29 Apr, 2007

Command and Conquer 3: Tiberium Wars Review

PC Review | Wait a minute - I've been here before!
Your mission, Commander, whether you choose to accept it or not, is to establish a forward position and reinforce your base from the inevitable attacks that will follow. Once established, you must tank rush the enemy, destroying their base with little to no strategy, but lots of collateral damage. Make no mistake, there will be casualties. Many, in fact. But, this is not of your concern - you have your mission. Just be sure to Command. And Conquer.

For those living in a cave out in a Nod-controlled, tiberium infested desert, Command and Conquer 3: Tiberium Wars is a real-time strategy game that takes place in the Command and Conquer universe. It forms the fourth (or third, depending on how you view the inclusion of FPS sequels) story-driven part of the Tiberian series within the Command and Conquer universe. Together, they describe a relatively bleak future characterised by warfare between two major factions - the Global Defence Initiative (GDI), and the Brotherhood of Nod (Nod).

Global conflict is made more complicated by the presence of tiberium, a strange semi-biological green crystal that fell from space and is gradually overrunning the earth. GDI basically represents the status quo - the remaining allies of the world banded together to attempt to defeat the terrorist elements scattered around the Earth. The Brotherhood of Nod, on the other hand, is a quasi-terrorist, semi-religious cult led by the charismatic, messianic, and apparently un-killable leader Kane. GDI has the guns, Nod the cunning. New to the series is the Scrin, an alien race. Discussing their background would be a very significant spoiler, so we’ll unfortunately have to leave them there.

Where's a roach motel when you need one ...

Where's a roach motel when you need one ...
Let’s get one thing out of the way. The formula hasn’t changed. Not in the slightest. The Command and Conquer series was always based on dealing massive damage as quickly as possible, both in single-player and multiplayer. Starcraft may have refined the Zerg rush, but Command and Conquer created it. The first time you saw your base sliced open like a ripe watermelon by a battalion of Recon Bikes was always the most painful. Sure, there were quite a few cool things available in the end game, but really - how many actually regularly made it to that point? If people were still playing by the time you could actually launch a nuke, you were generally doing something wrong.

If there’s one other thing that defines the Command and Conquer series, it’s full-motion video. None of this namby-pamby real-time/game engine rendering stuff - when you played Command and Conquer, it was partly to watch real people overact horrendously. Joe Kucan, also known as Kane, was worth his weight in gold to the series. He’s back, and he’s lovably bad. He’s also joined by an all-star cast comprising of Michael Ironside, Billy Dee Williams (Lando Calrissian from Star Wars), Grace Park (Boomer from Battlestar Galactica), Jennifer Morrison (Cameron from House), Tricia Helfer (Number Six from Battlestar Galactica), and Josh Holloway (Sawyer from Lost). Not since Wing Commander 3 / 4 have we seen such an A-list of actors involved in a computer game. Actually, probably not even then, unless you count Ginger Lynn. Let’s not go there, shall we?

First things first - it’s all here. The full-motion video, the tank rushes, the multiplayer, not to mention the dual single-player campaign (GDI vs. Nod). Single player mode allows you to wage war as either GDI or Nod, each of which offers its own unique (but mostly common) storyline, movies, and missions. With each campaign spread across a prologue and five acts, there’s quite a bit of story involved. Nothing new for the series, but definitely a strong point it its favour - one of the advantages full-motion video always provided was the ability to tell a grander, more movie-like story. In practice, this translated into quite an involved storyline across the full series (link not for the faint of heart). The game also offers an unlockable single-player campaign in which you can take control of the Scrin armies and wage war on Earth.

Tank go boom.

