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Reviews

Stormrise

An ambitious attempt to whip real-time strategy on console into shape. The giant mutant flesh-crabs help...

Releasing a sci-fi strategy game within weeks of Halo Wars is a bit like dressing up as a clown and performing cartwheels in your garage while the circus is in town. No matter how floppy your shoes or how many custard pies to the face you can take, no-one's going to come and see you, man.

That said, Stormrise carries quite the pedigree, coming from the developer responsible for the ever-acclaimed Total War historical strategy games on PC.

No Romans or Barbarians here, however - it's about two opposing tribes of humanity squaring off for control of a far-future, post-apocalyptic Earth. The tanks and robo-suits of the Echelon battle the mutants and telepaths of the Sai because... oh, who cares.

Zoom

Stormrise's plot is tedious, cliché-packed and murky: the important thing is you get to pitch attack planes against what looks like a bald version of that flying dog-dragon-worm-thing from The Neverending Story.

While Halo Wars takes a slick but very traditional approach to ye olde build 'n' bash genre, Stormrise has two big ideas that nobly attempt to push things forward. First up is 'Verticality', which really means this a true 3D strategy world, containing building interiors, rooftops and tunnels - as opposed to the usual flat terrain that may be rendered in 3D but basically plays like a board game.

Line of sight is everything. You can't see anything that your units can't see, but conversely you can genuinely hide soldiers or even gunships from your enemy with careful placement.

It's the values of, say, Call of Duty 4 multiplayer, but in which you control several dozen guys rather than just one.

Then there's Whip Select, intended to defeat the perennial problem of managing multiple units on the relative treacliness of a gamepad instead of a mouse. Instead of tracking a cursor across a screen or minimap to select the guy you're after, the idea is you nudge the Right thumbstick in the approximate direction of the lad in question, or hold it down to wave a sort of laser pointer for finer selection. The camera will jump straight to him, even if he's way off on the other side of the screen.

Whipped into action
It's a very logical idea, and to a certain extent it works very well. After a time
you'll build up a mental picture of where all your guys are on the map, so nudging over them becomes an instinctive action rather than being puzzling and slow, as you try and work out which units have which items.

When it works, you'll feel like some sort of psychic savant, able to skip across thousands of metres with an almost imperceptible action. When it doesn't - as is too often the case, we're sorry to report - you'll suffer an important unit being thumped to death because you keep whipping over to something useless on the other side of the map whenever you try to select him.

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Perhaps it's partly the inevitable side effect of trying to reinvent the wheel, and partly it's a matter of presentation - Stormrise's major failing.

The decision to stick doggedly to Gears of War-style desaturated brown and grey in a game in which visual tics are your major way of distinguishing between dozens of units and actions is a hugely silly one. It's not simply that it's a slightly wretched, low-tech-looking game - it's that the lack of colour in such a zoomed-out, heavily populated environment makes it far too hard to tell what's going in.

It becomes reliant on those floating icons as a result, but they too are too small and similar to instantly reveal what they refer to, at least until you've spent long enough with the game to memorise each one.
That's Stormrise all over, really - truly, hugely clever ideas undone by weirdly inexpert execution.

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