Command & Conquer 4: Tiberian Twilight


By: Conrad Reyners    On: PC
Published: Thursday 18 Mar 2010 10:00 AM
 
 
 
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It’s been seven years since Westwood folded and EA games started developing the Command and Conquer franchise. I say that because when it comes to a series that’s as long running, critically acclaimed and damn engrossing as Command and Conquer, history is really important.

I felt a tinge of sadness when I heard that this title – Command and Conquer 4 – was going to be the last in the Kane story arc. This is a tale that’s now part of gaming lore and it’s been going for one hell of a long time. Joseph Kuncan, the actor who plays ‘Kane’ even has a Guinness World Record for being the longest running recurring character in a video game. Fifteen years. This series is older than some of our readers. For that very reason it’s a safe bet that for gamers of my generation, there is a mammoth-tank sized bag of sentimentality here.

That means there is a lot riding on this last installment. It has the job of tying it all together and providing an experience that gamers will fondly remember. This may seem like I’m setting the bar a bit high. But I’m not. The Command and Conquer series has consistently scored highly. Even without the emotional expectations, this addition has big shoes to fill.

So, does Command and Conquer 4: Tiberian Twilight make the grade? To be blunt, not really. This game feels like a shadow of its predecessors and is only saved by the phenomenal impetus this series already has. C&C4 leaps into the boots of titles past, and then promptly trips over its shoe laces. There are several frustrations with this title. Each one, individually, isn't necessarily a deal breaker, but when you add them all together you have a game that tries to be the jack of all trades – but ends up the master of none.

The first obvious difference is that the game mechanic has been completely redesigned. The original C&C firmly established the importance of base construction, resource gathering, strategic build orders and economic management. For reasons that are still unknown EA Games have decided to ditch this tried and true method. In C&C4 there is no longer base construction or resource gathering of the kind you might be used to. Units are now built from your ‘crawler’; a mobile MCV super unit that can be redeployed multiple times. There are three different types; offense, defense and support – each with their own upgrades, units and abilities. The defense crawler can build limited defensive structures, the support crawler can fly and the offense crawler can build all the big ticket destructive units. Your crawler needs to deploy to make units, but can produce up to four on to the go. Frustratingly there is a population cap, which means those who preferred to spam Raptors or Mammoth Tanks are totally out of luck.

Resource gathering is done by sending units to collect tiberium crystals that are periodically dropped from the sky. This sounds like a neat idea, but all it really ends up doing is creating an unnecessarily complicated version of capture the flag. I became a little frustrated by having to micromanage my heroic quest for pre-refined tiberium. Not just once, but every single time it landed. Collecting tiberium (which isn't even needed to buy units) was something my tiberium harvester was quite happy to do by itself in every other iteration of the franchise.

Without the focal point of base building it really feels like there is something missing from the gameplay. Your objectives are now centered on the capture and retention of strategic points – just like Company of Heroes, Dawn of War or any other THQ title. Instead of building on what they know, it’s as if EA said “hey those guys look like they’re on to something, let’s just transplant that right into the Command and Conquer universe”. I mean, I can understand why they might have thought they were on to a good idea. Company of Heroes was revolutionary – but it’s a game format that is totally alien to the C&C ethos. The focus on strategic points and mobile, asymmetrical combat has resulted in taking the ‘conquer’ out of Command and Conquer.

This new gameplay style is augmented by a complicated XP system that tries to grab elements from the RPG genre and stick them into a strategy title. Higher XP points unlock new units and abilities. It’s a neat idea and (like most of the changes in this title) it is interesting, but these changes just don’t work the way EA Games probably intended them to.

A great example is the much hyped ability of your crawler to be fired down from the heavens (or shot up from hell) whenever it needs to be redeployed. Now if this could happen anywhere on the map you’d have a real game changer and an innovative feature. But you can’t. They can only be redeployed in drop zones. This seems to run completely counter to the mobile nature of the rest of the gameplay. The feeling I got was that even EA Games wasn’t sure of its gameplay changes and still felt the need to hang on to the idea of a ‘home base’ or a ‘starting point’. This seems incongruous in a game that has explicitly rejected base construction and resource gathering.

