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. It's the bizarre irony of Stormrise that it's an RTS game built from the ground up for modern consoles yet it's far inferior to those ported from the PC.
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 with the right thumbstick, hover it over the target unit, and release the stick. This is whip select, and on paper, it sounds like a clever console-centric alternative to traditional PC mouse controls. However, 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 thumbstick, or worse yet, you'll choose the wrong unit, possibly flinging your view to an unrelated unit 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 when 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.
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 game 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 objects and just keep walking rather than go around, and they 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 be fixed only 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.
Whip select brings unparalleled imprecision to strategy gaming.
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 sets 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 abysmal, because bad pathfinding and unnecessary micromanagement lead to losses that could have been avoided if your units had simply done what you had commanded them to do. At first, the option to group units into control groups of three (yes indeed, you can only combine up to three units in a single group) seems like a tempting way to soften the issues, until you realize that creating groups only compounds the pathfinding absurdities.