Saturday, May 16, 2009

So after yesterday's bit of good fortune, I decided to use the cash to buy some more art supplies that I need (Mostly nibs and Bristol Board), and discovered I had enough left for a trip to the pre-owned section at my local Gamestop.

I bought Tom Clancy's Endwar…and it's awesome.

I haven't invested any time into a real time strategy since the first Command and Conquer game on the PC. I loved C&C but then things just started getting way too complicated. You see, in real life you have a whole hierarchy of people in charge of a military campaign and your actual units won't just stand there and allow themselves to be shot at if they don't receive any orders. Basically, I got bored of my very expensive units getting slaughtered because I was too busy deciding which technology to research next, while establishing a trade route with one ally, while telling my resource harvesters which processing center to go to and so on and so on.

Now the first really awesome thing about Endwar is that it's almost entirely voice controlled, and better still, the voice control actually works. I was a little worried that it'd have problems with my English accent, its accuracy is astonishing. It probably misses about one order out of a hundred…and I don't even really consider that a problem given that at a stressful moment during a traditional RTS, it's really easy to click the wrong unit or something.

Even giving the orders themselves is simple. You pull the right trigger like a push-to-talk walkie-talkie and give your order in the format 'Who, what, where.' For example "Unit five attack hostile three" or "Unit four secure uplink Alpha". You can also issue orders to all your units or all of a particular unit type like "Calling all units, move to bravo" or "Calling all gunships, attack hostile 4". The game also recognized a few synonyms like 'engage' or 'destroy' instead of attack.

Now, as well as this being a fun bit of technology, it also completely sidesteps the usual console RTS control problems and has the side effect of making the game much more fun and realistic. It's a very simple thing but it's amazing just how much of a difference it makes tell a unit what to do instead of just clicking and pointing. Given that your units are also 'persistent', in that they increase in rank and you use them mission after mission…you find yourself becoming strangely attatched to them. I'd managed to get a group of engineers through a good few missions and I didn't realize how much I'd come to rely on them until they got pinned down and I couldn't evacuate them. I found myself almost resenting their replacements. It's like "Gah, Thunder battalion would have had that uplink hacked twenty minutes ago…Arrowhead battalion is useless."

This is also helped by the fact that when a unit can't comply with your order, they reply through your headset instead of your speakers. While this is a great way to just make sure you know that the unit can't comply (which is important, if the gunship support you were counting on doesn't show up it can mean game over for that mission), it also adds to the illusion that you're talking to a person and not a game…it gives them personality…meaning you really think about sending that unit somewhere dangerous, because it's not just 'tank unit 3', it's 'Mastadon Group', the guys that totally saved the day in the last mission.

As I mentioned above, I hate over-complicated RTS's. I want to control soldiers on a battlefield, not micromanage an economy. Endwar does a masterful job in that this game is complex, but not complicated.

Actual combat works a lot like playing a game of 'rock, paper, scissors'. Helicopters beat tanks, tanks beat transports and transports beat helicopters. Infantry beats all three, is the only unit that can capture buildings, but gets slaughtered easily by any unit type
when not in cover. Basically, the more powerful a unit is, the bigger its weakness. For example, Artillery can make short work of most units, but is absolutely useless and vulnerable up close. Infantry are basically the most powerful units, but they get destroyed in seconds when not in cover.

It's deceptively simple. This game isn't about building a massive army and throwing them at your opponent, it's about having the right unit in the right place at the right time. There's really no such thing as the 'strongest unit' or 'overwhelming force'. You can send a massive force of tanks at your enemy, but they can be held back by just a couple of helicopters. In essence, it works a lot like chess and a single unit can really turn the tide of a whole battle if used correctly.

Basically, depending on the situation, you might be able to capture an objective with a single unit, or you might throw the bulk of your forces at it and get turned back.

It really is an awesome game that I can highly recommend.


1 comment:

Sunny said...

Just think...if I had ANY aptitude or interest in learning strategy in any of those games there's a strong possibility I could/would take over the world.

Thank your lucky stars I like to decorate houses and cook instead.

***Notice my correct usage and spelling of the word "your" as opposed to "you're" or "yore".***