Guest Author - James Shea
Based more on games like Ground Control or World in Conflict than Tom Clancy's previous games, "EndWar" is a real-time-tactics game taking place in World War III.
EndWar's depiction of WW3 is fought between the United States, Europe, and Russia after Russia sabotages European missile defense networks to cause them to attack a US spacecraft. The game takes place in the future, and all the units are meant to reflect this. Gone is the modern-day grittiness of most Tom Clancy games, as well as the fairly plausible storylines. What's mostly odd about the plot is that it's meant to take place in the same universe as Rainbow Six and Ghost Recon, meaning that the three main superpowers, despite having worked together for years, decide to go to war at the drop of a hat.
The goal in EndWar's standard mode is to capture command nodes, which are locations scattered around the map. Controlling half of them starts a five-minute countdown timer; controlling all of them leads to instant victory. The player commands up to 12 units, each a platoon of 4 squads or vehicles. There are 6 types of unit. Riflemen (meant to be elite special operatives, not standard army grunts) are good against other infantry and can capture nodes the fastest. Engineers are armed with missile launchers and various tools, but do poorly against other infantry and capture nodes more slowly. Transports can carry infantry and have good anti-air weapons, but are weak against tanks. Tanks do well against ground vehicles, but poorly against air vehicles. Helicopter gunships destroy tanks easily, but are vulnerable to transports and engineers. Finally, artillery is powerful at a distance, but highly vulnerable at close range.
The seventh vehicle type is the command vehicle; you can only have one on the battlefield at a time. The command vehicle offers two major advantages. The first is satellite imaging. The game is viewed with a camera that follows one of your units; there is no "free camera". There is a mini-map, but for practical purposes all the player's orders need to be issued from a third-person camera perspective. With a command vehicle active, the player can go into a more traditional top-down view and see the whole battlefield, as well as issue orders. Losing the command vehicle, or choosing not to bring it, means you don't get access to that ability. Secondly, the command vehicle can launch Unmanned Aerial Vehicles to scout locations or fire missiles at enemy units.
One of the game's main attractions is that it can be played by voice - all units, command nodes, and visible enemies are given a name ("Unit 1", "Point Alpha", and "Hostile 1", for example). By following the game's methodology, in theory it should be possible to say "Unit 1 attack Hostile 1". However, one of the main problems with this concept is that saying all that stuff (for every single action you would take in the game) takes a long time, and it's really just easier to use the mouse. Using the game controller (for the PS3 or Xbox versions of the game) also seems like an unusual hassle; really, as with any RTS, using the mouse is basically the best idea. The voice commands are a neat idea, but also impractical.
The game's other main feature is that units are persistent and unique. Each platoon has its own callsign and matching voice; as you play through the game's Risk-like main game, your platoons gain experience, and gains access to upgrades to attack, defense, mobility, and so on. Therefore, keeping your platoons alive becomes a major priority. If a platoon is injured heavily (having lost 3/4ths of its squads), they are evacuated by helicopter unless the enemy specifically chooses to continue attacking them (which results in permanently losing them). Luckily, the computer does not do that; it's only a risk from particularly cruel players online. The customizability and uniqueness of each unit means that losing a particularly favored one is a direct punch to the player. Unit voices can be either male or female, with a variety of accents; the Europeans, for example, have French, Italian, German, or Spanish accents (Britain is neutral in the game's universe). Therefore, recognizing a unit by its voice can assist in making speedy decisions on the battlefield - if a unit says it's under attack, you can recognize the voice and go to its aid more easily. You can even assign camouflage to your whole unit, to make them distinct from other players' units.
One of the main problems with the gameplay in EndWar is the superweapons. After half of the control points on a map are captured by one side or the other, both sides get access to their superweapons, which include a laser satellite for the Europeans and an orbital missile platform for the United States. These weapons cause massive destruction, and are guaranteed to wipe out any units caught in their range. In fact, they are one of the few sources of perma-death in the game (if the targeted unit is wounded enough). What's frustrating about this is that there's no way to avoid it, you simply have to resign yourself to losing your units once half the map is conquered. It's not like one side has to set up arrays or whatever; once you hit half, everyone gets a nuke.
The other main problem is that the gameplay is very repetitive. The main Risk-style conquest mode has you attempting to take over the entire world, but what it actually pans out to is doing a single play style (capture the nodes) over and over and over until you win. The six unit types mean that there's not a lot one can do in terms of strategy or development, though the unique platoons at least give it some variety.
Overall, EndWar is a good concept, but a lot of its potential was taken out by being adapted for consoles. The controls on the PC are basically good, with some frustrating bits arising from unit selection (you can't select units on the mini-map, for example, and it's hard to drag a selection box over helicopters without selecting units far in the background as well). However, for the most part, EndWar is a good game with a lot of neat elements to it.
Buy Tom Clancy's EndWar from Amazon.com