I wanted to give my thoughts on the Aussie developed console RTS Stormrise. Please keep in mind that I’m not a reviewer in any real sense, these are accounts of the game and my views of it as a fellow developer that’s worked on a console game.
So where to begin. Well popping the game in and starting it up I jumped right into the singleplayer campaign. The starting presentation built up an interesting premise and sets the scene, unfortunately the characters then start talking. The writing for these characters is in a word, confusing. The dialogue that hits back and forth between them doesn’t feel genuine and while efforts are made to try and make these central characters have that dysfunctional family vibe it just comes off as a poor performance in both script and voice acting. Coops voice is annoying, it's an opinion I know.
Ok, bad character interactions I can live with. So lets get stuck into the gameplay. What’s the first mission for the new Mech commander? Taking over a stronghold? Leading a group of grunts through a recon line to blow shit up and demonstrate the controls of the game to teach the player. Nope.
Instead you fumble around a shed, a level full of shipping containers and enemies that spawn bluntly in front of you.
We’ve hit a big, big problem right at the start of the game. Not only is the first few levels not setting the grand apocalyptic scene. But more importantly the tutorials required teaching you the controls and tactics for a game this complex is only half way there. Some elements like moving where you point the curser are explained; other elements like how to group troops together are not. The main problem comes from the levels themselves. From level 2 onwards the maps are huge and sparse and have vertical elements with them. This is great if you know how to play the game. But by level 2 I was just getting to grips with moving troops. I wouldn’t have minded some smaller starting levels and digestible mini missions that explain the many intricacies of the whip control system, the camera system and now to effectively micro manage your troops.
So in the second level we hit the heart of the issue behind Stormrise. The triad of conflict between the game camera, the level design and the whip select system.
Now don’t get my wrong for a moment. The Whip select system is a great idea and an interesting way to approach navigation control. If the camera was in a classic RTS top down view and if the level layouts where designed around the camera as primary consideration then controlling and navigating in stormrise would be efficient.
However, The camera is full over the shoulder 3D on your currently selected unit and the level design does not take this fact into consideration. Disorientation due to ‘Whipping’ all over the place, especially in the internal spaces can be a mindfuck and you are continually adjusting your camera in order to get things into view. Internal spaces are usually poorly lit making trying to find out how you get to places an issue. [Gamma and contrast is such an issue that the game has you adjust it before you start. Not a good sign.] The colour palette is also an issue. While the artwork in stormrise is really top self stuff in some regards the bland colour palette makes identifying units and objects difficult. I understand the desire to make the game gritty but is it worth it at the expense of game play? Overall level design isn’t completely broken but the nature of the game camera makes navigating these mammoth levels a chore that never lets up. It’s a nightmare in dark internal spaces.
This is all further compounded by pathfinding issues. Levels are large but have small choke points and gaps. In these gaps it’s far too easy to gridlock units. Units sometimes continue to run past a point you’ve told them to move to only to magically respawn a few seconds later at the allocated point. Units can get stuck easily on geometry; all in all it’s an important feature of this game that needed more time and attention.
It’s hard to judge the power of units in comparison to other units. It’s hard to create a crafty strategy when all that seems to work is building 18 squads of grunts, grouping them and sending them all at once in a tidal wave of tank rush dominance. And it’s annoying that secondary abilities seem to only work when the unit feels like it. My defensive machine gunners only dig down three quarters of the time. The other they just stand there idle, even if the enemy fires at them.
Also, I don’t know if it’s just the PS3 version but it’s got it’s fair share of shipped bugs. Here are a few that I can remember:
· The opening title videos for Sega and Creative Assembly run at a choppy rate.
· Frame rate is inconsistent. Rarely plays smoothly on the PS3. The game also encounters performance hiccups that don’t seem to relate to things on screen.
· In 6 hours of playing the game it has frozen up the PS3 twice. Please keep in mind I own 11 PS3 games and this is the only game to have frozen my PS3.
· When you save the game the process of saving is done is done while the level is running and you have no control over your units.
I understand the PS3 is a bastard to program for, but the excuse of “developed for 360 and ported to PC & PS3” doesn’t cut it anymore. It’s painful to see these bugs in an Australian developed game and to know the level of quality that the guys in CA have brought us in the past. The lack of polish in this game comes off as a surprise. Was there rush from Sega to get this game out quickly? I honestly can't say.
There are some positive things to note. The production of the art is consistent and of a high quality. It’s quite a sight to see 200 of your men traversing the urban terrain at such level of detail and that’s commendable. The soundtrack does its job well and some serious love has gone into the level environments art wise to make them look as impressive as possible. I only wish there was a stronger working union between level design and level art.
Multiplayer I sadly can’t comment on because being a PS3 owner in Australia I’ve yet to find a game probably because the aussie user base is so small. Which is a shame because the game looks like it’s focused some multiplayer love into it.
In my opinion this game needed more time dedicated to polish. Some technical aspects of the game are in need of rationalising like an unruly in game camera and optimising and addressing the pathfinding issues. Level design is hit or miss. I can see that the focus was on trying to create large, capture point-based city scapes. But multilevel indoor areas only help to demonstrate the cameras shortcomings and there’s an inconsistency in level design. It’s never clear where and what your units can and can’t traverse due to your point of view, the lighting and the lack of consistent visual indicators in the levels geometry to poster such things like climbable rubble.
Despite the technical issues the games biggest downfall lays in it’s vague and confusing tutorials [and lack off.] that makes the player have to dip into the instruction manual and controller screens to get their head around how to do half the actions required to play. The learning curve is step and I honestly gave up at level 4 because the AI just continued to throw wave after wave after wave of enemies in an automated fashion. I didn’t feel like I was playing an enemy. I felt like I was playing a basic computer AI.
I think the art team did their job well. Units look detailed and only minor bits and pieces of inconsistency, the Mechs look awesome; the node point shields look horrible.
This game needed more time to bake. Needs a rationalisation in terms of some of its features and a storyline editor to make the confusing conflict and characters of the single player campaign make more sense.
I don't really care much for 'RTS for the home console' thing to be honest. I went out to play stormrise as it's own game. And There is a soul to this game; there is an idea and a premise that can work great. But in it’s current incarnation it’s bogged down in frustration and glitches.
Thank you for reading.