Genre: Real-Time Strategy
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Developer: EA Los Angeles
Release Date: March 24, 2008
Reviewing Command & Conquer 3: Kane's Wrath feels somewhat superfluous. If you played and enjoyed last year's excellent Command & Conquer 3: Tiberium Wars, you know you want to play Kane's Wrath and probably already own it. If you somehow missed the Tiberium Wars bandwagon, you should go back and play that game before diving into Kane's Wrath. In fact, it is required; Kane's Wrath won't run without a copy of Tiberium Wars already installed on your computer.
Tiberium Wars earned an Editors' Choice here at WorthPlaying due to its unique and effective combination of old-school RTS conventions with cutting-edge graphics, fast-paced gameplay, and entertaining live-action video sequences. Kane's Wrath, for better or for worse, is more of the same. I guess that's the whole point of an expansion pack, but the experience is so close to that of its predecessor that I felt as though I were playing the same game. My shiny new video card becomes angry when it suspects I'm playing last year's games.
The events of Kane's Wrath start off in 2034, 13 years before the Tiberium Wars after which the original game is named. From there on, the missions bounce around from year to year, offering various glimpses of background story preceding the Tiberium Wars.
Unlike Tiberium Wars, Kane's Wrath does not offer the opportunity to play a campaign for the Global Defense Initiative or the alien Scrin. Rather, you are limited to a single campaign for the Brotherhood of Nod. Still, you can play as a variety of factions and subfactions in skirmish mode or multiplayer, so if you have mastered the skill of gathering and upgrading an army of Mammoth Tanks, your specialized knowledge won't totally go to waste.
While Kane's Wrath is mostly just a continuation of Tiberium Wars, it does offer a pretty good value for $30. In addition to the lengthy Nod campaign, you get 30 new multiplayer maps, a number of interesting subfactions, and a new, turn-based, Global Conquest minigame.
There is no tutorial, as the designers assume you remember how to play from Tiberium Wars. If you haven't played the original in a while, you may wish to play thorough its tutorial again to jog your memory about the gameplay mechanics.
As in Tiberium Wars, Kane's Wrath will have you fighting for control of tiberium, a self-replicating alien substance that has rendered large segments of Earth uninhabitable. While the substance is deadly to unprotected humans, both factions can harvest tiberium and convert it into energy or building supplies. One of your first structures will be a tiberium processing plant that converts the material into money that can be used to build units, buildings and more structures.
The gameplay, with the exception of the Global Conquest Mode, is unchanged. Essentially, you begin with a construction unit, which you use to construct a base. You furnish your base with a refinery or two to start harvesting tiberium, some power generators, and a variety of buildings that churn out infantry, vehicles, or special upgrades and abilities. The goal is usually to destroy the other side's base and units while simultaneously protecting your own. Some of the missions in Kane's Wrath put you in control of a small group of units without making you go through the base-building motions. The goal in these levels is usually to just survive.
The most significant new content is the variety of new vehicles at your disposal. While not much has changed from the GDI, Nod and Scrin arsenal, playing as one of the subfactions gives you the opportunity to try out new goodies, like the flamethrowing "Purifier" combat mech. Do not expect any significant differences in gameplay or strategy, however. For the most part, the subfactions are just slight variations of their base counterparts.
Strategy essentially boils down to getting across the battlefield "firstest with the mostest." You don't need to spend a lot of time thinking about the strengths and weaknesses of the units at your disposal. If you simply churn out as many as possible of your most powerful unit, you can usually steamroll your enemy. In Kane's Wrath, most of the fun lies in obliterating a grossly outmatched opponent. Do not look to this RTS title for intellectual satisfaction.
At times, the single-player campaign can be enormously frustrating. As you complete primary objectives, new objectives often come into play. Because you won't know what the new objective is going to be until after you complete the first objective, you can find yourself woefully unprepared to tackle it if you've suffered large losses in the course of completing what you thought was the main goal.
One particular mission comes to mind. I spent close to 90 minutes building my base, fortifying my defenses, gathering tiberium, and building a huge army that I thought would be powerful enough to overpower the enemy and take control of his base. Experienced gamers (smart ones, anyway) know that this would be the time to save the game. I did not save the game, as I was confident I had just enough of an offensive force to take control of the target building. Big mistake.
An enormous battle ensued, and yes, I was victorious and assumed control of the base. Heavy losses were suffered in the process. As soon as my few remaining units captured the building, I learned that I had only completed "phase one." The announcer declared my new goal was to defend the building against an enemy onslaught! Suddenly, GDI forces rushed the building with a force several times larger than my tiny group of survivors. I was crushed in seconds, and my huge time investment was completely wasted. So save your game.
The game's interface is uncluttered but not quite as slick as some recent RTS titles. After having played Supreme Commander and World in Conflict, I grew fond of the ability to zoom out to a strategic map of the entire battlefield. Unfortunately, Kane's Wrath allows no such luxury. Without being able to zoom much higher than the default level, 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 minimap. 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.
I also missed having complete freedom of camera control. In Kane's Wrath, you cannot even rotate the camera on a horizontal axis to see further into the distance. When you find yourself needing to view into the distance, your only real choice is to pan the camera forward while maintaining the same viewing angle — a restrictive limitation.
Multiplayer mode allows you to go head-to-head against human opponents, which I imagine is fun if you have the "skillz." For me, getting owned over and over again by random, anonymous 14-year-old whiz kids grew tiresome very quickly, so I spent most of my time in the single-player campaign. I was also put off by the cumbersome matchmaking process. When I'm ready to play, I'm ready to play. I don't want to have to wait around in a chat room for 10 minutes waiting for a server to fill up, as was often the case with Kane's Wrath's multiplayer setup.
Stability, however, is top-notch. I experienced nary a crash, which stands in stark contrast to my experience with recent titles like Gears of War and Frontlines: Fuel of War, neither of which let me play smoothly for more than five minutes.
If Tiberium Wars left you hungry for more rush-heavy, adrenaline-inducing RTS action and you can bear the bad acting, Command & Conquer 3: Kane's Wrath will not disappoint you.
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