Command and Conquer 3: Tiberium Wars PC Review

Those of us who’ve been playing games for some time now fondly remember the classic Command & Conquer games produced by Westwood in the mid-90s. Since the takeover of EA and the move to 3D the original magic has been lost. The previous C&C game – Generals – was a hit in the gameplay stakes but was set outside the C&C universe and lacked the customary cut-scenes featuring real actors, drawing attacks from fans. Seeking to get back on everyone’s good side EA has taken it upon themselves to make a return to the original (and my favourite) storyline involving the unstable resource Tiberium, with opposing forces Global Defence Initiative (GDI) and the Brothernood of NOD; headed by Kane.

It’s clear from the outset that EA have pumped a huge amount of resources into C&C3. The production values are among the highest for any game I’ve played and everything has a glossy feel to it. The opening movie and cut-scenes that intersperse the missions are really grade A for video games and despite the fact that some inherent cheesiness remains, they’re entertaining and give Tiberium Wars an edge over its RTS competition, in particular Supreme Commander, whose CGI single player movies felt a bit archaic at times. Missions are varied and your objectives are always clear, with optional bonus objectives fleshing out the missions for those who don’t feel the need to rush through the game. I often find single player RTS missions a bit boring, but these are pretty well done if not overly memorable. On normal difficulty you’ll probably breeze through the early missions so I suggest ramping up the difficulty if you want a challenge. As is the norm in RTS games, you start off with the feeble units, e.g. the NOD buggy and bike, with the reward of better things to come in later missions. In general C&C3’s single player is lengthy and very good. The cut-scenes will keep you playing till the end but I was slightly annoyed by now NOD are presented in an overly religious way. Out of the actors the performance of Josh Holloway (Sawyer from Lost) really stands out and I hope he makes a return in future games.

A return to the C&C roots is clear, with buildings needing to be built before placing on the battlefield, and they must also be placed close to another building. This will be a pain to RTS players who like to expand early but you can build an outpost unit that can deploy away from the base to facilitate further expansion. Still, it’s annoying as outposts take time to deploy, and why switch from a system that was perfect in Generals? Requiring an outpost feels like a case of dumbing down and takes away the player’s decision to build a defensive structure or something else to kickstart an outpost; thus we lose some freedom and less players will be encouraged to build away from their default location. The GUI is also a shift back to the original games and sees a return to the old-style vertical bar, this time aided with tabs to choose between structures, defence, infantry, vehicles and air. It’s a solid interface most will feel comfortable with. New to the series is the option of building a crane, allowing for a secondary structure build queue, which although good it’s a shame to lose the construction dozers seen in Generals. The dozer loss means if you lose your construction yard and crane you’re basically dead, when in the past you could try and keep a dozer alive, and it also led to more depth overall as you could target an enemy’s dozer. Moving everything back to the 1995 build system was a mistake.

Immediately you will notice most infantry come in groups, with approximately 7 in a rifle squad and 2 in a rocket squad. This removes the need to build infantry one by one and is a welcome addition, but it’s a pain you can’t select them individually. I’ve also noticed infantry have been toned down somewhat, making them less effective against vehicles. Speaking of toning down you can now only place 3 infantry groups in a building, which always feels like an unnecessary limitation. On the positive side we see the return of the engineer, a classic component of the original C&C that allows you to capture a building. This is encouragement alone to build base defences and is a welcome edition.

There’s not a massive unit selection available, with late-game forces comprising of only a few unit types – you can expect to see many GDI forces that consist purely of Mammoth Tanks and Juggernauts. This is in stark contrast to Supreme Commander that came with 4 fully-realised unit tech levels, and makes C&C look severely limited by comparison. I had hoped in 2007 we’d have seen more unit choice than we did in 1995 but that simply hasn’t happened. By over-simplifying the game we’re heading for an “a-counters-b” unit scenario where we build one unit to counter something the opponent is doing, rather than actually having real tactics and strategy in the game. To succeed in online multiplayer you just need to abuse the inherent weaknesses and strengths of the units and learn a good build order, rather than think strategically. In Supreme Commander where the best units were a serious time and money investment, here you can quickly build an army of Mammoth tanks in no time at all. I think this could seriously impact upon the longevity as regular players tire of the same old units. The main changes that spring to mind are both on the NOD side; the Avatar, a large stomping robot with a laser, and a new defensive unit system where a base unit controls 3 little turrets. Both are welcome additions but I was hoping to see some new clever units rather than a remix of what we’ve seen before. To mirror the GDI Jetpack infantry NOD now have the Shadow Team; a 4 man team who use capes to fly. Historically NOD were intended to be stealthy but in reality there’s little sign of this with most of their units having little or no stealth features. It’s more a case of GDI having more expensive, slower and stronger vehicles. There is a solid way point mode however the art of micromanagement seems less important in C&C3 than Generals, despite the introduction of the backwards retreat, the emphasis is very much on tank numbers.

