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May 3, 2009
Stormrise - PS3 Review
Release Distributor Publisher Developer Offline Players Online Players
26/3/2009SegaSegaCreative Assembly12-8
Media HDD Space Resolution Sound Format Tilt Controls OFLC Rating

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Enemies in Stormrise look fantastic.
The real-time strategy (RTS) game cupboard is quite bare for console-owners. PC-owners can gloat at the veritable glut of quality RTS games they have available, but console owners, PS3-owners in particular, have little to choose from. The reason for this is simple - controllers have never been able to replicate a mouse and keyboard to good effect and the gameplay suffers, often critically, as a result. All that could be about to change though as Creative Assembly, developers of the successful Total Wars series for PC, have developed Stormrise – a RTS designed from scratch, specifically for consoles. Needless to say expectations are high for Stormrise; can it deliver the goods?

Stormrise takes place on a post-apocalyptic Earth that has been ravaged by massive firestorms. You control Commander Geary, a member of Echelon Special Forces who was put into a cryogenic sleep shortly after the firestorms hit Earth wiping out most of the population. Not everyone in this apocalyptic world was lucky enough to be shielded from the firestorms, and the survivors have started to evolve into a new and powerful race known as the Sai. Though the opening cut-scene isn't clear about why, Echelon Special Forces and the Sai really don't get along and their ongoing battle is the basis of Stormrise.

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Combat takes place on land, and in the skies.
The control scheme in Stormrise is quite unlike any console RTS that's gone before. It is referred to as "whip-select", and with a simple flick of the right analog stick in the direction of friendly units you'll take control of the unit you've "whipped" to. Gone is the birds-eye view most RTS games employ; now you'll see the battlefield from the perspective of whichever unit or node you're controlling. Whip-select is fast and intuitive, and works well when your army doesn't consist of more than a few units (which unfortunately is very rare).

Whilst the goal of each battle is to defeat the opposition, most of your time will be spent trying to take over control nodes that are spread throughout the battle-field. Taking control of the nodes enables you to fortify them with shields and powerful turrets which will give you a significant edge in maintaining control of that area of the battlefield. You'll also gain extra resources by building refineries at the nodes enabling you to harness more energy which is used to pay for the node upgrades. At some nodes you are able to build warp gates which allow you to warp in reinforcements directly to that node, rather than the node at the start of the level.

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Firing on enemies from behind cover.
Stormrise has an online component but assessing it has been difficult due to a lack of combatants. There is no "lobby" to access where you can check if anyone is ready for a game, rather you have to select the game type you want and then wait around for someone to join in - this can take quite some time. You can organize LAN matches so if you have some willing and able friends that may be the best way to go about getting a multiplayer battle going. Prior to launching online battles you are able to customize your commander with different weapons from the Story mode. This adds a little bit of variety to your encounters and encourages you to play multiple times to check out the different weapons available for use (again, this won't necessarily be easy given the lack of online players).

Unfortunately there are a lot of problems with Stormrise, most of which have a significant impact on the games overall enjoyment. Firstly the whip-select control scheme is quick and intuitive, but as your army grows it is increasingly difficult to pin-point the specific unit you want to control. In time-critical battles the extra few seconds it takes to highlight the correct unit can lead to significant loss of life. This problem is exacerbated by the complete lack of common sense your units exhibit. You can direct a unit to any visible spot by simply moving the cursor and clicking the X button. However the path the unit takes can vary greatly and they'll make no attempt to keep out of range of an enemy turret or unit, even if there is an alternate path that would allow them to do just that.

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What the hell is that??!!
That is not the only problem with path finding in Stormrise. Units will constantly block each other's progress - once I had four units stuck on a stairwell with each unit blocking the others from moving. The only solution to this was to move them all off the stairwell and then re-send them, allowing time for each unit to clear the stairwell before sending the next unit on its way. Walls and rocks can pose insurmountable problems to your units at times, even when there is a clear path just a little to the left or right of where they are stuck. Once again this forces you to take manual control of your units rather than relying on them to show any sign of intelligence, and the delay in them arriving at their destination is often costly.

It's possible to group units into bunches of three and while this does reduce the number of allies you have to control, it also poses a couple of problems. Firstly once units are grouped there is nothing to indicate their health. This basically means you cannot include a commander in a group because you'll never know if they're on the edge of death, and if a commander does die it's game over. Units within groups have the same path finding problems already mentioned, thus your supposedly strong group will arrive at their destination spread out, and be easy picking for your opponent rather than packing the punch you were expecting.

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A nice explosion in the dark.
Any control nodes you are supposed to take over show up on the screen as a little icon at all times. Enemy units however, are not indicated by an icon unless they actually are in a unit's line of sight. The problem with this is that if you send your units in the direction of a control node (which is often the only landmark in the vicinity) and they come across an enemy along the way your units will not fire at them, rather they will continue to make their way to the control node oblivious to the enemy fire. This results in them being obliterated, often before you are able to issue requesting them to fight back.

The back of the box boasts about the "verticality" of the game and in patches this provides some nice tactical options (i.e. position your snipers on top of a building and allow them to pick off approaching units). However just as often it will work against you because the in-game map is no help whatsoever and the frequently dark environments make it difficult to spot alternate routes between levels. In one level where you have to take control of three control nodes directly below each other, trying to co-ordinate your units to attack the enemy on the level below is a practical impossibility. In crowded, multi-level areas like this whip-select really is a liability and even the most composed player will find themselves tearing their hair out at the lack of control. So while the verticality is a nice idea in theory, in practice it simply serves to further expose the problems with the control scheme.

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The PS3 version of Stormrise looks impressive.
Graphically the game is a mixed bag. Most levels have drab and dark environments and there's rarely enough light to fully see the surrounding areas, especially on the underground levels. Ally and enemy units are well-designed, but they have limited animations making their movements jerky and unsatisfying. Perhaps the worst issue graphically is that enemy bullets do not always show up on screen so you'll find your units dropping dead for no apparent reason all too often. Every now and then the game will shudder to a halt for a couple of seconds before resuming normal play. This is rarely a major tactical problem but it's still something that should have been sorted before release.

The music and sound effects are solid throughout. Units have their own little banter when you give them orders, weapons sound as they should and the tempo of the music always lifts when battles are underway which enhances the moment. The voice-acting is good but the script is weak, so while the actors do a good job with their lines you can't help but cringe at some of what they are saying.

It's a shame that there are so many problems with Stormrise as there is a lot of potential lurking just beneath the surface. At times it can be a lot of fun and the storyline and setting (I've never seen an apocalypse I didn't like) are interesting enough to keep you playing for a while. Unfortunately the control problems, terrible ally-AI and myriad of other frustrations are likely to override any enjoyment you find in Stormrise. Hopefully Creative Industries are able to work on these problems and produce a much-improved Stormrise 2.

Review By: Dave Warner

GRAPHICSCharacter design is a highlight but the landscapes are quite bland. Disappearing bullets are a problem.
SOUNDThe voice-acting is solid and the music and sound effects do their job well enough.
GAMEPLAYWhip-select is interesting but ultimately doesn’t work. Inept ally-AI is a significant problem.
VALUEThere's trophy support and online play which adds some incentive to keep playing. Frustration will get the better of most long before the finish though.
OVERALLStormrise has some potential, but there are so many problems that in the end you’ll find it more frustrating than fun.

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