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Stormrise [PS3]

Bar a few exceptions, the RTS genre has hardly had the most prestigious of showings on consoles.  Usually characterised by dodgy control schemes and impenetrable game interfaces, the genre (despite the mild successes that were EndWar and Halo Wars) still has a long to go to gain the trust of an audience that has been consistently let down in the past.  It’s a shame then that Sega’s Stormrise only adds more weight to the argument that the genre doesn’t belong on consoles at all, and developers would probably be better off concentrating solely on the PC market.

Set in a post-apocalyptic future, Stormrise tells the story of two warring factions of mankind, The Echelon and The Sai.  In classic sci-fi tradition it’s a battle of the well-organised, highly trained soldiers that make up The Echelon, versus the ever-underestimated, semi-mutated humans struggling to make a life for themselves on the wasteland that is their planet (The Sai).  It’s a generic story, but one you can at least work with.  What you can’t work with however is the gameplay, which throughout the entire game, is broken to a game-crippling degree.

If there’s one thing that you absolutely must get right in a console-based RTS title it’s the control scheme.  Nothing will be put under a more intense spotlight than the way you’ve mapped controls to the control pad.  It’s unfortunate then that Stormrise provides a scheme that, far from helping, goes a very long way to hinder both your success and enjoyment of the whole experience.  

The big idea on show here is ‘The Whip’ select mechanic.  To switch between units you use the right-stick to rotate a yellow line that cuts down the centre of the screen.   Highlight a visible unit and release the stick to take control of them.  Used in this manner to switch between nearby, visible units the whole thing does work quite well.  The problems arise when your army increases in size and spreads out across the map. Any units which aren’t in your field of view are represented by a small icon around the edge of screen which you can ‘whip’ to in the same as on-screen units.  However, when controlling a large army with many different units, the sheer number of icons makes it all but impossible to select the accurately select the correct unit or even keep track of where they are on the battlefield.

As opposed to the traditional RTS bird’s eye view, switching between units repositions the camera slightly above and behind them, in much the same style as EndWar.  This means it’s essential that you regularly switch between units to get a general look around the map, scout enemy locations and secure power nodes that provide you with resources to strengthen your army.  When you’re working with small numbers (as in EndWar) this constant camera repositioning isn’t a problem (especially if you’ve assigned units to your D-Pad for easy selection), but when you’re forced to increase the size of your army in order to progress through the game the viewpoint just doesn’t work.  Managing a large force from such a limited viewpoint, coupled with the aforementioned problem of having a mass of icons spread out across the screen, makes it all but impossible to select and coordinate your troops effectively.  If the entire game were played out with a very limited number of units on each map it would improve the quality to a level approaching bearable.
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If the game wasn’t frustrating enough for you already, you’ll be pleased to know that the A.I. has been set-up in such way that results in you having to micromanage individual units to a painstaking degree.  Once you’ve successfully run the gauntlet of selecting your desired unit and issued them a move command, you can only sit back and watch in bemusement as they become stuck on walls or become trapped in an animation loop as they fail to work which way they’re supposed to go.  Many of the environments have been designed in such a way that you must navigate through tight pathways and choke points.  If you don’t take the time to order your units through these areas one at time they simply all pile forward and become wedged in the confined space.

Of all its gameplay ideas and concepts, if there’s one that works at all it’s that of ‘verticality’ on the battlefield.  Rather than the normal single-layer approach, Stormrise allows you to make tactical use of the high ground areas of any given map.  Positioning your troops at the top of a hill or man-made structure allows you to see a great deal more of the battlefield and gives you an advantage with snipers and other long-range combat troops.  There’s also the option, in some maps, to travel underground in pursuit of the enemy, but sadly the usually cramped subterranean sections are no where near as satisfying as putting a rooftop to good use.

The game is as visually appealing as the bulk of the gameplay.  Not only are unit designs dull and unimaginative but also they lack any kind of sophistication in the technical department.  Animations are jerky, the unit geometry is blocky (to a point where it almost looks unfinished) and the textures wouldn’t look out of place in last-gen game.  These ugly-looking units populate a world that at times can be interesting to look out, but for the most part is simply a poor recreation of your standard post-apocalyptic landscape

In case you were wondering, Stormrise does have a multiplayer component if you feel like taking the battle online.  Up to eight players can fight it out in a bid to crush the opposition and take control of the power nodes scattered across the map.  You’re treated to all the same issues that ruin your experience of single-player, the animation issues, on-screen clutter and troops that can’t work out that if they move in single file they’ll be able to navigate a path through that narrow passage.  It should probably also be pointed out that online players are few and far between, resulting in lengthy waits on the opponent search screen as you hold your breath to see whether anyone else actually bothers enough to try their luck online.  Lets just say that the game’s servers are hardly being tested to their capacity limits.

Stormrise is a game that shows there’s still along way to go before RTS titles sit as comfortably on consoles as they do on PCs.  Few games can match Stormrise for the level of frustration it creates in the player and that, coupled with a whole host of other problems, makes it all but impossible to recommend it to even the most die-hard of RTS fans.  Considering the pedigree of the game’s developers, The Creative Assembly, the complete lack of quality on display is somewhat surprising and utterly disappointing.  Do yourself a favour and don’t waste your money on this train wreck of a videogame.


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