Longtime readers of my little site here know that I'm a huge RTS fan, in particular a fan of the game that started it all, Command & Conquer. This sequel finally continues the Tiberium story line from the original game in the series. There was some fear for C&C fans that since Westwood's dissolution a "proper" Tiberium sequel would never be made; Thankfully those fears have been put to rest. The result after years of waiting is a game that harkens back to the simplicity and depth that made these games so engrossing in the first place.
(The next two paragraphs contain spoilers)
The story continues from C&C: Firestorm - In 2047 (sixteen years after the events in Firestorm.) Nearly 90% of the Earth's surface is now covered in Tiberium, separated into three "zones." The Red zones are the most effected, where human life as we know it cannot exist. The majority of the world's population lives in moderate Yellow Zones where Tiberium has not completely taken over, yet are prone to devastating Ion storms and slow poisoning by the Tiberium in the environment. NOD controls nearly all of the Yellow zones and in many places acts as the only form of government. 10% of the Earth's surface is sequestered into near pristine Blue Zones, which are controlled by GDI. GDI works to eliminate Tiberium from the Yellow zones to make the environment habitable again.
It is this setting in which Kane, the enigmatic leader of the BrotherHood of NOD (and baddest dude in the history of video games) re-emerges and starts another war with GDI by destroying the Philadelphia orbiting space station. This is fact was all a ruse in order to get GDI to fire upon the Temple of NOD in Sarajevo, thereby igniting a liquid Tiberium explosion in order to spurn an alien invasion by the Scrin, which for those who are keeping track is the alien race that created the Tacitous. Turns out Tiberium is in fact a planetary terraforming agent used by the Scrin to make the environment habitable prior to colonization.
(Spoilers end here, mostly.)
With a new game comes new units. Both GDI and NOD units are a logical outgrowth of those shown in other games - armor has shifted back to traditional treaded and wheeled vehicles and away from Mecha and hovercraft for reasons that are explained in various "Intelligence files" that are collected throughout the game (which is a very good way of telling the story in a game like this.) Most of these intelligence files are uncovered automatically but some are hidden. Each mission also has several secondary objectives that need to be completed in order to get a perfect score, both of which does a lot for replay value. Each story campgain has five chapters, giving the main game a total of 36 missions (16 each for NOD and GDI and 4 for Scrin.)
GDI returns to traditional medium tanks, armored Humvee-type vehicles, and rocket buggies, also the old fashioned Mammoth Tank returns (although upgraded to the Mammoth MKIII.) GDI has troopers that are designed to engage armor in smaller numbers, most notably the Zone Trooper which is armed with powerful rail guns and has the ability to "jump" onto higher planes or as a means of escape. GDI retains the Juggernaut artillery from C&C 2, although here instead of lobbing shells long distances it's been retooled into a more forward offensive weapon. GDI retains the Ion cannon as a superweapon, which this time around does as much damage as any of the other opposing superweapons.
NOD units start out pretty weak but gain considerable offensive power through the purchase of upgrades. NOD troopers are very, very weak and are intended to use in extremely high numbers. The NOD equivalent of Zone Troops are Shadow Troops, which have the ability to detonate buildings and fly anywhere on the map via winged gliders. NOD seems to have the most returning units from prior games, including rocket bikes, buggies, light tanks, stealth tanks, and flame tanks. The buggies and light tanks are pretty useless at first but can be upgraded with Lazer turrets to make them far more effective. NOD also has considerable air power this time around with VTOL Viper craft and stealth bombers. The NOD mecha is the Avatar war machine, which is a huge walking robot that fires lazers by default. The Avatar can also take weapons from other NOD units (although you loose the other unit in the process.) NOD gets an assortment of nuclear and Tiberium based missiles as superweapons.