Tank go boom.
The gameplay mechanics are simple. Really simple, in fact - the tech tree is practically wide-open within a few minutes of open gameplay. The single-player campaign is designed to gradually ease you into game structure, but it really isn’t that complicated. Resource management is simple at best - there is tiberium, and you mine it. You get credits, and you spend them. Something that dramatically changes the speed of gameplay compared to most RTSs is the focus on spending money. Unlike most RTSs, you can only hold so much money at a time. You can increase that capacity by building additional silos to store tiberum, but it’s generally more hassle than it’s worth. Given the very limited tech tree, the game encourages you to spend your credits on new units as quickly as you can. As a method of keeping the game moving, it’s quite ingenious. The one exception is the Scrin, who can collect as much tiberium as they want.

Westwood Studios tried to mix it up a little quite a few years ago with Red Alert by slowing down the gameplay and introducing more strategy, but fundamentally, the game’s always been about macro-management over micro-management. Command and Conquer 3 fundamentally doesn’t change this. While you do have the option to finely control your units by directing them to move backwards (thereby increasing their ability to attack while retreating) and issue relatively complex orders involving multiple waypoints, you don’t need to in order to win. Nothing beats a tank rush, and with the focus on spending money, you’ll normally have more than enough troops to take a few casualties.

The campaign AI is poor at best. Really poor, in fact. One would think that soldiers might notice when some enemies are standing outside their walls, destroying their buildings one by one. Apparently not. At least, not until you move within a clearly defined perimeter, at which point they’ll rush you. Enemy buildings are rarely rebuilt in the single player mode, giving you ample time to send wave after wave of units to attack. And, the computer cheats. Not that it matters most of the time, but still.

Do you get the impression they like lasers?

Do you get the impression they like lasers?
One of the most attractive elements of the Command and Conquer series was the army differentiation. Try to use GDI strategies when playing Nod, and you’d very rapidly learn the meaning of the word “slaughter”. Command and Conquer 3 theoretically sticks to this formula by giving each army units with different focuses. More on this later. However, GDI has armour and guns, Nod has stealth and speed, and the latest faction, the Scrin, has a mixture of capabilities. Their land-based units rank somewhere between GDI and Nod, but their air support is second to none. Infantry can now garrison buildings, providing significant defensive bonuses while still allowing them to attack. On the other hand, various units (such as grenadiers and flame tanks) have the ability to empty a garrisoned building instantly.

The missions vary in focus, but basically follow two standard patterns. Either you’re defending/building a base and overrunning the enemy, or you’re trying to achieve a pre-defined objective with a limited set of units and no ability to create new ones. None are really that difficult, assuming you use your troops and buildings effectively. Like a game of paper-rock-scissors, effective counters make battles a lot easier.

Being completely honest, the graphics are OK. They’re definitely above average, but they’re not best-in-class. While environments are destructable, they don't quite destruct as you'd expect them to, were they real. The small touches are nice (such as running over fences and knocking over cars), but they're not breathtaking. They’re functional and reasonably detailed, but the bar’s been so significantly raised over the last few years that they’re not as interesting as they could have been. Sound and voices are extremely well done, however, and add a great deal of entertainment. Without painful acting either, for the most part.

The biggest problem with the game is feeling that we’ve been here before. Right down to the exact mission, at times. There’s the “command a commando mission”, where you must take control of a single unit and work your way through the map. There’s the “defend your base against waves of enemies for a set period of time” mission, at which point reinforcements arrive and you have to push back. And, there’s the obligatory “choose your next objective, commander” tactical map mode, where your choices actually do nothing other than change the orders of missions. If you’ve played Command and Conquer or Red Alert, you’ve played this. Literally.

Hope you like dayglo.

Hope you like dayglo.
Technically, it’s well executed. The gameplay mechanics work, as long as you’re simply looking for a lowest common denominator approach to tactics. Some evolutionary advancements have been introduced, but the game’s fundamentally the same. It’s simple, arguably too simple - the maps are small, the tech tree miniscule, and the unit speed high. The advantage of this is fast turnover - unlike some other RTSs, it is actually possible to get in a few “quick games” against other people. The main disadvantage is that it arguably doesn’t have enough complexity to offer gaming longevity. Given the game’s so new, however, it is possible that creative gamers will find the complexity hidden in there. Or that EA will fix it in a patch/expansion pack.