Those not wanting to know anything about the story should skip this paragraph. The key twist in this C&C game is the introduction of the Scrin – an alien race with organically produced buildings and weapons. Many of their units are mirrors of the GDI/NOD offerings but they look quite different. In single player their introduction is welcome as it injects some intrigue into a story that we feel has been done before. The Scrin are also playable in multiplayer.. but something doesn’t feel quite right. In particular they have very strong aerial units and the GDI in particular have little to counter them. I never enjoy playing as – or against – the Scrin. Most old school C&C players will probably want to keep it GDI vs NOD as this is what C&C is all about. The return to mining Tiberium is welcome, especially on maps where you must fight over a Tiberium field in the middle of the map. Tactically they’re not fully exploited as harvesters are so heavily armoured you won’t see any early-game economy targeting. In Tiberium Sun infantry exposed to the Tiberium would be transformed into mutants that would roam the battlefield. This aspect held massive potential but has been removed completely. Mutants as a whole, who played a big part in Tiberian Sun, are represented by a hovel building that can be captured, allowing you to build a mutant mini-gunner. Tiberian Sun also had dangerous floating creatures on the battlefield that added to the atmosphere and depth but again they have been removed in C&C3. Now even civilian interaction is non-existent, gone is your ability to steal cars. It’s in attention to detail where C&C3 really falls down as no effort has gone into developing new ideas outside of the core-gameplay. I think the backwards-looking philosophy could be overlooked had the battle environment been padded out.

Graphically C&C3 looks similar to Generals, with some added visual effects like heat blurring, shiny surfaces and more detailed buildings. Shiny roads and light reflecting off everything is overdone on some levels but it doesn’t stop the game impressing as some of the urban cityscapes look terrific. There’s the standard camera rotate option for when you need to click or see something that’s moved behind a building. However the zoom feature in C&C3 is near useless as you can get a bit closer to the action but not much, and you can’t zoom very far out either. The classic C&C inspired artwork is a pretty mixed bag in C&C3, with GDI largely looking the part, but some of NODs units, like the temple, looking unrealistic and out of place. The Hand of NOD barracks also sports an orange coloured ball, when metal would have looked infinitely better. My dislike of some NOD units extends to their units, such as the flame tank, which I thought looked a bit of a mess ever since seeing the early screenshots. Another issue that has riled fans of the series is the absence of buildable base walls in multiplayer, something that is pretty inexcusable.

Ever since the original games none of the soundtracks have come close to matching Hell March, Mechanical Man, Act on Instinct and other classic tracks. We still have the charming unit sound bites but as a whole C&C3’s music disappoints and is instantly forgettable unless you prefer subtle background tracks over awe-inspiring music.

C&C3 feels like a mashed up version of the original 1995 game, transferred to the Generals style, minus the innovative features. The introduction of Scrin is implemented well but I’d have preferred to see the time invested in adding depth to GDI and NOD with the introduction of 6 or so units on each side. There are few surprises on offer, and while most design decisions are solid you can’t help but think something more ambitious things could have been accomplished. Back when Tiberian Sun was released we all thought it was a good game but knew it had fundamental design issues that meant it would never be in the same league as the classic originals. C&C3 makes similar mistakes and again we’re left, 12 years later, with a C&C game lacking the charm and excitement of the originals. A lot has been said over C&C3 vs Supreme Commander but the latter wins with ease, the whole game model is superior, with expansion, recon, intel, strategy and upgrades coming much more naturally. C&C3 is still a great game but so far it hasn’t gripped me like its predecessors.

Very solid but in need of innovation.

8.1 out of 10

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