Stormrise is one of those games that makes you wonder, "What were they thinking?" This real-time strategy game is, from top to bottom, misconceived, frustrating, frequently broken, and rarely fun. Developer Creative Assembly has built an entire product around a fundamentally flawed control scheme and neglected almost every important facet of the RTS genre. Embarrassingly busted pathfinding, infuriating interface problems, abysmal mission design, substandard visuals--these unpleasant elements and many others make the whole thing an unseemly mess. Furthermore, the game's console roots lead to an even more awkward experience on the PC than on other platforms.
The control scheme in question is called whip select, and its Stormrise's most interesting idea--and greatest liability. The game eschews the standard top-down perspective, forcing you to view the battlefield and issue orders from the viewpoint of an individual squad. This isn't a brand-new innovation; a similar perspective worked to great cinematic effect in Tom Clancy's EndWar. To switch to another unit, you rotate a line that emanates from the center of the screen by holding the right mouse button, hovering the line over your target unit's icon, and releasing. This is whip select, a control scheme that valiantly attempts to get around console gamepad restrictions but has no place on the PC. While at first it may seem like an odd but semifunctional alternative to traditional RTS controls, any initial fascination deteriorates rapidly into abhorrence, when the control scheme collides with the game's delinquent interface and often nonfunctional pathing.
Your initial struggles will come when you start to spread units across the map. When a squad isn't onscreen, it is represented by an icon displayed either in your field of view (when there are obstacles between your current selection and your target) or along the edge of the screen, in the manner of a space combat sim. When units amass in the distance, making an exact selection, especially in the midst of combat, can be a nightmare. You'll waste precious seconds fiddling to make sure you highlight the correct tiny icon before releasing the mouse button, or worse yet, choose the wrong unit, possibly flinging your view you to an unrelated squad that happens to be positioned in the same general direction--but underground. Or you may land on the wrong unit simply because you can't tell what the unit type is from the simple icon that represents it, wasting even more time while you fumble your way to the squad you need most. Rather than enhancing the enjoyment, whip select taints every action and hobbles the few moments where the game's burgeoning potential peeks from underneath this specter. It's like driving through a thick fog, or running with a broken leg. You can issue indirect orders, though this function is only mildly helpful, and like most aspects of Stormrise, was not implemented well. You can issue such a command when controlling a unit, but not when managing the power nodes that you must capture and upgrade, where the feature would have been far more helpful. In fact, when your view is centered on a power node, you can't even turn the camera, an inexplicable design flaw specific to the PC version.
From here, the problems begin to pile up, and the resulting tower of insanity crashes to the ground in an astounding mass of broken and half-implemented features. The pathfinding in particular is possibly the worst an RTS has seen to date. Units get hung up on everything: the environments, each other, and sometimes nothing at all. You might watch some individual members of a squad move forward while the lagging ones get stuck in the level geometry, and then teleport forward a few moments later. Large units like the spiderlike matriarchs may walk directly into beams and just keep walking rather than go around, and get stuck in jittery animation loops when they can't figure out what to do or where to go. Squads won't get out of the way of oncoming units, often leading to traffic jams that can only be fixed by manually leading away units one at a time until you can bring order to the chaos. Interpretive dance routines are common in the ranks of your infantry, and your warriors often choose to run about like buffoons rather than engage the enemy or find a place to still their hyperactive feet.
Here, the camera offers its usual brilliant view of important events...
The campaign's level design seems created almost to aggravate these issues. In the level that introduces the anti-infantry vehicles called prowlers, these units must navigate through tight roadways, a task they are clearly incapable of performing. In later missions, you must lead units down spiraling set of walkways to take a series of control points, and navigate through incredibly confined underground tunnels. The choke points in these areas create long, frustrating stalemates due to the resulting stew of practically uncontrollable units. At least in wider environments, unit behavior inspires fewer headaches, but these missions are simply abysmal, because bad pathfinding and unnecessary micromanagement lead to losses that could have been avoided if your units would have simply done what you commanded them to do. At least on the PC you can assign hotkeys to units, which lets you get around the map a bit more quickly than in the console versions. However, you can group only three (yes, three) units together, and doing so compounds the pathfinding absurdities.