With Creative Assembly, the developer behind the much lauded PC real-time strategy game Total War, attempting to take on the unenviable task of forging an RTS title on console that effectively embraces and maximizes to good effect the limited controls of a joypad, we had high hopes for Stormrise. You certainly can’t knock the developer for lack of ambition; Creative Assembly set out to make Stormrise stand out from the mediocre RTS console crowd by scrapping the traditional top-down perspective in favor of a 3D third-person perspective close-up view of the action, and throwing in a few brave innovations not yet seen in the genre, yet it still fails to deliver on many levels. Ultimately, Stormrise is yet another title that doesn’t provide a decent alternative to a keyboard and mouse.
Set in a post-apocalyptic vision of Earth that was devastated many centuries ago, Stormrise follows the plight of two factions. The technologically-savvy human Echelon forces who survived the disaster through hibernation square up against the Sai, a tribal society who have managed to survive on the planet by adapting to its harsh environment. Despite the opening cinematic lacking the high production values of some top tier titles, Stormise shows some promise with its post-apocalyptic storyline and lays down an intriguing enough cause for the battles that lie ahead, while also providing a suitably appealing backdrop for the action.
Stormrise follows the same pattern of other real-time strategy titles, where you need to rely on your tactical awareness, unit selection, deployment and speedy navigation to win the day. But, despite briefly threatening to live up to expectations with an enticing 3D look and the wealth of tactical possibilities at your fingertips, its multi-layered gamepaly rarely enthralls and ends up being its downfall as you spend far too much time trying to work out how to take the best advantage of the complicated control system. As a result, the initial bouts of gameplay are confusing as you try to work out how to command units, group them together and get to grips with the one of the game’s new features, the Whip Select function.
Whip Select is Creative Assembly’s flagship new feature, which attempts to make unit control a little easier by bringing the controller’s analogue sticks into play. By flicking the right stick you can hot-swap instantly with other friendly units and because the camera moves with you, you can jump from one end of the map to the other immediately, which can switch the battle in your favor at an instance. Well, that’s the idea anyway. In truth though, it hasn’t been implemented well and is far too oversensitive to control, making it difficult for you to select the unit you want. It’s also quite disorientating seeing the camera flicking around the action as you switch from one unit to the next. The close-up 3D view doesn’t help matters at all. It actually impedes your line of sight and makes it so that it’s difficult to see what’s going on, let alone strategically plan a decent attack. The field map which you can access at any point in the game should help in your planning, allowing you to remotely control your units, but its garish design (a series of yellow and orange holograms) makes it difficult for you to work out where your units can travel. It’s all far too confusing.
Frustration is heightened by the sheer lack of excitement throughout Stormrise’s twelve laborious levels – the gameplay does little to get your adrenaline flowing and make you feel like you’re taking part in anything significant. Its slow pace and steep learning curve definitely won’t appeal to the impatient. Missions drag on for an eternity, while the fact that you can only group together three units at a time means that it also lacks the scale for major battles, thus making the gameplay feel weak and fundamentally pointless. It’s a big shame because it’s clear that a lot of thought had gone into the unit selection for Stormrise, and despite there being only nine types available per faction, there’s some fun to be had out of experimenting with those on offer.
Each unit has its own unique strength and weakness so you need to switch between units regularly and make sure you choose the right man for the job. Infiltrators, for example, have thermal vision that can detect hidden enemies, whereas Spectres have a vicious slashing motion which comes in handy when under close-quarters attack. There are also a few vehicles to control, including the machine-gun mounted Scorpion and the Prowler, which can transform into a gun platform to shoot down airborne targets. Unfortunately though, due to the over-complicated control scheme and general lack of intelligence your units show, ordering formations or cover and fire commands alongside the wealth of other orders available doesn’t always have the desired effect. As an example, two units which we sent in the same direction got stuck trying to navigate through the same gap toward the enemy. Even as early as the third level things also get incredibly tough, to a point where it just feels like the A.I. just wasn’t fine-tuned before release.
The new RTS features in Stormrise, in theory, were good ideas and Creative Assembly certainly had its heart in the right place attempting to cater for the console audience with some newfangled mechanics. In truth though, Stormrise is as mediocre a game as we’ve played in this particular genre. Broken A.I., an unrefined control scheme and shoddy presentation are partly to blame, but also the decision to go 3D and move close-in on the action has actually had the reverse affect; rather than make you feel involved in the action, it actually makes you feel detached from the battlefield because it’s difficult to see exactly what’s going on. While credit deserves to be given for the solid online component, which sports matchmaking features, four-on-four skirmishes and the ability to drop in and out of games seamlessly, it’s back to the drawing board for Creative Assembly, who’ll no doubt learn some harsh lessons from the criticisms aimed at its first attempt at a console RTS.