|System: X360, PC||Review Rating Legend|
|Dev: EA LA||1.0 - 1.9 = Avoid||4.0 - 4.4 = Great|
|Pub: Electronic Arts||2.0 - 2.4 = Poor||4.5 - 4.9 = Must Buy|
|Release: June 24, 2008||2.5 - 2.9 = Average||5.0 = The Best|
|Players: 1-4 (online)||3.0 - 3.4 = Fair|
|ESRB Rating: Teen||3.5 - 3.9 = Good|
by Jason Lauritzen
Sometimes good things come when you least expect them. The real time strategy genre rarely leaves its comfy PC home. This aversion to platform movement makes sense - translating a mouse and keyboard setup, which heavily relies on hotkeys, to a console controller is not an easy development task. Then there's the performance side of the equation. PC RTS games usually have steep system requirements, keeping the number of early adopters at a very modest level. So, when you account for those aforementioned development hurdles, the odds are stacked against a console RTS port. That's why Command & Conquer 3: Kane's Wrath is so surprising - it manages to bring the strategy experience from the desktop to the living room in a completely accessible manner.
The colon in the game's title should be the dead giveaway - Kane's Wrath is an expansion. Unlike the PC version, this one does not require you to own the first title (Command & Conquer 3: Tiberium Wars). From a content standpoint, there are two differences between the PC and 360 versions. On the PC, Kane's Wrath shipped with a Risk-like mode called Global Conquest. This mode utilized a world map and swapped out real time strategy for a turn-based system. That has been stripped out of the 360 version, but in its place the developers put a new mode entitled Kane's Challenge. Made up entirely of skirmishes, Kane's Challenge works in a ladder-like progression and allows you to play with the game's three main factions (the Nod, GDI, and Scrin) and their respective three sub-factions. The ladder concept works well - it slowly eases you into learning the subtleties of each group.
Since Kane's Wrath features a unique approach to console RTS controls, players should spend time in Boot Camp (essentially a tutorial mode). Here you'll get your first taste of gameplay basics like base building and unit selection. However, the key is how you do these things. Far from being awkward, the control setup takes very little time to acclimate to and feels like second-nature after only an hour of gameplay. Almost everything is done with the A button and right trigger. You can do things like hold down A to select a group of units and double tap A to make a group attack move (meaning they'll head toward a waypoint and attack any enemies along the way). Holding down the right trigger brings up a radial interface. From there, you can build structures, units, and access special powers. Most notable in the radial interface is the ability to assign units to numbered groups. This does a great job of replicating the hotkey function so vital in PC RTS games. Even the left trigger comes in handy. By squeezing it and pressing A you can automatically select every combat-ready unit in your field of view.
The 13 mission, single-player campaign takes place entirely from the perspective of Nod. It makes sense - this is Kane's story of revenge against the GDI, and throwing in the other two main factions as playable campaigns would feel like filler material. It hardly matters anyway - if you must play with the other factions, then Kane's Challenge, Skirmish mode, and multiplayer are the way to go. Tying together the plot of these missions are the infamous, Command & Conquer, full-motion video cutscenes. These sequences have an almost Sci Fi Channel quality. This comes off as both good and bad - mainly on account of the particular actors. Natasha Henstridge seems uncomfortable in her generic "we need a female somewhere" role and delivers her lines in B-movie fashion, while Joseph D. Kucan (Kane) is so over-the-top in his delivery it comes off as laughably good.
Story aside, playing through the actual campaign is an enjoyable experience. The missions objectives stay varied enough, so every level isn't simply a variation of "wipe out the other guy's base." You'll have to rescue combatants, steal enemy technologies, and even embark on the occasional stealth mission. It's here - in the campaign mode - where the game's pluses and minuses start to stand out. However, the minuses are really more quirks than bad mechanics. For example, while Boot Camp properly prepares you for utilizing the game's unique control set, it leaves out explaining the entire tech tree. This becomes apparent when you do an early mission and realize you don't know how to construct base defenses; you can build them, you just have to search around the radial interface for them. Also, mission objectives have a habit of cropping up when you least expect them. During one mission, you have to capture a building. While you would think that would end the mission, it doesn't. Afterward, you're notified you have to escort a key character across the map. Even if you've wiped out the computer's on-screen bases, it will still send units out of nowhere to attack this character, and if you don't have a battle-ready force prepared for escort duty, you're out of luck and have to start the mission all over. The game also seems to have a built-in unit cap that it never lays out, so sometimes when you build a certain type of unit, the production will stop - it's the game's way of telling you, "We've already got too many of that unit." Whether it's in there for performance reasons or balance issues is up for debate.