It’s an age-old problem: how do you make an RTS, a genre traditionally the mainstay of the desktop PC, work intuitively with a joypad? Stormrise is Creative Assembly’s attempt to solve it; where Tom Clancy’s EndWar used voice activated commands to moderate success while Halo Wars completely rewrote the controls rulebook, Stormrise uses what its creators call, rather kinkily, ‘whip select’. Rather than clutter the screen with hundreds of clickable icons, or attempt to replicate keyboard-and-mouse controls on a pad, Creative Assembly has taken a different approach: a twiddle on the right stick causes a glowing line to emanate from your currently selected unit, which can then be directed at units elsewhere. Units outside your field of vision appear as icons at the edge of the screen – aiming your glowing whip at them and releasing the right stick causes the camera to zip over to that unit.
In theory, the whip select system sounds perfect – and the tutorial appears to confirm this, with the handful of troops under your control swift to select and easy to control. Unfortunately, whip select’s limitations become apparent from the first mission, as attempting to control an army of several dozen units proves nigh-on impossible – it can take several precious and frustrating seconds to select the unit you want to move, by which time you’ve probably suffered casualties somewhere off-screen. Things get even worse in later battles, where there are units to control in the air, on the ground and even beneath it; the screen becomes a confusing mesh of icons.
Matters aren’t helped by the irritatingly myopic camera system, which for some reason can’t be zoomed in or out properly – inexplicably, an overview of the battlefield can only be brought up by pressing the back button and viewing a map, when it would have been far more useful to just allow the camera to pull back to a more traditional RTS viewpoint.
It’s also a mystery why a better form of troop grouping system couldn’t have been employed; it’s only possible to group up to three units together, which means that valuable time is wasted going back and forth to move large groups, in which time you’ll have suffered numerous casualties.
And on the subject of casualties, Stormrise’s central mecha-operating protagonists are your equivalent of the king in Chess – regardless of the size and firepower of your army, it’s game over if either of them are killed. While this adds significantly to the challenge, it’s also highly frustrating, particularly as it’s so difficult to know what’s happening to your characters off-screen as you move your units around the map.
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