Upon completing the GDI and NOD campaigns you unlock the Scrin campaign, which tells of the Scrin's expedition force and their perceived defeat by GDI (although it's hinted that a larger Scrin invasion force will arrive in the future.) Scrin dominate by air power, most notably with the Devastator Warship which can quickly decimate ground based units, and the Planetary Assault Carrier, which launches a fleet of smaller "Stormrider" attack craft (similar in concept to the Aircraft carriers of Red Alert 2.) Scrin ground forces are pretty useless and are best used in a defensive capability, with two exceptions - the Mastermind (Scrin commando) has the ability to mind control units similar to Yuri in C&C Yuri's Revenge, and the large Annihilator Tripod, which is kind of like those giant Martian walking warmachines in War of the Worlds, which has an extremely strong lazer weapon with long range and when ranked becomes extremely powerful. Scrin use a Black Hole rift generator as a superweapon, as well as a huge mothership to fire a bolt down ala Independence day (although the ship is rather easy to shoot down.) Scrin can also heal their ground troops in Tiberium fields ala the mutants in the last game.
Here comes the part where we were all worried: The gameplay. Thankfully the setup was returned somewhat to a pre-Generals interface, with a few modifications. The traditional right hand side access bar has been reinstated, although you can also build and select from units and structures as well. Biggest gripe I have is that the action and select buttons are now controlled with the left and right mouse buttons instead of all being controlled by the left button as in all other C&C games - this was done because many units also have secondary abilities and upgrades. Not a big deal, but it takes a little while to get used to. As for the rest of the game, it's pure C&C goodness - click on a guy and then click on another guy, and your guy goes and kills the other guy. Simple genius that should not ever be changed.
Now, a few issues:
I was expecting a little more from the Scrin actually - their ground troops are pretty useless with the exceptions noted above, and their air power must be used in mass in order to get through base defenses. I understand that for sake of balance they could not be too powerful, still the build up from the prior games sort of made me think I'd be blown away by them. The Scrin campgain is too short, although it does fit in with the overal story arch.
My main problem with the game is in fact the same problem I had with Generals, that the game is too "zoomed in" to the battlefield. This is because the battlefield is actually viewed from a slight three quarters perspective, thus everything appears very large and crowded towards the bottom of the map. You can get a larger view by setting the resolution higher, however at the highest setting the units appear too tiny. Smaller units like troops and such have a tendency to blend into the backgrounds at the higher resolution settings (especially Scrin troops.) Plus what's the point of setting it so high if you can't see all the cool details and such? Kind of defeats the purpose. Thankfully any "hotspots" of action are shown in your corner map, but you do spend a lot of time searching around for what exactly is happening.
You're able to set your unit's A. I. into one of four default behaviors, however the default "Guard" stance (in which they attack units in their line of sight) can be exploited by your opponent to thin your forces by tricking them into chasing. The "Hold Ground" stance is a lot more effective (Where they will fire back, but not chase.) The problem with Hold ground is that if a unit is attacked by another unit with a longer range, it will just stand there and take the beating. It was much better in all the other games where a unit would fight back by default when attacked, and would travel to a point where it could engage, yet would not chase an enemy all the way into an ambush. Basically it means you have to baby sit your troops, and although this problem is not as bad as it was in Generals, it's still a problem.
On the plus side though are some abilities and gameplay mechanics that really help - You're able to easily put any group of units into formation by clicking and dragging both mouse buttons. Also most units have some sort of "call for transport" ability, which allows you to quickly fly them to any section of the map. You can also set several advance and retreat behaviors on the fly, including a forced fire attack where they advance to a given point and attack anything that moves along the way, and a general retreat where they fire while retreating to a safe distance. Brilliant stuff that adds whole new levels to the game.
Overall I have to give a thumbs up to this latest entry in the series. Fantastic graphics, good balance on all three sides, a large amount of missions and story campaign with halfway decent acting in the FMV segments, and lots of upgrades and options make the game engaging. The interface and A. I. problems can be annoying but aren't so bad you can't "learn" them, and sometimes use them to your advantage.
Welcome Back commander.
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