Command & Conquer 4: Tiberian Twilight
Lest that sound a bit cruel, C&C4's failure to reach the heights of its predecessors is not face-of-Kane Joe Kucan's fault. If anything, he's the only tolerable actor in this, who, in the few moments the script makes sense, tries to add a little subtlety to a character who's previously been a pantomime villain. His distractingly less-than imperious voice is just the final straw in a massive haystack of lousy production values and even lousier plotting.
This is the end of a long-running C&C storyline. EA promised us we'd find out who Kane is and what he really wants. We don't. We get some more hints which simply repeat what's gone before, and a big dumb cliff-hanger which doesn't give any closure. The supporting cast, all newcomers to the story and actors you won't recognise, are either a) annoying, b) terrible, c) constantly crying, or d) annoying, terrible and constantly crying.
If you've been following C&C story, in all its campy, contradictory and clearly made up as it goes along glory, since the early '90s, then you may not have the highest expectations of its storytelling ability. Even so, this so-called conclusion will leave you thumping your desk and readying angry letters containing the repeated use of the word 'disgusted' as it comes to its final, woeful cutscene.
Long-running sci-fi has a habit of ending unsatisfyingly, but unlike, say, Battlestar Galactica (which, in music and in sets, C&C4 borrows hilariously liberally from) and its silly religious finale, this doesn't even try to give answers. It's poppycock of the highest order. You heard me: poppycock!
There is, of course, much more to this game than videos starring a bald guy with a small beard. C&C is the populist father of real-time strategy games, and the longest-running series in the genre. Presumably, this is just the same-old build a base and go bash another guy's base routine, right? Absolutely not. This isn't so much throwing the baby out with the bath water as it is drowning every other baby on the street in the process. Take away the cutscenes and there's no way you'd guess this is a C&C game. Base building and resource collection is gone, replaced by a class-based system centred around re-spawning Crawlers.
These huge machines are both factory and major unit, varying in build options and ability depending on if you opt for Offence, Defence (Ss and have changed to Cs to protect innocent British minds) or Support class. No tiberium or power is necessary to spit out their pitifully small armies of soldiers, tanks, planes and robo-suits - simply time. A bafflingly small population cap means you'll very rarely field more than a dozen units, so 5v5 multiplayer bl matches are your only hope of seeing anything like the scale of olden C&Cs. It's important to be clear here: this is not an inherently bad concept, and EA LA's intentions are worthy. You don't need to memorise build orders or make constant beelines for tiberium fields. You just need to build an army and throw it at various prescribed points on the map.
The strategy comes from ascertaining which units are best for any given fight -pretty strict rock, paper, scissors stuff -and which capture point to send them to. The simplicity of building, and the fact your Crawler can re-spawn, means pretty much anyone can manage to kill some stuff, and in doing so earn some experience points.
Ah, XP. And so we come to C&C4's second critical failure. Levelling up and unlocking new stuff is all the rage, says Gary Greyson, Man In The Grey Suit With The Grey Computer Full Of Grey Spreadsheets About Money. Thus, all games should do it Even if they're not at all suited to it. This isn't like Dawn of War IFs Diablo-compulsive loot system - it's about unlocking the units themselves. Want a Scorpion tank? Tough. Not until you've played as Nod for about five hours. How about a GDI Mammoth? Yeah, give it a couple of weeks.
These are not lovely bonus toys heaped on top of an overflowing box of delights. These are the game's core units, drip-fed to you over days or weeks, and only in response to successfully killing tons of enemies and levelling up. Jump immediately online the day you buy the game, and you'll have access to about four units. Sure, hitting Tier 2 only takes a few missions or matches, and will double that roster, but it's absurd. It's insane. It's ludicrous. It's preposterous. It's being made to wait and to work for something you've paid for, not patting you on the head for doing well. It's one thing to unlock a variant weapon in an online shooter, but denying you access to most of the tech tree until you've put the hours in is not how RTS games work.
