We’ve all seen plentiful variations of Tom Clancy’s military franchise in the gaming world, and to Ubisoft’s credit, they are still trying new things. EndWar is an attempt to incorporate all the realistic political drama of a Clancy novel in an action-packed real time strategy game. Truth be told, EndWar is more action than strategy, though that’s not necessarily a bad thing. In fact, one of its biggest drawbacks is the surprisingly weak storyline.
In the familiar future, international tensions have been pushed to the limit. Oil supplies are dwindling, missile defense grids are activating, and the newly united Europe seems to have completely abandoned its allies in the United States. Russia has also developed into a major superpower, due to its oil production. Throughout EndWar, you’ll be playing as one of these three factions in order to determine who will rule the world. You’ll be reminded of your faction each time you hear chatter on the battlefield in your native accent. Unfortunately, that’s about it. EndWar offers little in the way of emotional drama or even global storylines to draw the player into the experience.
Combat mechanics are pretty much your usual rock-paper-scissors in EndWar. Players will pick up on these things fairly quickly, especially those familiar with the RTS genre. There are slight differences in faction abilities, such as the thickness of Russian armor over American, or in determining what type of WMD you’ll be able to activate against your foes. The use of recognizable world locations such as Paris (see Eiffel Tower on the game cover art) helps to simulate the urgency of battle, but the core mechanics are still simplistic. Each playing mode centers on the assault and defense of a particular control point, or as the game calls them, “satellite uplinks”.
The most popular aspect of the game will likely be the online “Theater of War”. This mode offers temporary online persistence, so the results of battles are reflected on a global map. Since none of this is actually coordinated and the factions themselves feel arbitrary, players will probably not feel an urge to rush online with their favorite faction in order to reclaim Eastern Europe. It’s really too bad, because so much more could have been achieved with this feature. Many of the gameplay mechanics feel dumbed down, as well. Then again, this “strategy game” started on the consoles, so a bit of accessibility was perhaps deemed necessary.
The best thing about EndWar, by far, is the voice command feature. Using your best headset, you can scream orders into your microphone and watch the units carry them out (make sure you enunciate well when you’re screaming, of course). Headset quality will also make a big difference here, so choose your hardware wisely. The commands worked pretty well even when I used a fake accent; I’d even say the voice recognition software is among the best I’ve seen in any game to date. One could argue that the “accessibility” of this feature is merely a gimmick to draw in casual genre fans, but it does generate a few exciting moments when you’re ordering squads to fall back or launch missile strikes at enemy forces. Branching menus assist in identifying units and possible commands, so you’ll instantly know how to carry out operations by voice. In fact, most everything in the game can be done using voice commands exclusively.
On the aesthetic side, Tom Clancy’s EndWar is surprisingly mediocre. The textures are not nearly as detailed as they should be for a game that keeps a camera so close to the action, and the geometry draw distance leaves something to be desired as well. Collision detection issues also cause distraction, with units regularly moving through one another on their way to a destination. Audio is decent, though it does not feel quite as intense given the player’s apparent proximity to the camera. The chatter of units on the battlefield works pretty well, and is actually genuinely informative rather than cheeky and obnoxious.
Although entirely optional, the voice command system remains the primary draw of this game. If you’re not planning on using it, you probably won’t get much enjoyment out of EndWar. Like a forgotten girlfriend, it’s not especially pretty, smart, or fun. EndWar’s simplified gameplay keeps it from being a good real time strategy game, while the mediocre combat ensures the game has few memorable moments.