Ubisoft’s new RTS Tom Clancy’s EndWar kicked up a fair amount of interest when it was announced. The early teasing incited a great deal of intrigue, and when the game was revealed to be an apocalyptic real time strategy game predominantly using a voice command interface, eyebrows were raised all over in consideration of exactly how successful such a bold move would be.
I’ve now had a chance to sit in on a preview which Ubisoft set up at Leipzig in order to show the press exactly what it is it has in mind. The game is only due for release in quarter one of 2008, so what we were shown was a very early build, particularly in terms of visuals, but Ubi’s real intention was to just show off the gameplay mechanics and allow us to understand where it’s going with this one. Hit the jump to find out where that is.
I’ll get out of the way right now the fact that I’m not a big RTS player. That’s not through any distaste for the genre however, in fact I’ve always had a big appreciation and respect for what it does when made well. Some styles of game though, just don’t sit well with certain people, and for whatever reason, I’ve never been able to feel truly involved in a real time strategy. Although things are very early at the moment, having seen what Ubisoft is doing, I’ve got the seed of a suspicion that END WAR has the potential to be a gateway game for me if all goes well until it’s completion.
I was told that work started on EndWar two and a half years ago with the brief of concentrating on both Tom Clancy and next generation console gaming. Ubisoft told me that it first looked at other games and genres which had been adapted successfully from a PC format to consoles, and citing games like Knights Of The Old Republic and Grand Theft Auto as inspiration for the direction it wanted to take, made an immersive camera a priority.
We heard shortly after the game’s announcement that an over-the-shoulder perspective was being used. In truth, going off what I saw at the preview, the in-game viewpoint is a fair bit further out than that, but the visual direction being taken with the game made me take notice nonethless. Ubisoft described the game as Ghost Recon but fifty times bigger, and the close in, down on the battlefield perspective certainly makes things feel a lot more immediate and involving what I’ve often come across in RTS.
It’s clear that Ubisoft’s aim to create a sense of being in a real, immersive warzone. Aside from a camera angle a lot lower than the typical in the genre, a major rule in creating the game is “no magic”. Not for EndWar the process of simple repeated animations until a building disappears or a unit turns up on the battlefield. Targets have to be destroyed or captured in a much more “real world” way, and when a unit is destroyed, a support helicopter will arrive to carry it away. Troops can be seen opening a vehicle door and getting inside when ordered to use one, and each will intelligently seek out and use whatever building or terrain cover available when sent to a new area. All in all, the demoed battle I saw today looked like an RTS trapped in the body of a third-person action game and very fresh it felt too.
As for the voice commands, they were another very pleasant surprise. I’d had my doubts when they were first announced, and frankly was expecting a bit of a mess given the early nature of the build we were going to be seeing. Looking back at my notes now though, I find that I used the words “slick as hell” and I’m very happy to stand by that succinct if not very eloquent summary. The demonstration made commanding an army using a microphone look very easy indeed, with simple orders such as “Unit one camera” and “Unit three take alpha” all that were needed to switch between squads or unleash all manner of fiery hell upon an enemy outpost. Instructions were acted upon quickly and efficiently, with a simple press of the Xbox 360’s right trigger or right bumper ample to activate a simulated radio link between the player and their troops or an online co-op partner.
Speaking of online play, things are currently pretty promising there too. Intended at the moment are twelve-player single matches with up to one thousand units on the field at any given time. While END WAR’s unit rosta is being kept simple at seven types, there will be one hundred and fifty potential upgrades per faction, allowing a great deal of customization. That personalization will be furthered by the fact that surviving units at the end of a battle can be saved and reused in future games, gaining experience for as long as they stay in one piece. Ubi is also aiming to provide forty different territories to be playable in multiple game modes and is localizing the voice input to cover everything from American and English English to a host of European languages and Japanese. It says there will be no need to “train” the voice recognition, with the game ready to play out of the box.
Naturally, at this very early stage it’s impossible for me to give EndWar the golden Dave Seal Of Approval, but from this point on, it IS a game I’m going to be very happy to keep an eye on.