DEATH OF A CLASSIC
Unlocked units are supposed to provide choice instead of advantages, but that's utter nonsense. It is possible to win by swarming a Tier 3 enemy with Tier 1 units, but it's harder going and not much fun. To the game's credit, XP is earned from multiplayer, single-player, co-op and skirmishes alike, but it's still a long road to the best stuff.
As a final smack upon your red-raw buttocks, the two factions - GDI and Nod - have to be levelled up separately. You don't have to fight hard and fight well to get everything - you just have to play and wait and wait and play and play and wait, and that's incredibly boring. Dear EA: You are total bastards. Love, everyone who bought C&C4. Worse still, the persistent unlock system is used to justify an anti-piracy measure that's the equal of Ubisoft's always-online DRM for pure contempt. No matter what mode you're in, if you lose your internet connection for any I reason, you're kicked out of the game j until it resumes. Progress will be lost, and train-based boredom will not be killed.
Is this a worthwhile for having your XP, unlocks and scores constantly monitored and updated? The answer begins with, ends with "o bloody way''.. All that said, when you've played long enough to unlock a decent clutch of units and enter the fray with a bunch of people in a similar position to you, the game does feels right, turning into the bastard child of World in Conflict and Company of Heroes - it has the instant action appeal of the former and the tug-of-war of the latter.
Frankly, it's just not C&C without base-building and harvesters, but with the right unlocks and the right players it has a bloomin' good go at being epic sci-fi warfare. Co-operation is key, and also hard to avoid: as one vs one currently is the only way to fight entirely alone. You need a Defence player setting up turrets to guard caps, a Support guy deploying his magic powers to bail you out of a fraught fight, and you need an Offence player to get into that fraught fight in the first place. Things clicks together when all multiplayer pieces are in place, but it's unfulfilling in single-player.
While longevity hangs upon the multiplayer mode, and the potential string of patches and DLC - aargh! -unlocks therein, the reason this game really exists are the previous title's singleplayer modes. People have grown up with C&C for 15 years; they're buying to find out what happens, and to have some neat scripted missions. I've already banged on about how pathetic the story is, but the missions fall short too. The trouble with the new structure, regardless of its multiplayer merits, is that it permits very little variation. It's just a race to biff some other stuff on small, palpably arena-like maps. It tries to insert a little more oomph - a giant spaceship at one point, a tiny Kane pixel-man at another - here and there, but it feels limited and cheap.
Knowing that most of the developers were set to lose their jobs once C&C4 was completed, and that this game began as an RTS that was unrelated to prior C&C releases it's hard not feel that this was a compromised project. If it is indeed the last gasp of C&C as we know it, it's an incredibly sad way to go out. With a little more money, a little more time and a whole lot more reverence for what makes C&C C&C, the tiny exploding acorn underneath this confused, scrawny thing could have become a mighty oak of modern strategy. Take care of yourself, Mr Kane. It was good while it lasted.
Download Command & Conquer 4: Tiberian Twilight
- PC compatible
- Operating systems: Windows 10/Windows 8/Windows 7/2000/Vista/WinXP
See, We Always knew that bald guy known only as Kane was a decent fellow. He was just misunderstood, only wanting a better world for you, me and the entire human race. Granted, he may be responsible for the deaths of thousands and his insane quest for personal deification and radioactive tiberium crystals is the reason the world has turned into a bleak, green, irradiated wasteland. But forgive and forget? Everyone makes mistakes, after all.
Now Kane's trying to make amends, which is why he's approaching the GDI (Global Defence Initiative - C&C's goodies) with a plan, one that might just save the putrid galactic scab one might call Earth. His plan is simple - an alliance. The GDI and Kane's Brotherhood of Nod (the baddies) working together to push back the tiberium menace and help get the planet back on its feet
Kane The Saviour
Introduced in one of those gloriously campy (and now superbly hi-res) movies that the Command & Conquer series is renowned for, Kane holds some strange orb in his hand while he makes the proposition. The GDI guys look a bit nervous, but we know they decide to agree, perhaps after some tough negotiation or maybe just after a curry and a night out on the tiberium cocktails. While we don't know yet who will actually make an appearance (we know for sure Ric Flair won't be in it, sadly) the cast are sure to bring life to the story, as they've always done.
