May 23, 2007 - The end of the world is upon us. We can't wait. Ubisoft surprised us all with a new Tom Clancy title set in the near future: EndWar. But leave the night-vision goggles in the bag. EndWar is a unique real-time strategy game being developed out of Ubisoft's Shanghai studio whose most recent work includes Splinter Cell: Double Agent.
As you can see from the new trailer, you should fear the future. Factions from the USA, Russia and Europe are engaged in a global conflict over natural resources. Players will battle it out every day in a persistent online world, using tactical nuclear shells, satellite lasers, UAV hunter drones, self-healing mine fields, soldiers in exoskeleton armor and face-melting microwave weapons.
And the really scary thing? EndWar creative director Michael de Plater says these weapons are either in use today or in the prototype stage. We sat down with de Plater, formerly of the excellent Total War franchise, to talk his futuristic new console RTS designed specifically for the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3.
IGN: It's WWIII, which sucks for the world, but is great for gamers. How did it start? Not enough copies of Splinter Cell to go around?
Michael de Plater: Actually such a scenario where World War 3 breaks out because of a video game sounds more Matthew Broderick than Tom Clancy…
So instead we came up with something more chillingly realistic, based on today's headlines.
Set in the 2020s, EndWar explores the future implications of a number of real world events which are taking place today - the looming energy crisis, the rise of nationalism and antagonism between nations, the militarization of space, the threat of nuclear annihilation to name a few.
For 60 years, the nuclear deterrent kept the Cold War from going hot. In our story the missile defence shield cooperatively deployed by the USA and Europe effectively removes that deterrent.
For those 60 years the Western world was united against the perceived threat of the Soviet Union and Communism.
Without a common enemy, without mutually assured destruction and in a world of diminishing resources, we assume that the 21st Century won't be so different from the age of hate we saw in the 20th Century. When people start forgetting the horrors of the past they are doomed to repeat them.
IGN: Console RTS games always struggle with controls. What approach are you taking?
De Plater: Our greatest challenge was to come up with a strategy game that overcomes the perceived limitations of consoles vs. PCs that also meets the expectations of an audience that is traditionally not the core audience for this type of genre.
Therefore Tom Clancy's EndWar was designed from day one as a console specific game. We didn't optimize it or port it; we designed it from the ground up for consoles. Our ambition for EndWar is to achieve for the strategy genre what Bioware achieved for the RPG genre with Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic.
It's all about preserving the depth and freedom that makes strategy games so interesting to play on PC and then combining it with the pick up and play accessibility and cinematic flair that are strengths of console games.
Unlike the top-down "sandbox" view of traditional RTS games on PC, EndWar lets the player view the action from the perspective of any unit under his control. This "commander's-eye view" enables true tactical line of sight and dramatically enhances the player's immersion into a battle.
Also in EndWar, you don't actually micromanage individual characters, but you do give orders to Platoons of soldiers, Companies of Tanks, Gunships, etc. Your soldiers are smart and well trained enough to use cover, stealth and tactics on their own so you don't have to micromanage every action.
The cherry on the cake is our voice command system. It is really a cornerstone of our gameplay. We believe there's no more natural and intuitive way to command an army than shouting orders into a headset. This is truly strategy at the speed of thought!
IGN: There have been hints that faces from old Tom Clancy titles will make an appearance. How do the Ghosts, Team Rainbow and Splinter Cell fit in?
De Plater: We definitely have a few surprises in store for our loyal Tom Clancy fans! But we are going to save that for another time. Stay tuned…
IGN: We have a strange feeling that WWIII weapons are more advanced than pistols and night vision goggles. Tell us about some of the future's most frightening weapons.
De Plater: We want our game to be as realistic as possible for ten years ahead in the future so, like in GRAW, you won't get to see any laser guns or energy swords in EndWar. Every weapon or unit in EndWar actually exists in the real world, or is at least at the prototype stage.
Our weapons won't be as far fetched as in those sci-fi games, there is definitely some very cool, never-seen-before stuff to play and wreak havoc with in EndWar.
The European Enforcers, for example, have those scary High Powered Microwave weapons that heat the water molecules in the enemies' skin and thus cause them an overwhelming burning sensation and incapacitating pain. Creepy… Even creepier knowing that this type of weapon is actually in development in a US Air Force research lab for riot control duty in Iraq.
But probably the most fearful weapons in EndWar are the space-based weapons such as the Joint Strike Force's (JSF) "Rods from God" - the huge tungsten rods launched from satellites that you see destroy a large area of Paris at the end of our trailer. Upon impact, the rods are capable of producing all the effects of an earth-penetrating nuclear weapon … without any of the "annoying" radioactive fallout. Each faction in EndWar will have their own super weapon capable of inflicting massive damage to enemy troops and the surrounding environment.