Communication is a vital tool, no matter the technology being modern or primeval. Without it, co-ordination becomes almost impossible and decisions are made instinctively based on gut feelings. In a military operation, this could lead to disaster and a huge loss of human life. Pity then that the people at Creative Assembly are a cold-hearted bunch.
It’s never really clear what is happening in Stormrise or why you’re given such orders. The main protagonist has been asleep for some time, in which all hell went loose outside his pod, and upon waking up has to close a door at gunpoint and then march around in a mech suit. Confused? Yep, me too. Then there’s an insulting tutorial that lasts in the region of 20 minutes, covering all the complex button commands such as moving around, and explaining that stairs can be used by troops to access upper ground, glossing over how to group units together or why the whip system is so infuriating.
It would have been better to have been blindfolded and spun around a few times, trying to pin the tail on the donkey.
The fundamentals of a strategy game are present in Stormrise, so at the very least the game has a platform with which to build on. Units are guided around the map with the left analogue stick and a press of the A button, and fire upon enemies automatically, which should be familiar enough. The problems start with the viewpoint; not from above like in Command and Conquer but from close up like Brothers in Arms, only using tens of units instead of two teams. Switching between them is achieved by flicking the right analogue stick in the general direction of their icon on the HUD, which when you have 5 or so units spread about the map can be done with relative ease.
It’s when an army is amassed that the Whip Select function begins to creak under the pressure, because when switching units the camera moves with them. One minute the people you’re trying to select will be in the bottom right of the screen, but it’s inadvertent that the Whip will pick out the wrong target and so when the camera moves, so do the positions of the other units in the HUD. Often it takes 3 or 4 attempts at flicking round to get the desired unit selected, which can take too long in the heat of battle.
The low camera makes it hard to position your troops by restricting your view, so often enough the only strategy involved in Stormrise is manoeuvring units 10 feet at a time, one by one (or in groups of three) to a position further down the road. The group order is an attempt to clear up the HUD by condensing down icons – doing so however hides the health bar, leaving players none the wiser to how long their squadron will survive. The camera also hinders the ability to see what the hell is going on around you, often stumbling into an ambush because it just couldn’t be pre-emptied or seeing battalions slowly killed off because of a lone, stray sniper hiding in a corner somewhere picking you off.
Traversing isn’t the easiest of affairs either, as each individual member of your faction has a silly little arrangement of animations that they have to go through, such as lumbering whilst turning around, checking their weapon or just plain pissing around. These are the same whether scouting areas or involved in heavy fire from the enemy, as characters on the map don’t seem to engage with their surroundings. Seeing an opposing member results in your soldier standing and shooting rather than diving into some sort of cover, so fire-fights boil down to whoever has the larger force, which of course is crippled by the aforementioned Whip Select feature of moving everyone individually. You should see by now the problems that beset Stormrise, but I’m having a ball of a rant here so I’ll continue.
In the tutorial it’s advised to move platoons around when engaged to outflank the enemy. This is achieved simply by moving them around to the side – there’s no extra damage or a penalty incurred for stopping firing and running during battle, nor are troops remotely alarmed at turning their backs on a hail of bullets to change position. No crawling or ducking, just simply stop firing, enter animation, run, exit animation, and continue firing.
That’s the gist of the gameplay problems, which affect almost every situation possible. Not helping matters are your advisors, who appear to be more interested in arguing with each-other or outdoing one-another’s sarcastic and witty jokes – often both – than offering tactical advice or spotting errors in your plan.
I say plan, I’m being kind. Missions appear to be a simple matter of search and destroy until a beacon is come across, which is a time to pump out more units and beef up the beacon’s attack and defence options through energy that it extracts from the ground (something else that I found to be unexplained). Onward to encounter more units to destroy and another beacon to capture before the mission ends and another map is loaded. There’s often a mech or two accompanying along your troops as some sort of heavy machinery – the catch is if they die, the mission is failed, and if you didn’t save then it’s back to the start of the mission. So in effect you’ve two high powered machines that are a liability to the success of the mission, and that I couldn’t seem to heal from damage sustained from battle.
With these problems it seems redundant to mention the multiplayer options or the graphics and sound, because they certainly cannot save a game that suffers from major gameplay flaws. For the record, environments are distinctly average and usually consist of bottlenecks to flood with units and large arenas with which to exercise the basic flanking techniques. With the lack of any immediate story it’s hard to gather just why you’re traipsing around ruined and derelict places, chasing opposing forces or why they’re firing on yourselves. At least online you can obliterate your mates because of friendly rivalry, that is until you get bored of pumping out troops and sending them running towards battle. The lack of any real environment advantage means nothing can be fortified unless masses of units occupy that area, offering unrivalled firing power, and as such each game boils down to which player has the largest army.
Any game involving mech suits ensures the story will be bollocks, that’s tradition for you, so you’d expect to find the gameplay engaging and making up for it, like Lost Planet did. Stormrise, for all its faults, isn’t essentially a bad game, it’s a great idea executed poorly and rushed. The tutorial needs to be more thorough but also quicker about it, too. We all know the basic commands of an RTS title, so tell us what we need to do to execute the trickier demands. There’s also little point in littering maps with obstacles if they can’t be used to take cover or engaged with in some way. Having played the likes of Command and Conquer and the more in-depth Company of Heroes, Stormrise feels juvenile in comparison.
If the end of the world is anything like that depicted by Stormrise, we can expect our siblings to lose their sense of direction and choose extraordinarily complex systems to order themselves around with. Lord have mercy on our souls.