While the console versions are solid, the PC version of this unique strategy game is too stripped to stand out.
- Innovative voice command mechanic makes you feel powerful
- Persistent online campaign makes matches meaningful
- Different match types make good use of uplink capture mechanic.
- Single-player campaign has no story to speak of
- All three factions play the same way
- Limited unit types make for simple rock-paper-scissors skirmishes
- Success of voice recognition varies depending on player's headset.
Tom Clancy's EndWar is a real-time strategy game created for consoles that has now found its way to the PC. How's that for a twist? With its innovative voice controls and strong production values, EndWar was an enjoyable experience on the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360, granting armchair commanders a sense of high-tech supremacy. Yet on a platform overflowing with quality RTS options, its core simplicity is far more obvious. Its three near-future factions all play the same way, the rock-paper-scissors relationships between units are incredibly straightforward, and the single-player campaign doesn't tell any story to speak of, which is a blatant missed opportunity. Nevertheless, a novel multiplayer mode and persistent units that carry from one mission to the next keep things interesting, and on the whole, EndWar is a mildly enjoyable game, even if it never feels like a comfortable fit on the PC.
To get the most out of the experience, you'll need to plug in a headset. To order your units about, you issue a series of preset commands by holding down the space bar and speaking your directive into the microphone. This runs the gamut from attacking enemy squads ("Unit two, attack hostile four") and bringing in reinforcements when they are available ("Deploy gunships") to centering your view on a particular group ("Unit three, camera") and ordering special attacks ("Air strike, hostile six"). There are limited possibilities, so don't expect to plan out multiple waypoints or set up tank patrols. Nor can you rely completely on the microphone--at least, not if you intend to be competitive. Actions like garrisoning infantry in a building or ordering your units to unleash special attacks require some key presses, so there is a bit of light micromanagement in this regard.
If you'd rather take a traditional approach, you can use a mouse and keyboard, but doing so makes EndWar more frustrating than fun. Because the camera must be focused on a particular unit, you can't scroll across the map and issue orders with ease. You can enter a "sitrep" view, assuming your command vehicle hasn't been destroyed, which makes issuing orders with a mouse more feasible but is visually unappealing. Should you decide to use a headset (which you should, if you want to experience EndWar at its best), you may need to mess around with settings in Windows and within the game menus to get your hardware to work properly. A standard Logitech headset recognized most voice commands, while others were less successful (or completely unsuccessful) in consistently recognizing instructions.
The units themselves are products of EndWar's World War III setting. In the game's version of near-future events, The United States, Russia, and a unified Europe have become superpowers, and the US plans to launch a military space station to tip the worldwide balance of power in its favor. Unfortunately, terrorists destroy the station upon liftoff, thereby igniting global conflict. Yet as interesting and far-fetched as the setting is, it's mostly backdrop. The campaign is just a series of battles against the AI that emulates EndWar's main multiplayer mode, so don't expect much exposition, larger-than-life personalities, or political intricacies. You can play as any of the three factions, but while your own commander (and his or her blatant accent) will change, there's no story to involve you, aside from mission updates and news blurbs. Thus, there's no reason to play the campaign with another faction if you've finished it once already. This lack of narrative is a big disappointment, given Tom Clancy's pedigree of political page-turners.
Nevertheless, EndWar has a way of drawing you in, not just because of the unique control mechanism, but because it lets you closely follow your squads into battle. Regardless of your faction, the basic units are the same: Infantry comprises riflemen and engineers; tanks and artillery have the armored advantage; gunships take to the skies; and transports not only whisk your infantry about the battlefield, but offer necessary antiair support. Most of the time, you'll be switching your view from squad to squad, and the camera's close-up vantage point has quite an impact when you're engaged in combat. Bullets fly, gunships fall from the sky, and artillery fire rains from above, and some visual glitches aside, it's all exciting and cinematic in a way that most other strategy games just can't accomplish. Using sitrep view lets you get a quick overview of the battlefield, which is useful but not particularly dramatic. The rapid zoom of the camera when you move in and out of this mode and from one unit to the next, however, is slick.
While it may be authentic to have so few unit types and no striking difference between factions given the setting, it doesn't make any side worth playing more than another. The relationship between units is always the same--tanks beat transports, gunships beat tanks, and so on--so there's little subtlety to the gameplay. Instead, strategy is delivered on a broader level, starting with the mission objectives. There are four main mission types: assault, conquest, siege, and raid. Assault is the simplest (kill your enemy), while in Raid, you must either destroy or defend certain buildings on the map to achieve victory. Conquest is the most interesting mode, taking its cues from the Battlefield games in addition to EndWar's closest RTS cousin, World in Conflict. Here, you must use infantry to capture control points, called uplinks, scattered across the map while fending off the enemy and sabotaging their attempts to do the same. Siege battles are much less common than other types and involve an assaulting player attempting to capture a critical uplink while the defending player struggles to maintain control of it.