Creative Assembly have been at the summit of real-time strategy gaming ever since Shogun: Total War burst forth nearly a decade ago. Synonymous with PC gaming, it seems the time has come for the company to devote some of its resources to breaking into new areas, namely action-oriented console games with the most hideous control method ever devised. Although Stormrise’s control system was developed for consoles it’s by no means accessible. CA has comprehensively failed to create a scheme that will work on control pads or mice.
Before we descend into the madness that is Whip Select, let’s look at the game itself. The setting is post-apocalyptic, with two factions emerging from the wreckage of a devastated world. The Echelon are machine-oriented humans , while the Sai (who have rejected mechanistic doctrine) base their forces on organic units and various mutated creatures. The game’s main Story mode sees you start off as a character named Geary, who is dropped into a big stompy mech. These machines are the Echelon’s commanders, with the rest of the army formed by infantry, large vehicles/creatures or airborne units/flying dragon-type things.
The Sai’s bestiary is fun to observe initially. The Matriarch spider is pretty funky, for example, but once you realise there are only two factions, and that there aren’t actually that many units to choose from anyway, the novelty value of commanding mutants fades sooner than a knock-off band T-shirt. There’s also the fact that there are a number of units you’ll just never use, as CA haven’t balanced them properly. So you’ll be seeing a lot of the same type of units and, annoyingly, you’ll also be seeing them on very similar battle landscapes. A lot of browns and greys are on display and, while some of the maps are plenty of fun (the urban one with a big hole in the middle is a particular favourite) just as many are pretty drab and difficult to navigate.
One of the reasons the maps are hard to navigate is that the Whip Select interface is so bloody excruciating. To select a unit you need to hold down the right mouse button, drag towards the unit of your choice and then release. In theory and when no pressure is put on the player, it does work. Sadly, virtually the second you build up a decent force or expand your territory (defined by control of resource points, Dawn of War II-style) you will start cursing the Whip. A lot. The thing is, as far as we could determine, you can’t free-roam around the map, so you’re stuck viewing the action from the perspective of one unit. This wouldn’t be so bad if you had more control over the camera, but usually when you Whip Select over to one of your force, the camera fixes itself at an incredibly awkward angle.
Once it has done this, it’s a struggle to move it into a more manageable position. By then, you’ve lagged up to 10 seconds behind the action. In a fast-paced game, this is unforgivable. Couple this with the fact that the maximum size of a squad is three (again, at least as far as we could determine), you’ll have lots of small groups – which you can’t assign quick-select numbers to – spread out all over the place. The worst thing about the interface is when you want to pick a unit that’s a reasonable distance away. You’ll, stupidly, have to guess which one it is from a mass of bunched icons. Virtually every time, unless you get lucky, you’ll pick the wrong unit. It is just a total mess, using pad or mouse.
There are saving graces in the form of the options for single-player Skirmish battles and, to a lesser extent, the online multiplayer games. That’s if you can put up with Games For Windows LIVE, which multiplayer games are run through. Skirmish, especially when you whack up the maximum number of AI units allowed, is much easier to get to grips with than the campaign missions. Online you’ll certainly come up against spam-attack rushers, but you can set the pace of battle yourself in Skirmish. Even Whip Select doesn’t seem so bad.
Other than that, the only things you’ll get out of Stormrise are a headache and a stress-related heart attack from trying to select a unit. An RTS where the hardest thing is selecting your men – imagine that.
Apr 1, 2009