As our story opens, we find the entire world embroiled in a war to end all wars. Conflicts between the world's nations have risen to a level of complete chaos that has come to be known as the EndWar. Ubisoft's developers have thrust players into the roles of squad commanders deploying their forces via groundbreaking voice-recognition technology, while at the same time promising the Tom Clancy brand of high-tech wartime drama. Can Ubisoft's gameplay and technological prowess cash the check the box cover writes? Will players feel like gigantic tools sitting in their command centers (couches) yelling into a microphone? Will the EndWar be lost when troops misinterpret an order that was actually an angry mom yelling from the other room? Debriefing follows...
Real-Time strategy games on consoles have always been a bit of a mixed bag. The endemically PC-esque gameplay has always posed a big problem for console controllers with considerably fewer buttons than a mouse and keyboard. EndWar attempts to rectify this physical limitation with the voice-recognition feature, and does so with a great deal of success. Commands are easily recognized by the system and the whole feature does indeed add an extra layer of realism to the gameplay. There is the "I feel so silly" factor to consider, but when playing alone this is forgotten quickly. Also, if you just so happen to be in a room full of "Chatty Cathys", make sure they don't sit too close to your microphone.
The game is extremely light on story. Those expecting the usual web of espionage, political intrigue and heroics that are usually so "clear and present" in Clancy's work will be disappointed, because there seems to be about a ten-minute phone call's worth of author created content in the game. This becomes all-too-obvious in the single-player campaign, which lacks any kind of satisfying outcome or storyline progression as a result of all these battles. The good news is that the actual gameplay is so riveting that it hardly seems to matter.
The game does seem to push players into using the microphone feature. Although it is quite possible to not use it at all, the result becomes all-too-cumbersome to issue specific commands with only the controller. Four types of headsets were used (that were on hand at the time), ranging from cheap to expensive (even an old Halo 2 Plantronics headset worked very well), all with impressive results. Even though there is a choice of factions to use within the game, once you complete the single-player campaign once there is very little reason to play it again. EndWar is one of those titles in which the single player mode is a mimicry of the multiplayer mode with an AI opponent. The game shines brightly over online multiplayer, where 2-4 commanders face off in their conquest for control of the earth. Knowing there are other players suffering the business end of your wartime orders adds that much needed sense of immediacy the RTS genre is known for. It's far sweeter than a victory over enemy AI.
No matter which faction you choose, they all function the same way. Players will command infantry, artillery, air support and special corps. You can bounce from group to group and the close-up camera angles put you right in the middle of all the carnage (the short-range nuclear explosions are particularly satisfying), with only the rare and unimportant visual glitch present. The whole interface is quite impressive and becomes second nature somewhere around the third hour of gameplay. This last point serves as the prime example of the audience EndWar is aimed at... those who may have been on the fence about the RTS genre and are looking for that breakthrough title. Yes, EndWar can be regarded as a "gateway" RTS game. The interface and gameplay is far simpler than other titles in the genre, and the voice recognition feature may be an attempt at creating a new, easier standard for these type of titles on consoles.
Graphically, the title delivers what it needs to but doesn't go out of its way to impress. Things could be a bit flashier and more detailed, but the job gets done admirably. The sound design is quite impressive overall, with all of the wartime bangs, booms, and bullets you would expect. The constant chatter of the squads over the radio gives it that tiny layer of realism that serves to motivate players to succeed. Quite impressive voice acting all around.
All in all, the entire gameplay experience is a recommended one. If the voice-recognition feature were removed, however, it would make the game feel like a mid-level freebie you might download for free off the Internet, or a title from yesteryear that you would find in a bargain bin for about five bucks. EndWar can be recommended to newbies of the RTS genre and those who prefer their RTS titles to be on the easier side. Just keep your mom from yelling across the house during a harrowing battle.