Command & Conquer 3: Kane's Wrath
The Inevitable Rising of the (tiberium) sun is the only thing more reliable than the release of a C&C expansion, and Karie's Wrath gives us the basics we expect. Namely, new units and a continuation of the storyline with an extended campaign. Though Kane's Wrath is a mite more risky than expected.
While it flaunts a fan-pleasing timeline with 13 new Nod missions, it also adds the fantastic Global Conquest mode - world map Risk-style gameplay that you'll recognise from Empire Earth III and Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War - Dark Crusade, but which C&C has taken to new levels of balance and engagement. I'll delve deeper into this world domination mode, in which armies stage skirmishes on a continental level, later. First we need to discuss the fact that for all but the hardest of hardcore C&C players, the campaign missions of Kane's Wrath are ball-kickingly difficult. I've barely slept since I played them, as my dreams are plagued with replays of their various tactical injustices.
Kane & Lynch
The Nod campaign kicks off with the smooth-headed maestro of hyperbole striding into an abandoned Nod command centre, resplendent in a delightful terminator hat and eye-patch ensemble. Aside from the inevitable armies soon to be at your disposal, you're the murderous Messiah's only trusted aide. No pressure then.
Your first task is to start a revolution within downtrodden Rio De Janeiro, and this you'll achieve by capturing radio stations and undermining the GDI presence by destroying their buildings. To start this is all par for the course - a casual stroll through the streets, knocking off a few GDI soldiers, until you're attacked by a Nod splinter group. At which point the entire situation goes to shit. What unfolds defines the campaign - endless, merciless waves of units that seem to know just where to hit you, and at exactly what time. On my first go I was obliterated, because the sheer number of units that dropped on me at once was unspeakably vast, and could only be planned for with prior knowledge.
This trial-and-error approach seems vital to progress, forcing you to strategise around forthcoming surprise attacks. For example, a mission against The Black Hand, a Nod splinter group, drops GDI units on you from the east with no warning and no explanation. This is impossibly frustrating, and in a lot of missions you'll spend most of your time desperately trying to keep your base in one piece long enough to get the lay of the land and launch a huge tank rush to the other side of the map.
While it's laced with plenty of C&C lore, there are times when the stupidity of the challenge make the campaign feel somewhat fan-made, with little consideration for balance or giving you time to prepare. What it comes down to is repetitive turtling, with the occasional movement of a surveyor to set up an outpost closer to your target - if only so you can build a few more refineries to fund the gigantic force required to do the job.
This would be intolerable if it weren't for the fact that the story is remarkably engaging, with the hilariously camp overacting that makes C&C what it is. The Tiberian Sun and Firestorm storylines are interwoven, along with a continuation of Tiberium Wars' storyline, in a fascinating way. Just fascinating enough, in fact, to make it worth wrestling with the Herculean tasks of the campaign missions to reach the next cutscene. Some people will lack the patience or mettle to conquer them, which is a shame as they'll be missing out.
The missions are bearable and beatable once you get used to the continuous stress and paranoia of having to defend your bases constantly, and once you've attuned yourself to the sometimes predictable Al (they won't walk over mines, they kill your harvesters, etc.), you can actually hurtle through the missions a bit more quickly. Just don't expect any of the quick fix, small-scale unit battles Of C&C3 -this is a war of scraping attrition that will force you to use every damn dirty trick in the book.
World Wide War
RTS expansions means new units, and Kane's Wrath brings these to you in the form of four new sub-factions. The GDI gets the earthy marine units of the Steel Talons, who sport Tiberian Sun-era mechs such as the Wolverine and Titan at the expense of some of the newer C&C3 units - however, they also get upgraded units such as the armoured harvesters. ZOCOM are tiberium-haters with tiberium-resistant armour and upgraded Zone Troopers, and they're also invincible to tiberium-related attacks. The GDI also gets the ridiculous MARV -a gigantic, garrisonable, rolling tankmonster that eats up tiberium and rolls over lesser tanks like they roll over troops.
The Nod get Marcion's Black Hand, with their special infantry and flame-throwing war mechs, and The Marked of Kane's cyborg units prove to be both great fun to use and frustrating to fight. Their epic Redeemer also bears some resemblance to the mechanical spider from Wild Wild West. The Serin, alien-types that they are, get the Reaper-17 and Traveler-59 - the former focused on upgraded firepower and shielded harvesters, and the latter having Yuri-esque mind-control abilities as well as the ability to use tiberium against its users. Their epic unit is a garrisonable spider-thing (this expansion is big on arachnids) that can also collect dead units and recycle them into resources.
The World Is Yours
Pie single-player campaign is classic C&C action, but with the difficulty verging on the imbalanced. However, the centerpiece of Kane's Wrath is the frankly fantastic Global Conquest mode. This feels like a mixture of DEFCON and Risk, generously peppered with Total War. The game opens on a map of the world, with cities as the points of tactical consideration. These cities provide resources for all three factions in different ways, and each faction starts with a few bases placed onto the map.
