My sentiments toward the works of Creative Assembly seemed to be shared by a scant few in the gaming industry. Their console titles Spartan: Total Warrior and Viking: Battle of Asgard transcended the constrained hack and slash genre, and offered compelling play experiences, yet were greeted to a lukewarm response by reviewers. Their strategy/RTS hybrid series, Shogun fared better critically, but I’ve met few who have shared my wholehearted enthusiasm for the games.
Stormrise, Creative Assembly’s recently released title, offers a radical shift from the developer’s attachment to antiquated eras- the game’s setting is a dystopian future. As the opening cinematic expounds, Earth’s delicate ecosystem is threatened by a rise in global temperature. To combat this threat, scientists engineer a force-field to prevent the impending devastation of the planet. However, this strategy inexplicably backfires; fire rains from the skies, killing a majority of the world’s populace. Two surviving factions struggle for supremacy- the Echelon, a privileged minority who were preserved through the disaster, and the Sai, a marginal subgroup, who endured through misfortune.
As with previous Creative Assembly titles, the game skirts typical genre trappings. Fundamentally, Stormrise is a real time strategy game, but its perspective and game mechanics are wildly different from the majority of RTS’s. Whereas most entries in the genre offer a sky-high vantage point popularized by Command and Conquer and StarCraft, Stormrise’s camera view is closer to 2004’s Full Spectrum Warrior. Players view the action from an immediate third person perspective, which drastically changes both the feel of the game, and the player’s control method.
Using the left thumbstick, gamers guide a targeting reticule around the screen; a press of the ‘A’ button sends the selected unit to the designated destination. Players have two options to switch between units: they can hold down the right stick and select the preferred squad through a radial designation, or ‘quick whip’- flicking the stick in the general direction of a group. It look us a while to acclimate to the control scheme- unless our units were in close proximity to each other, the sudden shift in perspective was disorienting. Although the game has an on-screen compass and a map screen is available, relying on either detracted from game’s level of immersion.
Tactically, Stormrise is a mixed bag. Levels contain much greater verticality than the classic RTS, so naturally, strategic-minded players will seek an elevated position to dispatch enemies. However, Sun Tzu’s philosophies will offer little security- we’ve had advantageously placed allies decimated by foes in the open. Unit production and upgrades error on the simplistic side of things; players’ battle for control of warp points which are used to generate additional forces and abilities. A.I. pathfinding is noticeably sketchy- allies take puzzling routes and occasionally fail to return direct fire.
Graphically, Stormrise’s environments are sufficiently dark and ominous, with decomposing architecture, and a subtle sense of menace. Echelon character design consists of the typical grunts, mechs, and associated military hardware, while the Sai’s are more animalistic and threatening in appearance. Although the framerate is typically steady, I did witness the occasional sputter, which created a hiccup during squad movement.
With Creative Assembly’s real-time strategy pedigree, a player would expect Stormrise to offer both a polished and distinctive play experience. Although the game offers an innovative interface and anomalous perspective, ultimately, the title’s control scheme is unwieldy and slightly unrefined. Players seeking a reprieve from orthodox RTS conventions may be able to look past these caveats and enjoy the title. With a bit more polish, Stormrise could have offered serious competition to the growing number of strategy games appearing on consoles.