Genre: Real-Time Strategy
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Developer: EA Games
Release Date: March 28, 2007
In Command & Conquer 3: Tiberium Wars, the long-awaited sequel to 1999's Command & Conquer: Tiberian Sun, players lead their forces to battle in the familiar conflict between the Global Defense Initiative, a high-tech alliance of the world's most advanced nations seeking to contain the spread of Tiberium, and the Brotherhood of Nod, led by the charismatic Kane, which plans to use Tiberium to take control and transform humanity into his twisted vision of the future. C&C3 combines old-fashioned RTS conventions with cutting-edge graphics and live-action video sequences to create an immensely enjoyable game and one of the most memorable RTS experiences of the past decade.
The year is 2047. Tiberium — a self-replicating alien substance that has rendered large segments of the Earth uninhabitable — is spreading like a radioactive ice age. Interestingly, while the substance is deadly to unprotected humans, both factions appear to benefit to some extent from Tiberium, as it can be harvested and converted into energy or building supplies. In fact, Tiberium is the only resource the player is charged with collecting and managing, and it can be converted to money that can be used to construct units, buildings, and structures. Various in-game briefings suggest the dichotomy is intentional and that the true nature of the mysterious Tiberium will be revealed later in the game.
The first thing you will notice are the beautiful graphics. One pet peeve I have with the real-time-strategy genre in general is that too many titles forego exciting visuals or other sensory indulgences on the flawed premise that such niceties should not be the domain of a serious strategy-based title. Nonsense. Why do we play video games if not to be entertained? There is no reason in this day and age that an RTS title should have to feel like a board game.
Thankfully, C&C3 understands this and offers a visual and auditory treat unrivaled in the genre since Company of Heroes. Unlike the bland landscapes of the recent Supreme Commander, the terrain in C&C3 is rich and detailed, resulting in a much higher sense of realism. Tanks and similar heavy vehicles look, move, and sound as you would expect them to in the real world: big, lumbering, and loud. Other nice touches abound, like the way troops dance around and cheer upon vanquishing an enemy.
An alien race called the Scrin is introduced late in the game, and their endemic designs are a wonder to behold, again rendered in beautiful detail when displayed at high resolutions. (Note: widescreen is supported!) The design team obviously spent a lot of work creating the insect-like Scrin race and their particular architectural style.
The sound effects are similarly fantastic. C&C3 is a great title for those who like to blow stuff up. When buildings are ripped apart by mammoth tanks and come crumbling to the ground, your subwoofer will emit an appropriate response. Unlike many RTS titles in which the actual battles appear Lilliputian and sound like a bunch of electronic toys, warfare in C&C3 looks and sounds as it should. There are also various super-weapons which are an absolute hoot. The GDI's ion cannon, for example, can destroy an entire base in a giant maelstrom of glorious unleashed hell.
The more subtle sound effects are equally impressive. Want to know what it sounds like when an alien scouting vehicle starts its engines and glides off in search of a suitable site for a second base? Listen to the Scrin's eerie "explorer" as it departs, and you'll know the sound designers got it right.
C&C3 begins with a helpful tutorial level that explains the basic movements and controls. Although the tutorial is short, the single-player campaigns function essentially as advanced-tactics tutorials, training you for survival and victory when matched against a human opponent in multiplayer. Most levels in the single-player campaigns mandate the use of some unit, structure, or ability that you might not otherwise know how to use. For example, when you encounter a heavily defended bottleneck opening to a Nod base while playing the GDI campaign, you are practically forced to familiarize yourself with your vehicle's ability to call for air transport so that you can fly over an unprotected section of the enemy fortress.
In another mission set in Cairo, Egypt, you must neutralize a nuclear missile before it is launched. Players who might otherwise be inclined to "turtle up" in their base are forced to change tactics and develop a way to quickly infiltrate the enemy base and stop the missile. You begin another mission with limited power resources and must defend your base against oncoming attackers by adjusting the power consumed by your defense structures according to where it is most needed. No easy task.
The gameplay is intricate enough to satisfy most hardcore RTS fans, yet accessible enough to attract new players to the genre. Certainly, C&C3 is less complicated than Supreme Commander. You still have to keep an eye on your Tiberium supply, money, and power consumption, but it feels like less of a chore in C&C3. Spending less time managing your assets allows you to spend more time enjoying the game's plentiful visceral thrills.
While relatively minor, there are some balance issues. The mammoth tanks, once upgraded, can rip apart almost anything else in the game, and are so valuable that you may conclude the strategic benefit of making an alternative unit is negligible and simply churn out all the mammoth tanks your resources permit.
The commando unit is ridiculously powerful in the single-player campaign, but it's supposed to be. In an early GDI level, you begin with a single commando and can play the entire map using no other unit but that commando, taking out scores of enemies single-handedly and following no particular strategy. The game's amusing explanation for the elite performance is the grueling training program commandos must endure — a program with a "22% fatality rate." If that's not badass, what is?
A minor quibble I have is with the near-uselessness of the mini-map. It takes up a good chunk of screen space, yet it is difficult to identify your units and structures on the map. You can make out clumps of green where the Tiberium is, but your units generally appear as tiny blue dots almost imperceptible to the human eye. There is no way to zoom out to a strategic map of the entire battlefield, either, so it can be difficult to give orders to different units on different ends of the battlefield. You can also lose units if you forget about them and you don't notice them on your mini-map. On the bright side, the maps are of a manageable size and the action is so fast-paced that it is not that hard to scroll around to locate and command your units.
C&C3 makes an admirable effort to immerse the player in a realistic and believable world through the use of live-action video and recognizable real-world settings. While I enjoyed watching familiar Hollywood faces address me as "Commander" and discuss my upcoming missions, the filmed sequences still felt more like a gimmick than an integral part of the gameplay. There is no interaction with the live actors, and the actors do not appear in any recognizable form in the digital world, so a disconnect exists between the cut scenes you are passively watching and the strategy game you are actually playing.
As good as the single-player campaigns are, the multiplayer capabilities are where the game really shines. Going head-to-head against a human opponent doesn't involve a storyline, but victory is always more satisfying against a real person than against a computer opponent programmed to perform at "normal" difficulty levels. The single-player missions that taught you the benefits of moving quickly will be helpful here, as rushing the resource points generally seems to be the path to victory in most cases. Those who opt to stay close to home and fortify their base will likely be overwhelmed by the strength of the opponent's vehicles if that opponent collected enough resources to build the game's most powerful vehicles (which are devastating). EA has already released several rounds of patches fixing, mainly multiplayer, issues with the game, hopefully they will also tweaks the overpowering tanks and level the playing field.
At some point, Command & Conquer 3: Tiberium Wars plans to go live with a system that records and broadcasts live multiplayer matches, and allows for a commentator to call the action. It will be interesting to watch the best players in the world go head-to-head while listening to commentary from another top player. When multiplayer matches end, each player has an opportunity to rate the other in skill and sportsmanship. With this feature, you can view a player's rankings in both categories before deciding whether to watch a live match in which that person is a participant. In the meantime, there is much here to enjoy. I strongly recommend C&C3 to both long-time Command & Conquer fans (who have the game already) and newcomers to the RTS genre.
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