The unit counters and complexity are there, it just doesn’t seem to matter. Unfortunately, the balance is totally out of whack - GDI is demonstrably (and quantitatively measurably) stronger in open gameplay to the point where given a fixed spend amount, using Mammoth Tanks can completely outclass anything Nod can put forward. It’s not only the heavy armour, either - almost down to a unit equivalence level, GDI’s units are cheaper and stronger than Nod’s. In theory, using hit and run tactics should overcome this imbalance. In practice? Spamming fairly easily wins over micromanagement. This may be a potential multiplayer killer once people fully get up to speed with the game.

Fundamentally, it’s a simple game. Unlike Supreme Commander, it isn’t a cerebral game - it's all about slaughtering your enemies by using gross, macro-level tactics. And, doing it all as fast as possible - if ever there was an arcade RTS, Command and Conquer is it. The main problem is that it doesn’t do anything new. Some big steps forward have been made in the genre lately – Company of Heroes, Warhammer 40,000, and even cross-overs such as Spellforce 2. The formula’s still fun, it’s just that it feels like we’re playing the same game we played years ago. Slightly prettier, slightly more features, but still exactly the same game. The things that really save it, quite uniquely for a RTS game, are the story and the cut-scenes.

Is it worth buying? If you love Command and Conquer, yes. Without a doubt, mainly because you’re basically playing the same game you loved originally, just with new movies and an upgraded engine. If you’re tossing up between this and other games? Maybe not. There are other options out there that offer more innovative gameplay. It’s a good game with good execution, it’s just not everything it could (and should) have been. Take away the movies, and nor is it anything special.
The Score
Potential balance issues, rehashed missions, and somewhat dated gameplay mechanics. A good game, but not a great game.
Looking to buy this game right now? PALGN recommends www.Play-Asia.com.

Related Command & Conquer 3: Tiberium Wars Content

Command & Conquer 3 on PS3 and Wii?
10 May, 2007 Senior Producer hints at the possibility.
Command and Conquer 3 demo due next week
25 Feb, 2007 May actually be released this time.
Tiberium Wars actors announced
19 Oct, 2006 And it aint just Kane that's adding the 'cool' factor.
6 years ago
I'm going to grab the 360 verison, the demo impressed me greatly.

16-25 hours? What the? Why 16? icon_smile.gif
6 years ago
yeah, i agree with this.

the excitement of a New Tiberium-based C&C kind masks the fact that the game is quite antique, even though it's pretty.

it feels like it hasn't really evolved since C&C1.
6 years ago
good read,

definitely gave me a heads up now that i was considering purchasing this game. I'd probably wait for something to roll out and really make me drool over it.
6 years ago
Never played C&C game but i hear good things. so will be picking this up on 360,

whats the release date?
6 years ago
^5th of May I think for the 360.
6 years ago
I've always loved C&C and own all the games but after playing the C&C3 demo on my 360 I just couldn't forgive it for how little things have moved on.

That said I'm a C&C fan and I probably could have enjoyed it for story alone but the game just made my eyes bleed on a SD TV. I think I'll wait for a new PC before I pick up C&C3 but even then it'll be right down the list; World in Crisis has caught my eye.
6 years ago
Thats a disgrace. C&C is an awsome game. It deserves alot more than a 7.5.
6 years ago
If it doesn't do anything new, I'd like to hear your reasoning as to why.
6 years ago
Reviews are subjective, and while I do agree with some of the points in the review, I would still rate it higher personally. I love the C&C gameplay, and being a sequel it's more about refinement than re-inventing the wheel.

This was one of the lower scoring reviews of C&C3. http://www.gamerankings.com/htmlpages4/932602.asp
6 years ago
i think that if this weren't a Tiberium-Universe game, i wouldn't still be playing it. i'd probably even have returned it to EB for a full refund.

