Genre: Strategy Developer: Creative Assembly Publisher: Sega Classification: M15+ Release Date: 31st Dec 2009 Platforms:XBOX360
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The Good bits
The idea behind it holds merit.
The Bad stuff
Seems sad that it didn't get the chance to be all it could be.
Too many others to list.
Face value and first impressions are Stormrise's second worst enemies (they're a team). The moment the game boots up you're thrust into a 15 minute long unskippable tutorial featuring graphical glitches, bored voice acting and annoying camera angles. It's the kind of moment anyone not being paid to play the game would be searching for the receipt.
It immediately disolves any expectations you have for the rest of the game as you struggle to motivate yourself to play any further. In a way it's astounding genius. In my mind things couldn't possibly have gotten worse. The only way for the game to go now was up. Anything which resembled a good game - or even an average game - from here on out would be amplified to greatness (or goodness).
So struggle through I did. Playing the single player game goes beyond frustrating - it's infuriating. Creative Assembly haven't ever had a lot of luck with AI pathing, and Stormrise made me wonder if they even tried this time. You become a master of micro-management as you start whipping between units to get them to (eventually) move out of the line of fire or retaliate.
The Whip system - where you use the right thumbstick to instantly switch from unit to unit - goes from a cool novelty feature to second nature as you get loads of practice frantically switching to your dying Hero unit.
The basics of gameplay revolve around capturing nodes - you have to get your squad to successfully take and defend a series of linked control points throughout the map, making the game more of a Real Time Tactical affair than true Real Time Strategy. The more control points you have chained means the more units you can build and the better off you will be as you progress through the levels.
Naturally defence becomes important throughout the game, but you never feel that a real strategy develops through gameplay - you replenish and re-establish tactical points but planning far into the future can be difficult.
In multiplayer and skirmish mode you've got other players to deal with - they're on level ground with you, dealing with the same bugs and issues (randomly losing a unit for no reason, not being able to see attacks due to glitchy graphics/unit animations) - but in singleplayer it's you versus a scripted AI not struggling to get to grips with an arguably difficult to master control system.
The AI just does what it's programmed to do and the game goes from tactical to reactive. You throw in some of the laziest voice acting and the most generic story I've ever seen and you're set up for pure tedium.
With the Whip Select function - the game's answer to a console's lack of control - the game's camera becomes a new challenge to master. Based on your unit's perspective and controlled using the left thumbstick, something as simple as looking up becomes annoying. Like most poor camera controls it's something you'll eventually conquer with time - like most poor camera controls it's also one of my pet hates.
It seriously hampers the game's new emphasis on "verticality" - line of sight and effective range changes based on your height and position within the world. It's a decent concept - something I recall from the Mechcommander games, except taken to a new a whole new level.
Multiplayer changes almost everything. It uses the same basic game
mechanics and the same shoddy graphics and animations and yet it's fun to play and almost worthwhile. Eight players with drop-in drop-out support (You can have AI play until your mates are ready to join in - if someone drops thanks to lag they're automatically replaced to keep the fight even) and some decent, almost DoW2 esque hero unit customisation means the game is fun.
In the end multiplayer isn't enough to save Stormrise. The hero units can be customised with new items - items earned in singleplayer mode. You don't particularly need these items to have fun online or even to necessarily win - but it would definitely add some variety. With the buggy AI, poor pathfinding and absolute lack of polish, Stormrise screams "unfinished".
At the start of the review I said face value and first impressions were Stormrise's second worst enemies. The game's worst enemy is the clearly rushed production time. You can feel a decent idea inside Stormrise, yearning to get out. You can almost taste a rival to Tom Clancy's EndWar's console RTS solution - one which doesn't rely on headsets. But what you can see is unfinished, buggy and rushed - and that's probably how this game will be remembered.