I don’t know why The Creative Assembly feel they need to break the home-console market. If they want to do it successfully they either need to make something other than Real-Time Strategy games or make them more intuitive for use with joypads. Stormrise is going for the latter with its’ inventive knew way of selecting units; the Whip Select.
But first; the story. Stormrise takes place in a dystopian future where a terrible accident known only as “The Event” has caused worldwide cataclysmic storms which drove a large population underground to rebuild society. However, there were survivors over-ground. The over-ground dwellers were mutated by the storms and had to adapt to their harsh environment, becoming the Sai. When the underground dwellers (now known as the Echelon) surfaced, a worldwide war breaks out and it’s up to you (Commander Geary) to lead the Echelon to victory. While the story is nothing special, it’s introduced magnificently and the opening sequence is absolutely sublime.
Now onto the gameplay. As I mentioned before, Stormrise’s big selling feature is the new Whip Select feature, which enables the gamer to select units quicker. Unlike a normal RTS, Stormrise plays from the units’ perspective and puts the player right in the thick of the action. This makes using the Whip Select more functional. To “whip” to another unit, all the player as to do is move the right analogue stick to the desired unit and then let go. It’s brilliantly simple and certainly makes manoeuvring across the maps incredibly more simple. There is also the option to simply use the cursor to highlight progress markers and press select to move a unit to them.
The other unique feature to the game is the fact that units on higher ground gain tactical advantage over units lower than them. This adds an additional element of strategy which forces you to figure out what route is best to wipe out the enemy’s units and gain the tactical advantage.
This is where we hit a wall as what I’ve written above is everything I can say positively about Stormrise. Despite all the innovations The Creative Assembly are trying out, they hardly ever work correctly. Take the Whip Select; while it’s functional, it is not the best way of selecting and moving units. Because the game is built around it, everything becomes a game of ‘select the unit and then move it‘. Also, notice how I mention one unit. Stormrise has no option to select multiple units. Every unit needs to be given orders separately. This annihilates the pace of the game and it generally feels like you’re fighting against it.
There’s also no obvious direction as to where your aiming to move your units. This is because there are no noticeable landmarks or structures to help make the maps more memorable. Because of this, you constantly find yourself ordering troops to the nearest progress markers, not knowing what way your troops will move and having them destroyed by unseen Sai on higher ground.
Speaking of being destroyed, there is no way to restore any of your troops health. If a unit gets attacked, that’s it. Once they’ve been blown away all you can do is call another unit. That doesn’t apply to your commanders which further reveals why the removal of any sort of health restoration just furthers the frustration you‘ll get from playing this game. You’re commanders have the best firepower but you won’t want to force them into the fray because if they get killed it’s game over. It makes me want to scream with anger.
Let’s talk about presentation, after all this is the feature you’ll recognise instantly. Graphically, Stormrise sucks. This is a seventh generation game and its‘ graphics look like the previous generation‘s. I can understand that the quality of the maps are going to be sacrificed because of the huge amount of character models displayed at one time, but this is ridiculous. The maps are bland, uninspired and very, very dark. If the game is trying to emulate a gritty, realistic look then it’s failing miserably. I much prefer every shade of brown under the sun (e.g. Gears of War) then having to squint to make out walls.
The sound department is also nothing to write home about. Sound effects are particularly quiet and pack absolutely no power to accompany the chaos that ensues. Music is incidental but is written to be atmospheric instead of being more theme-based. This makes it instantly forgettable. The big problem lies with the voice acting. While it’s delivered very well, it just continues over the gameplay without any prompt with no additional cut scenes to make it more understandable. It just becomes background noise and before you know, you’ve completely lost the plot.
Of course, that’s exactly what it comes down to. The Creative Assembly have lost the plot. While they’ve had some great ideas, they haven’t tried to implement them in order to complement the traditional RTS gameplay that they’re so great at; never mind. At least it’ll look cool on your shelf, the box art rules.