This meeting takes place 10 years after the events of the previous game. Fast forward another 15 and you've got the present day in C&C4 terms. The plan is coming to fruition, the Tiberium Control Network is almost complete and the two factions have been skipping merrily together in tiberium-free fields for a decade and a half. A new golden age for humanity is said to be dawning. So, of course, as is the way of things in game land, things go terribly, terribly wrong. We don't know how they go wrong, nor would we tell you if we did, because it would spoil the story. But it does and the GDI and Nod are back at each others' throats once again, the fate of mankind in the balance once more.
One of the things Jim Vessella, producer on the C&C4 project, was eager to stress was the notion of appealing to both hardcore and new users. A common enough refrain, of course, and one that is hardly easy to attain. To be fair to him, it does seem like the game could be significantly different to its predecessors, although not in a "shit, they've ruined it!" kind of way. There's definitely more of a "hmm, that sounds interesting" vibe to the project at the moment. How much you agree with that statement depends on the following passages, so let's get cracking.
Essentially C&C4 is the same game as all the others. You build a base with a mobile MCV (called a Crawler in this one - well, ish... we'll get back to this a little later) and set about churning out a big army of tanks, infantry, engineers and other instruments of mechanised destruction. You can do this as either the GDI or the Brotherhood of Nod, each with their own distinct units.
The first place C&C4 differs from its ancestors is that you have to I choose a class, which basically I means choosing between Offence, Defence and Support unit load outs. Each one has its own specific roster with unique roles to play. For example, using Defence gives you heavy turrets to deploy, but very little in the way of quick, incisive attack troops with which to gain ground; offence does the opposite; and Support gives you the option to properly utilise aircraft, artillery and transports. You must pick one of these before starting a game, so it'll be important to think about what you plan to do or what your preferred style is.
This is absolutely essential to what EA Los Angeles are planning for C&C4, specifically when you consider that you can't actually be defeated. This doesn't mean that your units are invincible - far from it - but if your Crawler (or the equivalent depending on which class you've chosen - the Crawler is used for the GDI's Offence class) is destroyed, it isn't the end of the world. You'll then get the chance to respawn as either the same class or a different one. How well this idea will work can only be divined from a proper play test of course, but it has the potential to make irritating buiid-and-rush tactics less of a pain in the backside.
While we're still sure that quickfingered and quick-rushing gameplay will be essential to mastering the game, Vessella stresses the effort the development team are putting jn to shift the balance of power towards a middle ground, where people who don't even know what a hotkey is could have a chance of putting up a good fight.
The respawns, which could be unlimited or regulated by the chosen difficulty level, will also go some way to helping players alleviate the frustration of sudden rush deaths. Vessella believes that C&C4 will be more layered strategically than-previous games in the series, with longer missions than in Red Alert 3 and more changing up of tactics because of the extra mobility provided by the Offence and Support classes.
Finally, we come to probably the biggest change to the C&C formula -persistent XP. Killing units, destroying structures and completing objectives all earn you experience, which allows you to unlock new units to use later on in the campaign. However, this can also be earned in the skirmish and multiplayer modes. We think this could be rife for abuse, players perhaps setting up easy win games in the skirmish mode and just grinding experience. Vessella recognises this, but doesn't believe it'll be a problem. In fact it will be a definite bonus for inexperienced players who can "buff" themselves with practice in the other modes, bringing better units to the difficult campaign mission they previously failed to crack.
One thing we're aware of that has a sour taste is that C&C4 needs a constant internet connection. EA say it's down to players' progress needing to be tracked at all times. So it's not DRM... sort of.
It seems to us that C&C4 could be the game that brings back players bored of the same old mechanic used since, effectively, 1995. While not reinventing the wheel, EA Los Angeles have definitely gone beyond the minute token changes we so often associate with big name releases from established franchises. Whether these alterations work or not is a matter for you yourself, depending on your love/loathing of the base-building RTS mechanic, but what we're certain of is that, for the first time since the late '90s, the guy writing this piece is looking forward to playing Command & Conquer. That's definitely saying something.
