There was a time when certain genres simply stayed with the PC for a variety of fairly obvious reasons, but these days, those rules are changing rapidly. The FPS has long since become a console favorite, and now, the real-time strategy titles are beginning to make the leap as well. Take Creative Assembly’s Stormrise, for example, which Sega debuted at E3 2008 last week. Yes, we said Sega: we have reached a time in this industry when the same publisher that gave us Sonic the Hedgehog are set to introduce us to a new RTS. Some of you may be skeptical, especially considering the fact that Sega hasn’t had a tremendous track record over the past few years, but fear not. First of all, Creative Assembly is handling the development, and secondly, from what we’ve heard thus far, Stormrise is shaping up quite well. Here’s an early look at the next-gen RTS that might drag in a whole horde of fans that never even played the likes of Command & Conquer or Age of Empires.
The version on display at E3 was a “pre-alpha” version, so it’s difficult to say with any level of certainty how the game will eventually turn out. But those who went hands-on with the game say it’s a little different than what you’ve come to expect from the RTS; for instance, IGN says the viewpoint is “line-of-sight,” which means you will adopt the point of view from whichever unit you select. Remember dragging the mouse over a unit of soldiers to select them for command in the old days? Remember how the camera view would always be of that quasi-third-person, top-down variety? Well, not this time. Creative Assembly, who already has significant strategy credits with Medieval II: Total War, apparently wants to shake things up a bit. Apparently, they’re saying we’ll use something called “whip controls” to select the various units in Stormrise, which certainly sounds cool. However, it’s not quite so different from the point-and-click/highlight system we just mentioned.
Basically, you simply swing this beam of light around to highlight the unit you want, and when you’re done, the camera will “whip” to that unit’s point of view. In this way, it should help to further immerse the player into an experience that never really allowed the player to dive into the action. Of course, most fans of the genre will say that’s the very point of the RTS; this isn’t an action game, and the purpose of such games is to strategize from afar. But what’s wrong with having both…? Perhaps these developers will give us a wonderful new blend, and with the addition of fully 3D environments, we could be looking at a whole new animal. Not only are we greeted with a new view that continually refreshes the scene, but we’re also moving through an atmospheric, dynamic three-dimensional environment. The days of feeling completely removed from the battle on screen are gone, and if the concept is executed correctly, we could be looking at a definite winner.
Stormrise will feature two distinct races that are, evidently, involved in a very large conflict. The Sai are freaky human-like beings that can actually use mind control to gain the upper hand in battle, while the Echelon don’t bother with any sort of subtlety; they simply blow their opponents to smithereens with super advanced weaponry. Of course, both sides will have access to the standard units often found in any RTS: infantry, air and armor vehicles, although it’s obviously implied the infantry for the Sai will operate quite differently than the infantry for the Echelon. Pitting the different units against each other is the crux of the gameplay, and of course, that’s where the strategy aspect comes into play. We’ve also heard that the size and scope of each battlefield map is actually very large, and to assist you in keeping track of the action, you can always zoom out to a view that encompasses the entire landscape, which lets you plan accordingly. Then, when you’ve got some victory blueprints in your head, you can start issuing orders and selecting units via “whip control.”
This certainly sounds like an intriguing concept, and much like all other genres, it’s not surprising that the real-time strategy category might need to innovate in order to survive. Hardcore diehard fans of the genre may not like the idea, but hey, we all have to accept the fact that the industry is advancing, and unless you advance with it, you’ll be left behind. Stormrise could end up being an absolutely stellar title for the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360, even though it’s not due out until mid-2009 at the earliest. Sure, it’ll have the basic foundation of a RTS and offer the now-standard co-op multiplayer (online and offline), but Creative Assembly is certainly working to overhaul and upgrade the rest of the somewhat stale aspects the genre has suffered from in the past. And we’re not about to say ambition and imagination is a bad thing.
7/22/2008 Ben Dutka