Kapzer's Realm



Review: Stormrise

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This is a repost of a previously published article.

From announcement to release, Stormrise has been in the interest of many as The Creative Assembly try to make a great RTS console experience possible.

The first trailer released for this title showed us how you would have free command of a battlefield where you’re no longer restricted to an isometric view, making me think we were on the verge of something new for Real Time Strategies.  On that note, I have followed this game diligently via screenshots and videos as they became available.  Through the clever use of this media, obviously aimed at the target audience, The Creative Assembly did indeed manage to keep the audience hooked in, curious as to how this game would perform.  Only in March 2009 did I manage to get my hands on this, the first in what the team hopes would be a new IP for The Creative Assembly and SEGA.

Throughout their history, this development house has been best known for their Total War series, of which there are endless hordes of fans who claim the series is one of the best examples of a true strategy title.  I would say, personally, that ‘old school’ strategy, as opposed to ‘real time strategy’, fits this title more accurately. A game that is on the verge of changing a genre is hard to criticize, but it seems that I have little choice when it comes to the end product Stormrise has become.  All I have to ask is; how do you manage to turn something that was so promising into something mediocre?  Let me explain.

The most striking thing about Stormrise when you’re first introduced to it, is that you’re in a full three dimensional environment.  For an RTS, the graphical quality is rather impressive, I must say.  The game manages to use seventh generation technology to great effect in order to give a real three dimensional strategy experience.  This is one part where the free battlefield command works – allowing you to see the action up close.  As for the art style, however, it’s just your typical post apocalyptic setting, igniting again the desire for something new.  Greys and a saturated colour palette are spread liberally over the environment along with the unit models, making for a welcome change from the standard brown which has permeated this generation’s top releases.  As for the map design; a largely urban environment with broken buildings and industrial estate is what the factions of Stormrise must navigate on the way to completing their objectives. It seems that the graphics and art design were not the main focus of the Stormrise team, which was an attempt to make console RTS games work.

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With the art style being nothing special, the same can be said for the sound in this game – there’s nothing that really stands out about it.  However, one thing I did happen to notice was that an unusually fast beating tune came on every time two forces entered into conflict.  When these incursions happen  almost every 45 seconds, this tune starts to become rather annoying, especially since it feels completely out of place compared to the game’s theme and environment.  It soon becomes even more clear that the game’s goal was not about pushing the envelope in terms of sound or art style, but moreso about the controls and gameplay.

The controls are possibly the most important aspect of the game.  As an attempt at a console RTS, the biggest hurdle The Creative Assembly would have had would be to develop a control scheme that is simple enough yet works on a controller.  With this expectation, the developer provides a system called Whip Select where you use the right stick to move between units’ views.  However, it feels that the game was created purely concentrating on this control scheme which, by default, affects the rest of the game as it doesn’t all gel together in the desired manner.  This means, minus the little groups you can make, you’re largely moving every unit individually which ends up to be time consuming and usually means you lose a hell of a lot of units before you actually make any progress.  It’s an overcomplicated system that, while ambitious, ultimately doesn’t work.  From my first fifteen minutes playing I immediately thought “I need a mouse” and that impression has remained throughout. This is disappointing, as it’s clear the control scheme was the developer’s concentration in making a successful console RTS, and the feeling that I need a mouse is the complete opposite of what was intended.

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I’ve already hinted on this a little.  The gameplay is slow due to the fact that you’re forced to move units individually, rather than being able to select a bunch and have them all move together.  Despite the pace of the game, the gameplay is actually pretty solid.  Units move where you want them to, and all factors come to play – height, range, terrain, cover.  Hold it right there, I think I may be wrong with the ‘cover’ part.  It is portrayed that cover can be used in the game; yes, it can, but only if it’s at chest height. Otherwise, it all works.  But just because it works, doesn’t mean it’s enjoyable.

To put it bluntly: no, this game does not live up to the impressions many were originally given. The opening moments of the story mode make it seem that the game could be interesting, but as soon as you’re put into the action it all goes to pot.  The game progresses slowly because you’re stuck there watching unit after unit die since you can only send them somewhere one at a time.  If they had developed a way that there was more action going on, and your units weren’t all getting massacred by just one turret, then perhaps there would be more appeal to the game.  It is clear that the developers spent a lot of time in making the control scheme innovative, but it seems that that’s all they’ve concentrated on – the rest of the game feels rather bland and ordinary.

Final Verdict: Stormrise tries a lot of new things, but its unintuitive controls and lack of innovative graphics and sound mean it probably won’t set the new standard for console RTS games; rent first.
Developed by the Creative Assembly, published by Sega
Available now on Playstation 3, XBOX 360, and PC
Price: $59.99
Players: 1 (2 online)


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