Strategy games are one of the staples of computer gaming, incorporating everything true geeks love into one enjoyable experience: puzzle-solving, massively complex stories and lots of explosions. Especially the explosions.
Going further, Command & Conquer has always been one of the classics of the genre, the early games striking the perfect balance between tactics and unadulterated violence on a massive scale for a rapidly maturing audience.
Begun back in the hey-day of Windows 95, the original Command & Conquer operated only on MS-DOS and told the story of the Global Defence Initiative and its struggle to crush the evil Brotherhood of Nod. Or Vice versa, depending on what campaign you wanted to play. The new game returns to that story, casting aside the alternate storylines offered in Red Alert and the ensuing spin-offs.
Scripting of the Hollywood variety
In fact, it’s not just the story that has reverted to how it used to be; the same is true of the way the story is told to players. Bucking the current trend for in-game cinematics and scripted sequences pioneered by the first Half-Life, Command & Conquer 3 Tiberium Wars returns to the ancient art of FMV sequences to brief players on objectives between missions.
It’s a technique we’d long since thought extinct thanks to absurd melodrama and awful acting. Thankfully EA has finally learned from the previous mistakes and splashed out on some proper talent for the cutscenes, many of whom will be familiar to players already.
Michael "Sam Fisher" Ironside, Bill Dee "Lando Calrissian" Williams and Jennifer "that-girl-who-played-Cameron-in-House" Morrisson
Every geek’s favourite actor, Michael Ironside, is the first on screen, apparently taking a break from voicing Splinter Cell's double-crossing protagonist to appear as a general for the GDI, with Jennifer Morrison (who, despite her other roles, shall always be known as ‘that-girl-who-played-Cameron-in-House’) appearing as his intelligence officer. Not to be outdone The Brotherhood of Nod has Joe Kucan returning as Kane and casts Josh Holloway of Lost fame opposite him. Geekier men than me also tell me that some of the lesser characters formerly appeared in Battlestar Galactica. (how could you forget Lando!? - Ed)
Thankfully the celebs manage to throw together a rather solid performance. Morrison and Kucan rise above some hammy dialogue and sets that were probably salvaged from a nearby skip before being hidden under overpowering blue or red lights -- which again depends on which campaign you choose.
Didn’t you know the bad guys always decorate in red?
It seems everything except graphics has gone back in time ten years; story, cutscenes and the gameplay too -- which has pushed back to almost the exact same control schemes and low-level warfare as was offered in the original C&C titles. The units too are very similar to their counterparts in, say, Command & Conquer: Red Alert.
So similar in fact that even I, who normally has the strategic prowess of a fart in a spacesuit, found that I was quickly winning battles without ever reading the manual and never listening to the mission objectives. Part of that may have been Ajay, played by Holloway, threatening to castrate me, but mostly I think it’s because there’s nothing fundamentally different in gameplay between Tiberium Wars and its ancestors, right down to the sequence of right and left clicks.
This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it’s something worth bearing in mind. In the last few years the RTS genre has been expanded and developed beyond expectation. Players approaching Tiberium Wars and expecting something like Medieval II: Total War or Supreme Commander will be disappointed, because that’s not what this game is about. At all.
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Tiberium Wars isn’t massive scale combat. It’s not choosing your own battles. It’s not incredibly in-depth research trees or branching storylines. What it is, is old-school strategy gaming in its most perfectly balanced and presented form. The view is zoomed in even closer than is normal for the C&C series so that the focus is more on small skirmishes than nationwide conflict and the units are all slightly updated as prettier versions of their older models. This means the game plays as well as it always did while at the same time feeling more up close and personal than ever.
The zoomed-in view also makes the super-weapons more interesting, as unlocking them allows players a massive, screen-filling crosshair with which to direct their polygon levelling weapons of map destruction.