Since its inception, the Command & Conquer series has always been about a fun, accessible experience that many people who normally don’t play RTS games can get into. While Command & Conquer Generals was a great game in its own right, it seemed to leave many of the traditions of the series behind, much to the dismay of fans. Now that EA has gotten the series back on track with Command & Conquer 3: Tiberium Wars, things are getting back to the basics. Much of what Tiberium Wars has to offer is old hat, which is both good and bad, but the game also marks the return of the wonderfully dorky full-motion video, enhanced graphics, and the same great multiplayer options. While it remains on the simple end of the RTS genre, Command & Conquer is an awesome return to old tradition, and it’s just plain fun.
Much of the hype around Tiberium Wars‘ launch has centered around the return of the enigmatic Kane, the leader of the Brotherhood of Nod (and voted least likely to die in an ion cannon blast). Tiberium Wars is, of course, a direct sequel to 1998’s Tiberian Sun, so it’s been roughly a decade since we last heard from the fight between the Global Defense Initiative (GDI) and Nod. Things takes place in 2047, about sixteen years after the event of the Firestorm expansion pack for Tiberian Sun, and the story focuses on the Third Tiberium War which Nod provokes by destroying the space station Philadelphia. Like all entries into the series, you’re given the choice between playing as Nod, GDI, or even the newest alien faction, the Scrin, in campaign modes.
Campaign mode generally runs along the same lines as previous incarnations in the C&C series. Both campaigns run significantly different, largely in part due to the different approaches each army takes. There are five acts in each campaign, with the first two acts generally devoted to introducing you to the main units of each faction. Probably the most significant factor in campaign mode is the return of FMV cut scenes, which not only have some big name actors involved, but look terrifically sharp and crisp. Michael Ironside, Tricia Helfer, and probably the biggest name here, Lando Calrissian (Billy Dee Williams), all come together to make for some enjoyable, if not cheesy as hell, HD movie cut scenes. And yes C&C fans; Joe Kucan is back as big Kane himself.
Tiberium Wars also steps back into old formulas by returning to the kind of interface and game play presented by Red Alert 2. Resource harvesting, mobile construction vehicles, and the traditional sidebar have all made it back into Tiberium Wars. On the whole, the game is much more akin to classic C&C than Generals ever was, which should definitely please fans. For that reason, Tiberium Wars doesn’t try to reinvent the wheel and sticks to tradition. Some might see this as trailing behind other recent RTS games, and if you’re expecting new and different, you’ll probably want to look elsewhere. Even so, that doesn’t stop Tiberium Wars from being enjoyable on the whole, and what it lacks in innovation, it makes up for full-fold in capturing the great C&C game play.
It’s always interesting to see how differently each faction works in C&C titles, and like past games, each faction here caters to specific strategies. GDI is the powerhouse faction, and possesses the real heavy weaponry like the mammoth tank and the juggernaught artillery. Nod, not having the benefits of government funding, can’t match GDI’s power, but instead focuses on stealth and sneak tactics to take out their enemies. Probably the most interesting is the new Scrin faction, which displays an entirely different strategy from the other two groups with an emphasis on air superiority. Each faction offers a good variety, with GDI being for the people who take the abuse and dish it right back, Nod being for the crafty, and the Scrin probably being the most complicated but quite powerful in the right hands.
Maybe one of the main criticisms of Tiberium Wars lies in the fact that the technology tree for each factions isn’t as developed as it could be; or rather, the tech tree isn’t as developed as other more recent RTS games. This doesn’t do the game in, but it is very easy and very quick to move through the tech tree, and you can usually reach the most powerful units within minutes. On the plus side, this doesn’t seriously complicate things, and as it’s shown over the years, C&C often gathers players that normally don’t take to RTS games by keeping things relatively simple. Still, this means that more devoted RTS fans might find Tiberium Wars to be a bit too watered down compared to, say, Company of Heroes or Supreme Commander.
Despite tech tree issues, Tiberium Wars sports some pretty interesting units across the board. GDI’s mammoth tank is a force to be reckoned with, but it isn’t so powerful that Nod’s stealth tanks can’t lie in wait and ambush them before they know what happened. Nod’s avatar has the ability to assimilate technology from other vehicles and adopt stealth scanners or flamethrowers, while GDI’s zone troopers are some of the most powerful infantry units in the game. Most interesting, though, is exploring the units offered up by the Scrin, which have some truly terrifying airships and radically different strategies from the other two factions. While balance issues are mostly on the level, though, things can sort of breakdown online if a GDI player spams forth an army of mammoth tanks, which can be just about unstoppable (although not completely).
Speaking of playing online, Tiberium Wars offers up the online play in spades. Computer A.I. is all good, but online multiplayer is where the longevity comes in, and Tiberium Wars brings back the great online play the series is known for. If you can remember back to Red Alert 2, the multiplayer interface is largely similar to the one seen back then, although more user friendly. The game is super friendly to clans and leader board rankings, allowing for clan battles and matches to be set up on the C&C website. EA has even made a feature called Battlecast as a way of being able to view online matches and even commentate on them complete with telestrator. It’s a neat feature that ultimately is probably underutilized (what, with having to go through the game’s website to view matches), but it is a good way to research player strategy. Overall, the online modes are the best reason to invest in Tiberium Wars, though that by no means discounts the enjoyable single-player.
Looking at the modest system requirements, you might not expect a game like Tiberium Wars to be the most visually appealing game. It’s amazing what they can do with mid-range system specs, however, and even at the base system requirements, Tiberium Wars runs fairly smoothly at higher settings and looks great. Terrain textures leave something to be desired, but when massive armies clash, it’s like a Pink Floyd concert with lasers and explosions going off all over the place. Unfortunately, sometimes the frame rate can drop if too many units get onto the screen, although that’s fixable by sacrificing the visual quality a bit. The bottom line is that even if you aren’t looking for amazing graphics, the game can run very well on mid-range machines, which is critical since many people in the C&C fan base might not have much invested in a big rig.
Command & Conquer 3: Tiberium Wars is a great throwback to the basics of the C&C franchise. It doesn’t do a whole lot of new things for the RTS genre, but those who appreciated the classic C&C games will surely enjoy the great online modes and the return of the series’ staples. Playing Tiberium Wars is remarkably like going back and playing previous games in the series, and EA has done a great job of emulating the feel of the old games while updating the visuals and some interface options. Any fan of C&C is sure to have a good time with Tiberium Wars.