As a fan of the Command & Conquer series from the moment it came out in the mid-90s, I always tend to look forward to a new entry in the series. As someone who has been pretty unimpressed with all the freemium browser-based games I’ve played so far, I always tend to react with pessimism when I hear a long-running franchise is receiving the free-to-play treatment.
Command & Conquer: Tiberium Alliances is both of those things, so which part of me should I listen to? Unfortunately, it’s the cautious part that seems to be more on the money at this stage. Let me explain…
Tiberium Alliances is a resource management game you play in your web browser, not unlike — superficially at least — games like FarmVille. You have a high-level map full of territories, some of which will belong to the enemy, some to allies, and one — initially — that belongs to you.
Zoom in to this territory, and you’ll find yourself on a screen that lets you harvest tiberium, construct buildings, manage your troops, and anything else you might expect from a C&C game. Here, however, it’s all a little different, feeling less like an RTS, and more like… I’m not sure how to describe it. If RTS games are all about managing a bunch of statistics, and then hiding those statistics under a veneer of fun graphics and gameplay, this feels like those statistics are simply displayed openly for all to see.
I deployed my first power plants, refineries, harvesters, factories, and silos, and it quickly became apparent that the C&C veneer I fell in love with wasn’t really in attendance. The graphics are murky, the animations crude, and none of the slick polish I associate with the best games in the series was present. Granted a web game has to make compromises — but shouldn’t even the simplest of acts, like constructing a couple of buildings in just the right place, still be fun in and of itself?
As it stood, I quickly realised just how much of a slave I was to a number of different — and frustratingly scarce — resources. I could set harvesters on different types of tiberium, but then I’d need more power, and then I’d need something else. This, of course, is where the freemium/MMO nature of the game comes to the fore: unless you spend some real world money, don’t expect to do anything in a hurry.
My problem isn’t so much with that — it’s more that even the moments where you can actually take an action felt kind of joyless. I can see how someone might get fairly immersed in this game if they invested in it enough — whether through time or money — but the reward/effort ratio seemed horribly skewed toward the latter.
Take the battles, for instance. After spending some time getting together a little army, you can attack other territories. The actual gameplay consists of placing your units horizontally along the bottom of a screen, hitting go, and watching as they slowly move upwards to the enemy’s base. If anything happens to be directly in their path, they’ll attempt to destroy it, before getting picked up and returned to your base.
That’s a far cry from the exciting, fast-paced, micro-managed battles of the best C&C games. And maybe that’s the crux of the problem: as a web game, maybe that kind of gameplay does have its merits. But EA are hoping to attract C&C fans — fans who are used to something just a tad more thrilling and visceral.
I don’t like rendering such a strong opinion based on the relatively small amounts of Tiberium Alliance I played. But its first impression on me wasn’t exactly one of excitement — and diving further into the game did little to change that. Again, I can theoretically see how the high-level game could eventually become quite thrilling — but the road to get to that point seems so wearisome.
But please, don’t take my word for it: the beta is available for you to check out now.
The Good: It’s C&C in a web browser...
The Bad: ...except it’s not really C&C
The Ugly: The turgid presentation