The fifth RTS entry in the Command and Conquer series detracts a lot from the games before it. This particular game has nothing to do with either the Tiberium or Red Alert story lines, and instead seems to be loosely based on the current real world "War on Terror" (Don't get me started on that..) This game changes a lot of the standard C&C conventions to a system closer to Starcraft, which is a bad thing. Nothing against Starcraft, I rather like the game, but it's not Command & Conquer.
The sidebar has been done away with, instead now we have the build and action options across the bottom of the screen. Biggest difference this makes is in order to produce a unit you must now select the particular building the unit is produced from instead of just clicking it in the side bar. While this doesn't seem like a big deal it does somewhat distract from play. Before in all the other C&C games you could "build and forget," which meant that while you were concentrating on other things (like a battle for instance) you could simultaneously still be pumping out units. No more of that shit, now you've got to go all the way back to your base, select the building, queue up the units, then go all the way back to the battle, all the while leaving your men unattended where they will potentially get smoked in your absence. Lame.
The game uses a versatile 3D engine, which allows you to zoom in and out and rotate around the battlefield (although the default 3/4th view is adequate for most of the game.) The graphics look great, no complaint there. My main beef is that the game doesn't allow you to zoom out enough to see much of the playing field at any given time. Also the camera seems to automatically follow the undulating terrain, as in when you enter a valley it will zoom in automatically. Most of the time this is not a big deal, except for those instances where you just happen to be fighting/targeting something on the edges of the screen that just happens to be cut off. Very inconvenient there fellas.
There are some positives to the control scheme. Each unit has special abilities that are also displayed across the bottom when a unit is selected, which is a lot more versatile than previous games. In Yuri's revenge for instance certain units could "deploy" by right clicking them, but this limited such units to only one extra action. Here some units have several additional actions (which are akin to "spells" in Warcraft) such as the American G. I.'s ability to switch over to flash bang grenades. Also each unit can be upgraded in certain ways, for instance American tanks can get a little scout plane or revolving robot drone to attack and repair for them. Good ideas that add a lot to the gameplay.
The three sides are pretty versatile, and very unique from each other. The story follows the United States and People's Republic of China in their efforts to eliminate the Global Liberation Army (GLA, which is obviously patterned after Al Queda.) Biggest difference with these armies as compared to the other games is that there are no more harvesters and refineries, instead each side has a "peon unit" that must gather resources from finite supply piles. This same peon unit is also used to create buildings. Each peon unit also has their own upgrades (such as shoes for the GLA worker) that will allow them to move faster, build faster, etc. Also engineers have been removed from the game, and instead any infantry unit can be trained to capture a building. However building capture is no longer instantaneous.
The Americans tend to focus more on highly advanced technology, with robot drones, lazer defended Paladin tanks, and the C&C standard Ion cannon (although the cannon here seems to be weaker, but has the benefit of being able to be moved around while firing.) The USA gets the usual Sniper and Commando units that can destroy buildings with remote C4. The USA also has air superiority with apache helicopters, F-15 Tomcats, and various types of bombers and such. The USA also has an "Air fuel bomb" which is akin to a nuclear weapon, and the ability to build multiple superweapons in the game means a skilled USA player can decimate your whole base from a distance in a very short time.
China seems to use tried and true technology, with all of their units designed around superior number (In fact Chinese troops get a "Horde bonus" when fighting in larger groups.) The Chinese use large, heavy tanks of all types, flame tanks, gattling tanks, and the gigantic Overlord Tank (which is a homage to the C&C staple Mammoth Tank.) The Chinese also get a "Hacker" named the Black Lotus, who is able to break into and take over enemy buildings remotely as well as hack into the internet for more funds. The Chinese get the standard C&C nuclear missile which does a lot of damage, easily able to destroy several buildings or units in a given area.
The GLA is probably closest to NOD in terms of gameplay. The GLA uses outdated, improvised technology and really can't stand toe-to-toe with either the Americans or the Chinese, so instead GLA players have to rely on stealth and sneaky tactics. The GLA gets old WWII era "Scorpion" tanks and hacked together vehicles such as the "Quad Cannon" (which is a tank with an Anti-aircraft gun grafted onto it,) "Rocket buggies," and "Technicals" (which is a real world term for a civilian vehicle such as a pickup truck with a rear mounted machine gun or rocket on the back.) The GLA hero unit is a sniper named Jarmad Kel, who is able to kill the driver of particular units (Humvees for example) whereupon a standard GLA soldier can commandeer it. The biggest advantage the GLA has is stealth soldiers, the ability to lay invisible mines (both of which can be detected with the right upgrade though,) and the ability to use a "Tunnel Network" to quickly move anywhere on the map. Also each GLA building when destroyed leaves a "GLA hole" that will automatically repair itself until the structure is rebuilt, which is a good idea but all one needs to do is destroy the hole as well.
The game itself.. meh. The single player missions are alright I guess. There's no FMV briefings before the missions (which seemed to be a big deal to fans of the series, for some reason I can't understand.) However each mission is prefaced by a little cutscene FMA that uses the in game graphics to set up the story. The problem is that certain things we've come to expect from a C&C game are missing here. For instance, your troops will not fight back unless you specifically "tell" them to by selecting a particular strategy (form the USA strategy center, for example.) So you can set them to do things like guard the area they're in, search and destroy, etc. But the problem is you have to do this in every mission, and the default action for your troops are to just stand around and do nothing, even when they're being attacked. They will not run away, they won't fight back. They'll scream "We are under attack!" and just stand there. While I appreciate the ability to further control my unit's standard A. I. behavior, there is no reason I should have to babysit my units, especially in instances where I have a large group of them being attacked by a lone rocket soldier. But left in their default configuration the lone rocket soldier will kill every single one of them. This kind of ridiculous micromanagement kills this game for me.
Overall it's not a bad game, the problem is it changes too much from staples of the Command & Conquer Series. It's good to have a lot of different options for each particular unit, but the greatness of prior C&C games comes from their simplicity. The foreign control scheme, too-zoomed-in screen, and piddling micromanagement keeps this particular game from being one of my favorites, but it's worth owning to any fan of RTS games in general. As with all the other C&C games this one was included in last year's C&C: The First Decade bundleware pack.