trouble for the player.

The nuisances don’t just end there during Stormrise. AI pathfinding is another problem that crops up sometimes. In confined spaces the units have trouble moving past each other. On one mission, I had around 15 buggy units on this thin stretch of road. Having grouped a couple of them together to go on a scouting run, I watched them struggle to get past the buggies in front. They would either not move or just spasm into the ones in front, and the ones in front would either move the wrong way or get stuck in a reverse-forward-reverse loop. To solve this I had to move the front ones out of the way, which helped put everything back to normal. It seems to happen more to vehicle units rather than the infantry, but it still irritating.

I’ve also noticed people dying when they don’t seem to be getting hit by bullets. There must be some collision errors, as one of my control points was killed by the opposing team’s infantry shooting underneath it – through thick concrete. As far as I know, you shouldn’t be able to shoot through walls in this title. All these errors really bring Stormrise down to become a bad game.

Some praise can be awarded in terms of setting, but that’s all about I can give it. The graphics are respectable enough but there’s some sort of frame rate drop or animation stuttering going on with units, as they seem to skip animation or shake a bit while moving. I know it wasn’t the PC, because the game was running on a quad core Q9550 overclocked to 3.4 GHz with a 4870×2 ATI card and 4GB ram. The audio and voiceovers are fine, though.

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I had a major problem with the game at one point. After my initial play, I returned on the next day and it just would not start. It would come up with an error crash or restart my PC. After messing with settings and everything, I found out that if you have the Catalyst AI option turned on in the ATI control centre, the game will crash all the time. Turning it off solved the problem.

Multiplayer is included, which has a feature World in Conflict had: the ability to join and leave a game at will. The control and camera controls are the same, but instead of a mediocre single player campaign fight, you’ve going up against human opponents, which is certainly a bit more fun than against the CPU. Up to 8 players can play in a game, but really there’s nothing that good about Stormrise and it’s still affected by the awful whipping system.

A simple design idea for controllers created a massive chain reaction in how the game is played, and frankly, it’s for the worst. Creative Assembly should have transformed the game controls for the PC version. Because of all these problems, Stormrise has ended up becoming one of the worst RTS games I’ve experienced in recent memory. This is a RTS game you don’t need to play, even if you are a fan of the genre.

3/10

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Version tested: PC

Developer: The Creative Assembly

Publisher: SEGA

Genre: Real-Time Strategy

Players: 1-8