The lights are on
What new ideas the game brings to the table and how well old ideas are presented.
How good a game looks, taking into account any flaws such as bad collision or pop-up.
Does the game’s music and sound effects get you involved or do they make you resolve to always play with the volume down?
Basically, the controller to human interface. The less you think about the hunk of plastic in your hands, the better the playability.
Flat out, just how fun the game is to play. The most important factor in rating a game.
Coming out of this year's E3, I was incredibly high on EndWar. The title's focus on small-group battle tactics, robust voice control, and intriguing online component made it a real-time strategy title worth following. After putting the final version through its paces, those qualities still stand out and make EndWar an entertaining way to pass the time. However, the dearth of unit types and simplistic relationships between the handful of units make the strategy too shallow to hold up in today's RTS genre.
Everything about EndWar's presentation screams quality. The camera smoothly flies from unit to unit on your command, constant explosions buffet your ears and keep the intensity high, and the information you need to know is never more than a quick glance or flick of a thumbstick away. Certain orders are easier via either voice or gamepad, but once you learn your way around the game it's simple to use a combination of the two to quickly and easily command your forces. Units not under direct orders have awful AI (take cover behind that wall two feet from you, morons!), but as your attention is only split between a half-dozen units it's not a game-breaker. What faults EndWar has have nothing to do with the interface or audiovisual fidelity.
With no base building whatsoever, players are tasked with completing their objectives (nearly always a variation on holding control points) with a handful of units at a time. Helicopters beat up on tanks, which take out transports, which in turn wail on helicopters. Infantry are slow and worthless outside of cover, but a total pain to dig out once they're entrenched (and are the only units that can capture control points). Artillery units are great distance attackers with no close-combat capability, and command vehicles enable enhanced interface elements. This bare spread makes up the sum total of EndWar's armies. There are no ''soft counters'' – being on the wrong end of any of these relationships invariably results in getting your butt kicked. As you only have access to a few units at a time, what you bring to the fight is very often more important than how you conduct battle. Couple that with the scant number of gameplay verbs – for the most part, ''attack'' and ''retreat'' are as complex of maneuvers that you can execute – and you've got a polished but shallow experience.
Off-map support powers like air strikes or EMP bombs break up the plodding action, and can turn the tide of battle in a heartbeat. As a match enters its closing phases, players gain access to WMDs (though the losing side gets them first) that can render huge sections of the board sterile. Like the basic gameplay, these powers are either simple or elegant depending on whom you ask – though I find it all to be a washed-out reflection of the true potential of the RTS genre.
Once you break into multiplayer – which dresses up its team-based skirmish gameplay with a moderately amusing persistent world map – things get more interesting. The persistent army customization is a fun hook to maintain interest, the ebb and flow of battle is more dynamic (fighting the AI quickly becomes a tedious slog through its long stream of reinforcements), and the usual RTS pacing metagame becomes something of a remedy for the tepid nuts and bolts of battle. Flanking maneuvers and misdirection can be brutally effective tactics against human opponents, and the thrill of working as a team is the best EndWar has to offer. The simplistic mechanics, however, make it unlikely that EndWar online will have the kind of staying power as the genre's biggest hits. Even with all these caveats and complaints, console players interested in seeing what all the fuss about RTS is about are probably best served here rather than with the other mediocre efforts to date.
EndWar's fantastic vocal interface gives it a tactical edge over every other console-based real-time strategy game to date. By allowing gamers to shout out commands as quickly as they can think them, the game allows armchair generals to issue orders at a breakneck pace that forgoes the troublesome pointer-based interface of its competition altogether. Unfortunately, the soldiers don't react with the same sense of understanding as their commander. Your rifleman unit will move to its target objective, but the lazy way they move across open fields rather than sticking to cover makes them look more like Cub Scouts than trained Marines. Choppers also move with abandon, frequently flying directly over enemies primed to take them out on their way to an objective rather than avoiding the unplanned skirmish. The paper-rock-scissors strategy provides a simplistic formula for understanding tactical situations, but upgrading your units with special abilities (like stealth and shields) and launching WMDs when you're facing defeat doesn't give the game enough strategic variance to last the long haul. This ultimately sabotages the smartly implemented online campaign that should otherwise be a standout innovation.