Ubisoft Shanghai’s Tom Clancy’s EndWar is not the first console realtime strategy game, but it is the first I have enjoyed.
Of course it all comes down to the controls: how can you effectively play on a console a genre which was originally built around a high-resolution screen and mouse and keyboard controls? Contemporary display resolutions help, but EndWar’s answer is voice recognition. Now I don’t know about that, but the way it handles the more conservative pad controls is spot on.
I can see that the voice command thing is a big selling point. I just don’t see any need for it. Reviews are saying that it works very well, and I don’t have a USB headset so I can’t check it out, but frankly, the basic controls work so fine that it’s hard to believe that voice commands would be any quicker or more convenient. That, and the fact that as I usually play in the living room with my wife sitting next to me, I wouldn’t feel comfortable spouting voice commands. (I did try voice commanding with the rather more limited Rainbow Six 3 on the Xbox – not my thing.)
The solution they’ve come up with to counter the lack of a mouse is to eliminate the need to scroll around the map. You don’t move the camera in EndWar. Rather, you choose which unit you want to be with and see the action from that unit’s point of view. Naturally airborne units and command units are the best for getting an overall picture of where things stand in combat, but it’s surprisingly easy to command things from the trenches, running with infantry and armor. You can give orders to any of your units despite your viewpoint. It works very well.
I’ve played my first World War III scenario as the Europeans to the final stages (some seven hours in total) and thus far I’ve never felt overstretched, blind or lacking the manual dexterity required to command my troops. It could use more tactical depth as sometimes it can feel that I’m going through the motions, using the same tactics in every skirmish (helicopters beat tanks beat transports beat helicopters, infantry is useless against everything unless in cover). Also the high-level warfare, where the three nations fight for territory, could use with more options and input as currently if feels a bit too straightforward and random. But all in all, a surprisingly solid offering and something I expect to play a bit more of.