Tom Clancy’s EndWar 360, PS3, PC
Tom Clancy’s EndWar takes place in the near future, where international tensions have grown to explosive levels. After a nuclear strike wipes out a major Saudi oil supply, the superpowers of the world develop missile defense grids. The worldwide reaction is an unsurprising tightening of the fist and strengthening of military development. Russia becomes a major player by virtue of its leading oil supply, while the nations of Europe unite to form the European Federation. This puts an end to NATO, obviously. The United States exists as a third faction, battling against the former two for economic survival. Of particular note are the characters that comprise the factions. Some are former members of Rainbow Six, while the leader of the US Joint Strike Force is none other than Scott Mitchell of Ghost Recon fame. Apparently, EndWar is intended to take place within the same world of previous Tom Clancy titles.
Sound intense? Well, it’s not, really. In fact, most of the interesting political drama falls by the wayside once EndWar begins. That’s a real shame, because the whole “World War III” concept smells like something awfully dramatic. Instead, EndWar pretty much focuses on the fighting. You take control of one of the three primary factions and battle your way to victory using aerial and ground forces. With any luck, you’ll survive long enough to take over the entire planet. As far as RTS games go, EndWar leaves something to be desired in terms of gameplay depth. Sure, there’s the usual rock-paper-scissors mechanics, with tanks beating transports, transports beating aircraft, and aircraft beating tanks. When it comes down to it, the game is centered around capturing control points (or “satellite uplinks”) or some variant thereof.
At any given time, the player might be conducting a siege in Copenhagen, an assault on Washington DC, or plotting a defense of Paris. Differences between factions are mostly cosmetic, but they do exist; European forces tend have the greatest speed, for example, while Russians have the heavier armor. Your performance will earn you a number of rewards, such as upgrades for your units and new abilities on the battlefield (laser-guided missiles, anyone?) Oh, and surviving units benefit from experience, so make you sure choose your battles carefully. In any case, the mechanics are heavily focused on action over resource management, leaving surprisingly little room for actual strategic planning. This might be due to EndWar’s distribution across consoles; longtime RTS fans may consider EndWar to be oversimplified in its design. The obvious benefit is that EndWar might hold greater appeal to casual RTS players, and perhaps even attract a few newcomers to the genre.
Even so, players of all types may find the game tiresome rather quickly. The online Theater of War offers some interesting battles, but it doesn’t have the rewarding persistence that some players may have been hoping for. It’s kind of cool to see which factions are dominating the others online with a global view, but there is little to motivate the player to feel things like: “Whoa, I can’t believe we lost JFK Spaceport to the Russians! Come on guys, we gotta go take it back!” Although online battles determine the location of future battlefields, there’s no special incentive to charge into combat bent on world domination.
EndWar is also plagued by technical problems. The AI has difficulty with pathfinding; tanks will roll into one another, and friendly units are sometimes unable to take adequate cover from enemy fire. The sound is pretty good, with lots of battlefield chatter to keep you updated on the status of your units. Sometimes it does feel as though the grandeur of the battlefield is absent, though. This is rather surprising, as audio design is typically a strong point of games in the Clancy franchise. Visually, the graphical models are also pretty bland. The animation is lackluster and, due to the low camera angle, the battlefield reveals lots of distracting geometry pop-in. Seeing a squad of soldiers running with the same animations all in sync tends to have a deleterious effect on overall immersion.
The only real “achievement” of EndWar is its voice command system. Using the voice commands are entirely optional, but anyone bothering to purchase EndWar is likely familiar with this highly-advertised feature. If you intend to make use of it, make sure you’ve got a good headset, as it will have a noticeable impact on the software’s ability to understand your speech. It works well enough in most instances, allowing you to manipulate virtually anything on the battlefield through voice alone. Dialogue boxes appear as you speak to facilitate the process, but once you understand how it’s done, you’ll be barking orders in no time. Shouting at your units to launch a WMD at the enemy is easily one of EndWar’s highest points.
Unfortunately, it’s not nearly enough to save the game from its lack of depth and mediocre battle system.