April 26, 2009
It’s been dubbed a revolutionary in RTS gaming for the console and understandably so, it’s Stormrise, developed by Brisbane-based The Creative Assembly. Released for Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 and PC, the game features two opposing “human” forces in a battle that seems to span a now-apocalyptic-wasteland of a planet.
One faction, The Echelon, is your run-of-the-mill “Space Marine” styled forces with mech warriors, shiny shinny weapons and glistening technology. They were the survivors of some weather experiment gone bad on planet earth, frozen then awaken Walt Disney style. My favourites to play by far, though some of the vehicles felt a bit underpowered. The game provides eclectic (though sometimes long) cinematics to tell the storyline, though unless you plan on fanatically following it it’d be easier just to skip and then go through each mission. Granted knowing the chemistry between The Echelon and The Sai can be helpful at times.
Which brings us to the other faction, The Sai, a big mix between Assassin’s Creed clothed hoodlums, Rusted “Waterworld” vehicle decals, and units who were a bit too mutated to be part of “The Flood” from the Halo series. Even though they have a tendency for the melodrama they do still have an intriguing Protos mind-control thing going on, mostly because they were the result of those who were in a safe haven when that weather experiment gone back thing happened.
So those are the two factions, as you’d expect in any RTS. The different styles of each faction definitely resulted in entertaining me not only as i discovered the unique abilities of each of the various units for both sides, but also developing strategies around the limitations of those respective units. The strategy i employed with the Echelon was a “destroy everything from the air then cover with artillery”; while with the Sai I discovered that wouldn’t work. Instead I had to build up a formidable army to slowly push the enemy back because most of my significant units were slow moving.
Where Stormrise prides itself in, and where they are most considered revolutionary, is their control scheme. Real Time Strategy games have always come up short on any console compared to the equivalent PC version is because of the lack of mouse. It’s difficult to successfully traverse the large landscapes while still having good control of a plethora of different units and structures. As much as i’d think owning a Jurassic Park playpen of rides and amusements is enjoyable, or battling Covenant in a distant land is epic; it’s always the control scheme that makes or break any RTS game. Stormrise approached these problems in quite a clever way, however their solutions do present some other difficulties or highlight already present difficulties in this particular game genre.
Welcome to Whip Select. The coolest and yet simultaneously most annoying control system ever. Let me break it down for you. Every type of unit has a different logo so that even when on the other side of the map you can see what units you have in a particular spot at a given time. With your Right Thumbstick you can whip across your line of sight with a orange indicator, while doing so the icons become bigger and by letting go on a specific unit’s logo you whip to their Point of View. Meaning you can cross the battlefield in a single motion. You automatically have control of those units, able to activate certain abilities and give move/attack orders.
Granted once the battle heats up and you have several units and squads then it can be a bit frustrating when you don’t whip correctly and suddenly you’re in some random part of the map with one lone scout buggy that you forgot was there. This had a tendency to happen many times for me, and it really broke the flow of the game; as well as frustrated me because i kept hearing the generic female voice-over going “so-and-so unit has been destroyed”.
The Left Thumbstick moves your cursor, using it to give move or attack orders on a specific location. However it can also be used to give “indirect orders”, in which you don’t have to whip to the unit to give the order, simply select the unit with the cursor and with the “Indirect Order” button you can give move/attack orders. Helpful when i have the high ground with a helicopter and want to move 5 different groups of units. That always seemed like a good thing to do, and maybe it was part of the strategy of the game that the developers intended; gaining the higher ground actually enables you to coordinate your groups of units more easily.
Which brings me to groups. Why would you restrict groups to only 3 “units”. I say “units” as infantry are in squads so you can’t select just 1 soldier, you have about a dozen men under the logo of one “unit” and so you can get 3 dozen in a group. Quickly I discovered that I spent so much time just grouping units together that I could get RSI from it. It’d be so much easier to move all my mutant Ringworm-looking Sai air dragons if they were all grouped together rather than moving them in groups of 3. I move one then i can’t whip correctly and because i’m in the air i can’t swing the camera around correctly to see the others.
The Camera, the only thing about this game i would actually throw my controller because of. “Player versus the camera” would be the phrase you could tattoo across your back because you’re forever struggling with the camera and being able to see what you’re doing. It works on a Point of View/Line of Sight mechanic where your camera always points in the direction of your cursor, of course meaning you control where the camera points that’s fine it’s what i want, but also results in you not being able to see properly in confined spaces or in fact any complex map structuring. And the strategic map doesn’t help ’cause it works on the same basis. Get this correct, with the minimap i want to be able to scroll over the map to see where to move, not battle the cursor system. RTS games should always have the ability to go Top-Down, it would just work so much easier if that ability was there.
But once you learn how not to play the game and get used to the frustrating controls you learn to love to hate then it’s quite fun. If you keep an open mind then you can even get immersed in the story, which involves betrayals, lies and everything else that tends to make a storyline interesting. The visuals are very very pretty and Echelon is fun to play because you get a big f*ing ship, the most awesome unit in the game and I’ll play skirmish over and over again just to be able to control it. Look at the screenshot above, that ship in the background, that’s not scenery that’s a unit. A huge unit that annihilates anything in it’s path, slow as hell but who cares any enemy will have brown underwear when I set it to Anti-Ground stance resulting in it intimidatingly lowering itself closer to the ground. I’m inclined to invite friends around, just to show off this unit and hear them go “woah!”, and i’ll smile proudly.
The game revolves around capturing points and then those points you can upgrade with shields and guns, at the same time those points providing a faster flow of currency for you to upgrade your points and build units. Annihilate the enemy to win, at least i think that’s how you win. Half way through writing this review I had an inkling to go play the game again, which obviously speaks highly of it, and just to make sure i had this winning thing down pat. Apparently that one skirmish I played to validate the winning scenario didn’t work. I captured the enemy point, i destroyed their Commander unit, and then nothing. So who knows we’ll make it a surprise on how you win each level, though in story mode you have a sexy female AI voice to guide you.
Stormrise offers 1 player Skirmish modes obviously, alongside it’s Story mode, as well as Multiplayer either via LAN or Online. Maps are able to support up to 8 players however with my slow internet and the intense graphics of the game i doubt i’d pull an online game off without being disconnected. If you can get past the slightly difficult controls then it’s one that has the potential to have a big community grow around it. Overall quite a good demonstration of the evolution of the Real Time Strategy genre, I’d say definitely worth a play if you’re a fan of RTS and looking for something a bit different while still keeping in the genre.