Real-time strategy games have proven to be engaging experiences when played on computers--using your keyboard and mouse to give multiple orders to multiple armies while you build up a virtual conglomerate with hoarded resources. But things have changed in recent years. For starters, we've seen the emergence of tactical strategy games, which cut out resource-gathering and building in favor of giving you an army to start with and pushing you right into battle. And real-time strategy games have also made their way to video game consoles, though they haven't necessarily hit their stride yet. In 2008, Ubisoft Shanghai's console strategy game EndWar took a bold new step in console strategy control schemes, giving you a voice-control system that let you give orders to your armies by talking into your headset. The game was well received and supplemented with new maps and downloadable content, and now it's making its way to PCs with all that extra DLC in one box, plus a new interface built for PC strategy veterans, and we got our hands on it.
You may be unfamiliar with EndWar, but you're probably not unfamiliar with the novelist whose name graces the game's title, Tom Clancy. Clancy has made a name for himself creating action-packed, near-future scenarios where political intrigue leads to global war, and EndWar follows suit with a near-future conflict in which international tension over space armaments, oil, and nuclear weapons causes the world to be divided as the US and Europe take on the forces of an angry unified Russia.
Like the console versions of the game, EndWar for the PC will ship with a full single-player campaign, as well as options to play skirmish maps in either single-player or multiplayer. The PC version contains all the maps and upgrades from the original console game and from all DLC to date. Unfortunately, multiplayer isn't up and active yet, but we had a chance to try out the single-player modes and found that the gameplay has arrived on the PC intact. In EndWar, you start each mission with a handful of squads that you can select before you deploy, such as riflemen (which are useful against other infantry but poor against armor), tanks (which are useful against enemy vehicles but vulnerable to fire from helicopter gunships), and artillery (which are useful for long-range bombardment but vulnerable to close-range fire). Each unit has an easy-to-remember rock-paper-scissors relationship with enemy units that will require you to use mixed forces to neutralize and counter your enemies' attacks.
Depending on your mission objective, you then dive into the mission in search of control points to capture and enemies to destroy. Like the console versions of the game, EndWar for the PC offers four game modes: Conquest (a territory mode in which you must capture and hold all key locations on the map); Assault (a search-and-destroy mode); Siege (a map defense mode); and Raid (a sabotage mode). And before you deploy, you can also choose your army's task force upgrades, which include specialized bonuses for armor (tanks and ground vehicles), airborne (gunships), and tactical (artillery strikes).
Skirmish and campaign missions in the PC version of EndWar begin much like they do in the console versions of the game, with a short voice-over mission briefing that dumps you right onto the battlefield with your units. The PC game's interface has been reworked to seem a bit more familiar to PC strategy veterans; each of your battalions is listed along the bottom of the screen with status bars that indicate their damage levels and current activity, and each of your squadrons is assigned to a number key by default, which makes attack-move orders for your individual units much easier to give. The game's minimap has been placed in the lower-left corner of the screen and is clickable--you can right-click on minimap locations to give actual move orders to individual locations.
Also, the standard commands you'll need to give to your units, such as to force-attack the destination (that is, ordering your units to move to a location and immediately open fire) and to retreat when severely damaged or injured, are also tied to keyboard shortcuts. Some EndWar console players tended to find that the voice control worked quite well for the console versions of the game, though making use of the console controller in their hands ultimately gave players slightly faster and more-responsive control. We found that the PC controls gave even better control of our individual armies, and considering that PC strategy players live and die by their mice and keyboards, the added keyboard control options definitely seem like a welcome addition to the game's voice control, which seems to work similarly to that in the console versions.
EndWar for the PC will clearly offer a unique alternative to standard real-time strategy when it's released later this month.