Keep You Friends Close
What C&C4's multiplayer means to you and your closest
Multiplayer is almost certainly where Command & Conquer 4's longevity will lie, an opinion supported by Vessella himself. You'll be able to play it online in a number of ways, either co-operatively against the AI or competitively against people. We can say now, for certain, that co-op will be great.
The competitive side will allow for one-on-one skirmishes all the way up to gruelling five-on-five team battles. If you decide to form a team with friends, you'll also be able to go from battle to battle as a unit, with no annoying regrouping in lobbies. Just bounce from one glorious win to another without dropping out.
Whether you'll be able to do this while in control of the Serin is unknown at the time of writing, but we got the impression that this might be announced somewhere down the line. Watch this space for that one.
Can It Be true? Is this the last ever Command & Conquer'? Has Kane finally met his match? Respectively: Apparently, ditto, and it would appear so. We'll believe it when we see it, but according to assistant producer Matt Ott, "We're really going to wrap it up this time."
It's mildly terrifying to consider that the first C&C game came out in 1995 but it's one of those rare games that can genuinely claim to have pioneered a genre. Real-time strategy may not be the poster boy for the PC it once was, but the development team at EA are refusing to rest on their sizeable laurels, and are indeed introducing fundamental gameplay changes for this fourth and, allegedly, final fling.
As any fools knows, one of the key concepts of C&C is fortifying your base, hunkering down and clinging on for dear life, repelling all that the enemy throws your way. Not any more. Step forward the crawler mobile base, which as the name suggests, can stagger to a point on the map and unpack into a fully working base. Furthermore, should your base be destroyed, you can simply redeploy the crawler, even switching to a different class. Yes, there are three classes, namely offence, defence and support. Bluff traditionalists needn't panic however: "There's a lot of classic elements in there," says Ott.
"If you choose to play a defensive class you'll be able to fortify, hold down an area, build up around it. You'll still have access to classic buildings like super I weapons: the Temple Of Nod, the GDI Ion I Cannon. So that kind of bunker down and build up your base gameplay still exists in the game, we've just added the offensive I and support classes for people who work together as a team.
"Offence class is more tank-oriented, you also have the commander unit; and the support class has access to the airport, they're very mobile, quick, and they also have player powers that can be used anywhere on the battlefield. I "Any of those classes is goi ng to have all the tools you need to be successful. It is possible to have a team of five offensive players and still win a match, However, the classes really play to each other's strengths by working together as a team."
End Of An Era
It's a lot to take on board at once, particularly for someone who struggled to complete the demo of the original C&C, which came on a floppy disc and was played on something called a 486. This time round, I'm on a 10-PC LAN in a disused dairy in East London, sat next to none other than Kane himself, or at least the man who plays him, Joe Kucan.
There's no shame in admitting that I make a pig's ear of my time with C&C4, simply sending all of my troops to a fiery death before trying again with a different class, and similar results. It's almost a relief when my PC crashes, sparing me the indignity of another crushing defeat. Although I later learn that I've been playing at level 20 - the highest. Yes, there are RPG-style levels, with persistent player progression throughout the entire game, whether in you're in campaign, skirmish or multiplayer mode. Although in terms of story it's a classic Nod vs GDI scenario - The Serin, C&CSs purple aliens, having been dropped - C&C4 appears to be advancing the genre that the original Command & Conquer founded.
The advancements will also impact on the single-player campaign, which will be fast-paced and heavily reliant on map awareness, albeit more forgiving in that you can simply redeploy your crawler, whenever you base is wiped out.
So is this really the end? Ott is adamant: "This is the epic conclusion of the Tiberian saga, the story that we started back in 1995. It's going to be the conclusion of Kane's plan, GDI versus Nod, the fate of the world, the fate of Tiberian, it's all here. It's going to wrap up the saga."