While the mechanic is new and confusing, once you’ve finally managed to hold the hand of your crawler and get it into the fray – the actual combat isn’t that bad. For starters, it’s quite good looking. At high resolutions, and with the best rigs, you are going to see some nice particle effects and animations. Several units, such as the iconic scorpion tank, have had their toenails painted and their hair done. The end result is quite pleasing on the eye and the combat, when you get to it, is fun. Watching Zone Troopers marauding through city streets knocking over lamp-posts (which is a bit odd actually, they shouldn’t be able to do that) was enjoyable enough. There is a broad range of micro options available and some features are quite cool; if you hover over an enemy unit you are helpfully told what units are best to engage it with. If short, sharp engagements are your thing you’re going to have a worthwhile time.

But, at the end of the day, that kind of stuff is cosmetic. And some of the makeup hasn’t been applied very well. Certain unit animations were a bit glitchy (my tanks often spun around in circles when descending ramps) and the interface is strangely put together, with the traditional sidebar removed and instead replaced by an ever present chat room – presumably because of all the chatting you are err.. going to be doing. Those with bad internet connections (that means basically everyone on Telecom) should be warned. This game requires an internet connection to play and to my utmost aggravation it also requires one to save your games. While reviewing this game my net dropped twice during two separate missions, meaning I had to start them all over again. Now, I can’t blame EA for New Zealand having internet infrastructure that is worse than Uganda’s. But I can blame it for making a game that requires an international login server to do the simple task of saving your progress.

Command and Conquer 4 does have one saving grace. Its story. There’s always been something special about the decades long scrap between the Brotherhood of Nod and the Global Defense Initiative. I got chills down my spine in the intro video. Thankfully EA Games have stayed well away from meddling with the live action videos that the series is famous for. They have changed them slightly so that the action is now seen from the perspective of the player – which does create more immersion in the story. The acting is excellent and is presented in a great format. During your missions characters from the briefing cut scenes pop onto your screen and provide you with new information and objectives, which is a nice change from the static talking heads of previous titles.

This review of Command and Conquer 4: Tiberian Twilight shouldn’t be taken as a massive slam of this title. This game will find its place in the hearts of some fans. But old school strategy gamers who have both grown up and grown old with the title may find the changes too numerous to stomach. Expectations are understandably high for this game – and while EA Games have attempted to restructure the gameplay, they’ve tried to change too much too fast. There’s a saying in New Zealand; if it ain't broke, don’t fix it. Sadly, EA Games probably haven’t heard that particular cultural adage and that’s resulted in a game that’s discombobulated, and, crucially, doesn’t feel like its part of the Command and Conquer family. For the last installment in Kane’s story arc, that’s a bit of a problem.

Commander and Conquer 4, is not necessarily a bad game. It’s a game that is entertaining and definitely playable, complete with pretty effects and skirmish orientated gameplay. But in order to achieve this level of fun it’s strayed too far from the tried and true C&C model that has made this franchise great.

For that I’m not angry. I’m just disappointed.


The Score

Command & Conquer 4: Tiberian Twilight
"With big shoes to fill, C&C4 trips over its own laces."
7.2
Good
Rating: M   Difficulty: Easy   Learning Curve: 30 Min

 

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Comments (3)

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Ubercuber
On Thursday 18 Mar 2010 11:11 AM Posted by Ubercuber NZGamer.com VIP
Oh man...no base building and spamming of troops? Thats like 99% of the reason to play these games.
 
 
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SpawnSeekSlay
On Monday 22 Mar 2010 1:49 PM Posted by SpawnSeekSlay NZGamer.com VIP
But it looks pretty at least :)
 
 
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Soyerz
On Monday 22 Mar 2010 9:36 PM Posted by Soyerz NZGamer.com VIP
7.2? Jeez, you should be expecting so much more from such a well developed series...
 
 
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