We Just Played Stormrise (in Multiplayer)

Have you heard of these "real-time strategy" games? The ones where you hoard piles of resources, build up a bunch of buildings, then churn out a little army of toy soldiers to go beat up your opponents' toy soldier armies? Yeah, those. They're pretty popular on the PC, but game developers seem to...

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Have you heard of these "real-time strategy" games? The ones where you hoard piles of resources, build up a bunch of buildings, then churn out a little army of toy soldiers to go beat up your opponents' toy soldier armies? Yeah, those. They're pretty popular on the PC, but game developers seem to want to bring them to modern consoles too. The next game to make the attempt will be Stormrise for the Xbox 360, PS3, and the PC. The game will take place in a war-torn, futuristic world, where the last remaining resources on the planet are contested by two factions: the Echelon, a faction of high-tech soldiers with attack choppers, tanks, and mech suits to hunker down in open areas and lay down gunfire from a distance; and the Sai, a fantasy-themed faction that uses magic powers and beefy melee units to circle and flank...then beat the daylights out of their enemies up close and personal. We tried out the Xbox 360 version of the game, which will take another swing at the longstanding issue of mapping precise RTS control onto the limited sticks and buttons of a modern console controller.

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You'll have a whole army of little guys like this to fight and die for you. Hopefully, your opponent's little guys will die before yours do.

Developer Creative Assembly Australia seems to want to capture the power and elegance of the PC's traditional mouse-and-keyboard control scheme and map it onto a console controller--and streamline out most of the other stuff that doesn't fit. Like in a traditional RTS, you have to amass resources to spend on buildings and armies, but you'll do so by capturing resource nodes, similar to the nodes in the Warhammer: Dawn of War series. Interestingly, the nodes will all be connected in a continuous network across the map, so to capture and continually hold a certain node, you need to have a ground unit capture that node, and you also need links to other nodes in your territory, similar to the node capture system in Unreal Tournament 2004's Conquest mode.

The idea is to encourage players to continue fighting until the bitter end, because instead of matches where one player eventually controls the vast majority of the resource nodes on a map and takes all the time in the world to amass an army while the already-outclassed losing player sits there and waits for the inevitable, a player who is losing significantly can sneak behind enemy lines and cut off the connection to his wealthy opponent's forward nodes, which will suddenly cut down on the dominant player's resources and give the losing player a new lease on life. Creative AU apparently wants to encourage players to be sneaky, since the game's 3D maps will feature multiple elevations. Many maps will have subterranean passages and ruined skyscrapers to perch on in addition to ground-level operations, and both playable factions will have access to flying units that can clear the tallest skyscraper.

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Capturing resource nodes will be the key to victory. The weird spider-monster thingy is just the icing on the cake...to whatever extent weird spider-monster thingies can be any kind of icing on any kind of cake.

Stormrise will also slim down some of the other aspects of traditional real-time strategy. For instance, the only building you'll do will be upgrades for nodes you've already captured, such as enhanced resource gathering, defensive shields, and turrets...right on top of the node itself. (But you can build only one improvement at a time, and there's no queueing of improvements; this is to encourage players to stay engaged in the action and the building of upgrades, rather than setting a big, long production queue and forgetting about it.) Also, instead of building a town hall/command-center-type structure, you'll start the game with a single summoning point from which you can immediately call in whatever armed forces you can afford, such as Echelon gunners, tanks, and choppers, or Sai foot soldiers, wizards, ogres, and flying dragons. Like in the Dawn of War series, you don't summon individual units, but rather squads of units, and like in any good real-time strategy game, you can create "control groups" of units (basically, a shortcut that lets you automatically select a group of your forces to give orders to). And there's also a shortcut that lets you create a group for all units of the same type onscreen, so you can quickly and neatly create a single group for all your infantry, another for all your tanks, and another for all your choppers.

However, once you have a squadron selected, you'll still need to use the game's cursor (controlled by your left thumbstick) to choose the destination of your selected unit; so even though the game kind of looks like a third-person action game with a behind-the-back camera like Tomb Raider or Prince of Persia, there won't be any direct control of your units. Fortunately, there will be float-over icons above any and all friendly and hostile units that will appear on the horizon, so if you need to mass troops on a location, you can snap your cursor to the icon hovering over that hotspot and give a move order to send your troops in. Unfortunately, there isn't any "select every single unit you own" shortcut. This is to discourage players from just turning off their brains and sending in all the troops at once; instead, Creative Assembly hopes you'll use each set of units smartly and will have effective control to send each into battle at the right time, and the right place.

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The whip select system will let you select nearby friendlies or just jump around to your next squad.

The heart of Stormrise's control scheme is the "whip select" system, which has two layers. First, using the right thumbstick on your controller, you can call up a glowing pointer that "paints" the nearest unit it's pointing to; you can then press the A button to select that unit. This is Stormrise's answer for using a mouse to scroll across the map. The second layer of the whip select system is the way you can flick the right stick in any direction to jump to select the nearest friendly group or structure in that direction, such as the nearest captured resource node or all the way back to your base. (From what we can tell, at launch you'll have only the one base of operations that will require you to constantly hop back to it if you want to churn out more armies; it's possible that future updates such as downloadable content may add in features like forward spawn points).

We had the opportunity to dive into two different multiplayer matches, first as the tech-savvy Echelon and then as the magic-and-melee-focused Sai. It took us a few minutes to get used to the control and grouping systems, but once we figured them out, we found ourselves making aggressive starts to each match by continuously churning out new units while sending all available troops ahead to the nearest resource node. Having a well-balanced force seems helpful to making sure you can take on any kind of threat, but Stormrise's "technology trees" (the order of upgrades and units you can purchase for your structures and armies) are generally laid out in an easy-to-understand, linear way. Basically, the most powerful stuff is the most expensive and also tends to have the best secondary abilities. The Sai dragon, for instance, is a deadly combatant that can tear up airborne enemies as well as bombard ground targets back to the Stone Age. Both of our matches seemed to go pretty quickly and not take much more than about 20 minutes, though they were one-on-one matches in smaller maps using Xbox 360 system link.

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If you've ever wanted to command a firebreathing dragon to melt a four-wheeled buggy, you'll get your wish in Stormrise.

For whatever reason, some game companies seem convinced that putting real-time strategy games onto consoles will mean unlimited success, pots of gold, ice cream parties, and all the best things in the world, which is why we're seeing more pretenders to this throne in games like Tom Clancy's EndWar, Red Alert 3, and Halo Wars. Stormrise's unique control scheme and fast-paced action seem like they could be the deciding factors in helping Stormrise ascend that throne...or at least get closer to a good, solid console RTS control scheme. The game is scheduled for release later this year on Xbox 360, PS3, and PC.

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