E3 2008: Stormrise Impressions

We take our first look at Creative Assembly's upcoming RTS game, which was built specifically for consoles.

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Real-time strategy games don't have the most stellar record on home consoles, but Creative Assembly's Brisbane, Australia branch is hoping to buck that trend with the upcoming Stormrise. For a start, the team lays proud claim to the fact that the game has been built from the ground up with consoles in mind, particularly when it comes to its control scheme. In effect, Stormrise's interface has been built specifically for controllers instead of keyboards.

Stormrise takes place in a postapocalyptic future in which two warring races, the technologically advanced Echelon and the more organically focused Sai, are battling it out for supreme control. In our E3 2008 hands-off demo, the Creative Assembly reps showing the game chose the Sai side, whose units seem to be more influenced by genetic mutations than their Echelon counterparts. The demo started off in a large underground cave that served as the spawn point for Sai units. It was here where Creative Assembly first introduced the game's control scheme (the game was being demoed using an Xbox 360), and they said that more than 90 percent of the commands can be done using only the two analog sticks and the A button.

For example, moving units is done by choosing a waypoint with the left stick and pressing A. Choosing units is even simpler and is done via the right stick. Rotating the right stick will cycle through all of the units in the particular direction that you're pointing in, and you'll use A to select a unit. For even quicker swapping, flicking the right stick in any direction will automatically jump to the closest applicable unit. This fast switching method can be done no matter what height the unit is at in the gameworld. For example, the Creative Assembly reps were seamlessly switching from units in the bottom of the cave all the way up to a scout hiding on top of a building 160 meters straight up.

Stormrise's view is locked to whatever unit you're currently controlling, which means that you'll have a natural line of sight in-game. That is, you see what your unit sees. This can be used to great strategic effect by placing certain units in high points to scope out the enemies' positions. In our demo, the Creative Assembly reps used the scout on top of the building--known as a spectre unit--to find out the locations of enemy barricades before ordering the Sai infantry troops to storm out of the cave hole. Performing flanking maneuvers seemed to be pretty easy and was done with a few clicks of the A button paired with some quick analog-stick work. After taking out the resistance on one city street, the Spectre scout moved to another building, where it was able to spot even more enemies.

Creative Assembly says that the final game will ship with nine different base units per faction, with three variants (standard, heavy, and elite) available for each unit. As well as the spectre, some other Sai units that we saw included a large, hulking behemoth known as the rage, and the even larger spider-like brute queen. The rage is a tank class, able to dish out plenty of close-range punishment, and also features quite a large jump that can scale buildings. The brute queen's standard attacks are all acid-based (including a large acid-rain attack), and one of its special attacks spawns a lot of smaller versions of itself to attack foes. Even the spectre has a special move: It can control the minds of enemies for short periods of time (up to two minutes once the skill is fully upgraded), forcing them to turn on their comrades.

Our demo ended with a large-scale firefight involving several rage units, one large brute queen, and several gigantic Echelon-controlled mechs. The mechs were making quick work of the Sai units, but the spectre soon used her mind-control abilities to take over one of the mechs, ordering it to turn on the others. The tide turned, and the Sai forces eventually prevailed.

When it comes to multiplayer, Stormrise will feature four-on-four matches, with the added ability of being able to drop in and drop out at any stage. The game will also feature a two-player cooperative campaign either online or via split-screen.

From our quick view of Stormrise at E3 2008, it seems that Creative Assembly are making the right moves when it comes to creating a deep RTS game that's still accessible and fun to play on consoles. We're keen to get some hands-on time with the game ourselves to see if the controls are as easy as today's demo looked. Look for Stormrise to hit the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, and PC sometime in 2009.

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