Like Kaboth, i'm playing it more for the story, than the gameplay.

7.5 is really all i could see myself giving it, and most of that score would be coming from the presentation of the game. the look, the sound, the story.

there's nothing overly wrong with the game, but given how far the RTS genre has progressed, and even broken into sub-genres, it seems far too cheap to maintain the same gameplay as we were playing back in 1995.

7.5 is quite a respectable score really, i guess it's just not the sort of score you'd expect a AAA-hyped game like one which features the C&C name to get.
6 years ago
Command and Conquer have always been my favourite RTS games....mainly because it's from the creators of RTS (Westwood - Dune). It just sux now because it's all under the guise of EA but the Westwood devs are still there. I've always loved how you only had to harvest tiberium whereas in Warcraft....uGh....so annoying, wood, gold, oil...and the stupid farms!! Arrggh!! Also Command and Conquer had awesome AWESOME pre-rendered video and back in the day (1995) this stuff was jaw-dropping and state of the art....plus they featured James Earl Jones....you know...Darth Vader?!

It's good to see the game hasn't strayed from it's formula because that's exactly what I wanted....just a nice arcadey RTS! I'm really REALLY sick of all the micro management in games like Warcraft and Age of Empires!

It's almost like the devs knew exactly what I wanted. The new alien threat (I remember finding the alien ship in Tiberium Sun and I was in awe), the ease of use, the return of pre-rendered video.....all of this stuff is exactly what I want in an RTS.
6 years ago
Actually, the people behind the original C&C games have had nothing to do with C&C3 (nor C&CG/ZH).
after Westwood was liquidated by EA, they went on to form Petroglyph studios, who made Star Wars: Empire at War.
a few joined EA Los Angeles, who made C&C3, and was the team behind LOTR: BFME 1 and 2, but most left the EA camp.

and the inner pedant in me has to point out that it was Dune 2 that is largely credited as being the first RTS, not Dune, which was a platformer along the lines of Fade to Black. the credit is also a tad misplaced, but it was the first RTS to utilise the mouse as a form of input, prior to that, it was all tabbing, and hotkeys.

i don't get the "Stupid Farms" comment, after all, this is C&C, where "Stupid Power Generators" is a common utterance. icon_wink.gif
6 years ago
Generals and Zero Hour are ok....story sux (or lack of)...but I enjoyed the engine the games ran on. Sux westwood aren't operating as one team still....but atleast the latest Command & Conquer is true to the series (looks like EA can do something right). I really haven't been into PC games at all since about Doom III so I don't know crap that's happeneing with the PC devs etc.

Yea Dune II was the first RTS I played. I've never even played Dune 1 but I thought it was the first RTS. I'm sure there were small parts in Dune that were RTS like (kinda like Actraiser on the SNES)....or am I mistaken?

Good point about the stupid farms cuz I forgot about the generators....they're stupid too.
6 years ago
Dune 1 was really a point-and-click game at heart, but had some strategy elements, such as garrisoning/defending captured locations, and economics, diplomacy and technology. i haven't played ActRaiser, but looking at it on MobyGames, it sounds pretty similar, though Dune wasn't as complex as the Sim-City comparison suggests of ActRaiser.
there was an over-map, but it was closer to the Final Fantasy style world-map fighting, than RTS combat.

afaik, the first RTS that has the features of modern RTS was a game called Overlord, in about 1988, but like i said, Dune 2 was the first RTS to utilise mouse input, which revolutionised and streamlined the whole genre.

most of the core of Westwood are at Petroglyph now, they're making a new RTS with Sega called Universe at War: Earth Assault, which uses a modified version of the Alamo engine, which is what Empire at War uses.
i enjoyed the true RTS elements of E@W (probably the SW fanboy in me speaking), but i didn't really like the galactic map/strategy elements, so i'm kinda wary of U@W.
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