These bases have a ring of influence, which grows as the base levels. A city within your ring generates resources for you, based on what's going on in that city. GDI want cities happy, and gain the most currency from smiley townsfolk. Pie Nod will gain nothing from a civilly obedient town, and must keep towns under their influence in turmoil if they're to reap profit from them.
The Serin don't care about how happy the people are because that doesn't affect how tasty they are. They sap the population lot each city with each turn, but gain credits from them regardless of unrest giving them la different tactical approach to the world map, and one that's excellently balanced.
Affecting the state of the world map is done by assembling strike forces. A strike force is limited by your cash reserves, tech level, and a standard size limit and usually consist of an MCV and several groups of troops. You can use them to set up a base, extending your influence over more cities, or launch attacks on enemy bases - using the specialist base-damaging Ion Cannon, for example. Or you could opt to hobble your enemy's resources with a Media Blitz, to lower unrest in Nod-controlled cities.
So far, so not-very C&C. However, when your strike forces meet with the enemy, be they other forces or bases, you can either auto resolve or fight it out in real time. Your strike forces can be customised or launched in preset configurations, and auto resolutions are calculated in a reasonably predictable and realistic way, to the point that two bombers can obliterate a strike force if it hasn't got any anti-aircraft units.
The greatest facet of Global Conquest, though, is the real-time use of different i factious to pull off skill-based victories over grim odds. While auto resolving a battle against the Serin with some rocket troops, an MCV and a lone mammoth tank would have left me with a black eye and a bruised ego, my tactical genius led them to conquer a gigantic base with few casualties, wiping out the alien invaders' European stronghold in the process.
The beauty of Global Conquest is this: while you can auto resolve a great deal of battles (you'll have to, as even a single game can take up to 3-4 hours with a few RTS battles here and there) you can tactically deploy strike forces against bases and then deal with them in real time. You can choose to forge an especially micromanaged siege against a Nod fortress, or custom configure a strike force to fight a Ground Control-style baseless battle.
The tactical aides let you turn the tide of war in your favour with one deft stroke, and there's an undeniable thrill of satisfaction when you succeed in pushing a faction out of a particular part of the world. What's more, I can guarantee that you'll find yourself territorially protecting or fighting for Britain out of sheer pride and tactical impetus - it's got three clustered cities and thus is a huge resource.
With the ability to fight the battles personally, you feel a vice-like grip over your forces, and the new factions play into this by allowing you to construct particularly tailored forces for each situation. For example, a ZOCOM group with a MARV will be an easy way to auto resolve past any marauding forces, but a smaller scouting party with an MCV will be useful to take out an enemy base with a structured, resourcebuildingcampaign.
Kane's Wrath is undeniably good value, but it is a bipolar expansion. While the campaign mode is at times unbalanced and blood-pissingly annoying, the Global Conquest mode is hours of the finest strategy action I've ever played. The game is addictive, rewarding and accessible while at the same time being complex enough to win RTS veterans to the cause.
There's no doubt that the Nod campaign will frustrate all but the purest and most masochistic of C&C nuts, but Global Conquest manages to whip in and save the day. You can't kill the Messiah.
Abilities, War, and You
When playing turn-based Global Conquest you'll find yourself able to use a few abilities to turn the real-time battles in your favour, for a low resource cost Most of these are based on the manipulation of unrest the creation of new units and general-purpose damage, and range from single-target moves to area-of-effect blasts. For example, the GDI's Ion Cannon causes major damage to anything in its range, while the Orca Strike only damages a strike force. The Nod, however, have the ability to make a strike force or a base miss a turn, allowing you to attack unannounced or wipe out a base without the worry of another strike force halting your path. Both the Nod and the Serin also have the ability to make a low-cost strike force appear within any circle of influence across the entire world map. The fact that any of these abilities can be used across the whole of the world, regardless of your bases' placement adds another realm of tactics to an already fiendish gameplay mode.
Hard to be a Nod
The Brotherhood's got problems, but you can sort them out...
Taking place just after Tiberian Sun, the Brotherhood of Nod is splintered into several factions that either fear the GDI or believe Kane to be a false prophet.
The most notable of these anti-Kane revolutionaries is Brother Marcion, the newly elected leader of the Black Hand, played by Carl Lumby (Marcus Dixon out of Alias'). Not only is he a fantastic orator, he also has some of the most ridiculous facial expressions in videogame history, making a new standard for over-the-top campness in C&C games.
The other star of Kane's Wrath is Natasha Henstridge, famous alien nymph/murderer from the sub-par series of sci-fi flicks Species, who plays Alexa Kovacs, a Kane fanatic and one of a few friendly faces - beyond, of course, Joe Kucan, who is at his most angry and bald throughout the expansion.
Download Command & Conquer 3: Kane's Wrath
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