New Game, New Problems
Command & Conquer has been around for decades, and in that time it has established a proud tradition for how it handles the RTS genre. Yet, in this latest installment, EA has thrown out those traditions like yesterday’s trash. Regardless, it was with great excitement that we anticipated getting our hands on Tiberian Twilight. However, after extended time with the game, our experience wasn’t entirely favorable. Despite doing a lot of things very well, Tiberian Twilight lacks the precision and strategic depth of its competitors in the genre.
The main inspiration for this change of pace has certainly been the success of the Dawn of War series of RTS games and their subsequent expansion packs. Those games have seen tremendous critical praise from their decision to remove resource gathering from the gameplay formula, instead focusing almost entirely on unit tactics and personal battles. Command & Conquer 4 seems to want to ape this move, but it never implements enough of a supporting cast of features.
Instead of resource gathering, C&C4 introduces “crawlers”; a type of mobile command center that serves as your base. From here, all of your units can be built and all of your technologies can be researched. The crawler is mobile and fast enough that you can take it with you anywhere on the map, and at a moment’s notice, it can unpack and turn into a stationary base capable of pumping out units. This isn’t an optional feature. If you’re to have any hope of success, you’ll need to bring your base along with you to every battle to replenish your forces on the spot. This was a source of frustration for us many times. No matter how good you are, you won’t be able to succeed without replenishing your forces constantly, no matter how good your strategy and battle tactics are.
This is where we ran into our first major problem with the new formula. We applaud the move to take resource gathering out of the equation, as such a system often leads to single battles becoming a back-breaking event that ruins the mission. However, there aren’t nearly enough individual unit abilities or tactics to make single battles strategic engagements. Instead, both sides tend to line up their forces right next to each other, blasting each other to kingdom come while the crawlers continually pump out units ad nauseam until the tide of battle sways one way or the other and one of the crawlers is destroyed.
The tactical options come in the form of the units you select, not from your ability to use those units effectively. The problem is that you don’t have access to a huge portion of the possible units until hours later in the campaign. See, the whole game functions a lot like Modern Warfare 2’s online meta-game. Wherein you gain points for achievements and successful missions, which levels you up and gives you access to new weapons. It’s an attempt by EA to capture the same addictive quality that came with MW2, but it ultimately fails. The main reason is because you can’t really be sure what you’re going to get at the next level or how it will help you.
Though we may have issues with the gameplay, we certainly applaud the graphical direction. C&C4 follows in the same vein as most popular PC games of the modern era in that the PC requirements are low. They use a stylized approach to graphics so that the game is attractive without pushing polygon counts and high-rez textures. This also allows for much more variety in the aesthetic than would be possible if it used high-end graphics technology.
That’s just during gameplay, though. During the cutscenes, C&C4 still uses the classic, live-action videos that the series has become known for. Featuring real actors, these scenes are really campy and intentionally poorly acted, though they’re still very entertaining. However, to their credit, this installment sees these scenes move a bit towards the dramatic side, rather than the ultra-campy direction that was common in older games. In fact, I couldn’t help but feel that this current game was inspired somewhat by the cinematography of Battlestar Galactica.
The other aspect of the presentation, the sound design, is equally as good. Throughout each mission a great orchestral soundtrack plays and helps greatly to raise the tension of many of the battles. Our only complaint is that the songs aren’t contextual; at certain times the music will ramp up into an epic song, which makes you think that the enemy is attacking when nobody is around at all. It’s not really a “fault” per se, but it’s an unfortunate consequence of so many other games using contextual soundtracks.
Lastly, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the oppressive DRM policy that EA has adopted for this title. Taking a cue from recent games from Ubisoft, EA is using the “online-all-the-time” DRM strategy. In essence, you have to be online at all times while playing the game, even when you’re only playing the single-player game. If you get disconnected for any reason, you’ll be exited from the game. We experienced no problems with this policy and were never kicked from a game, though you may want to consider the strength of your Internet connection before making a decision on whether or not to buy C&C4.
Though EA has tried to defend this decision by saying that there are benefits to forcing everyone to stay online, the truth is that it probably won’t benefit you much. In exchange for probably getting occasionally kicked out of games, you’ll get a tiny chat box in the menus where people in the community chat about the game. Who cares? We certainly didn’t. The only conceivable benefit is that it greatly increases the amount of potential online co-op partners you could hook up with.
As a general rule, RTS games don’t take kindly to complete renovation. If you’re a developer with a good RTS, then it’s best to iterate on that design and to evolve it slowly over time. RTS are games with very delicate balance, and if you don’t hit the balance just right, then the entire experience goes down the tubes quickly. So, while we applaud the bravery of EA to take this series off in a wild new direction, it just doesn’t really work all that well. Had the game been slowly evolved into its current form, it probably would have been better, but there’s just no way that you can expect a developer to nail all of these new gameplay mechanics on the first try. If EA sticks with this direction for its upcoming C&C games, we’ll be excited to see what they can do because with a little practice and a some refinement this could have been a good game.
RATING OUT OF 5 RATING DESCRIPTION 3.5 Graphics
The graphics are good for what they’re trying to achieve. This isn’t a game that tries to wow you with amazing visuals, but they’re stylized, appropriate, and low budget. 3.8 Control
Series veterans are in for a shock when they experience the new user interface, but those who have experience with other RTS games will feel right at home. 4.2 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
There’s a very good orchestral sound track that plays throughout missions, and the acting is serviceable; it’s not spectacular, but this is Command & Conquer after all. 3.3 Play Value
There’s a good amount of value in the single-player missions, especially considering there are branching paths to experience (only two branches, though). Add in the multiplayer action, and there is at least a good amount of content involved, though we weren’t convinced that this game will enthrall strategy fans. 3.4 Overall Rating – Fair
Not an average. See Rating legend above for a final score breakdown.