Itâ€™s a dream come true for real-time strategy fans and owners of an Xbox 360. The legendary Command and Conquer series has been unleashed for the first time on a console platform and will give non-PC lovers a chance to see what all the fuss is about. EA have tucked in a few corners to port it across for sure, but the end result is still an impressive product.
The timeline is March, 2047. A massive nuclear fireball has exploded high in the night sky, marking the dramatic beginning to the Third Tiberium War. A highly toxic, but valuable energy resource known as Tiberium has blanketed the Earth (which is now divided into zones based on the level of Tiberium infestation). Pristine Blue Zones represent 20% of the planet's surface and are the last refuge of the civilized world. Partially habitable Yellow Zones make up 50% of the planet's surface with most of the world's population lives in these war-torn and ecologically ravaged areas. The remaining 30% of the planet is uninhabitable, a Tiberium wasteland where nothing lives and violent storms make the area look like a Hell on Earth. It is a pretty grim setting but the perfect one for an epic battle.
As many would know, the series has featured the on-going war between two factions. The GDI (Global Defence Initiative, aka the â€śgoodâ€ť guys if you had to pick sides) are out to try and restore the natural balance by controlling the infestation of Tiberium across the globe. This would be an easy task if it werenâ€™t for their arch-rivals â€“ the Brotherhood of Nod (who would have to get tagged as the not-so-good guys) who want the Tiberium for their own destructive reasons. Even more nostalgic is the reappearance of the original actors, including the notorious Kane as the leader of the Brotherhood! I can only hope he hasnâ€™t waited ten years for his second acting job though. And he isnâ€™t alone in the familiar faces department â€“ many people will spot famous TV and B-grade actors including Tricia Helfer, Michael Ironside, Billy Dee Williams, Grace Park, Ivana Bozilovic, Shauntay Hinton and even Josh Holloway who plays Sawyer from Lost. Each one plays key characters in the highly cheesy but entertaining CGI movies that lead you through each campaign and play out between missions. Made with the budget of a blockbuster sci-fi movie, these clips really do pull you into the storyline - and no matter which side you decide to play for, youâ€™ll feel that your cause is justified thanks to the sharp dialogue and convincing acting.
Which brings us to the gameplay. The first missions for either campaign are slow and educational to allow players to get a feel for their units and structures. However, you will soon start to learn that going turtle and waiting for an attack will be instant suicide. The AI in the later missions is ruthless and will force you to launch pre-emptive attacks and scope out new territory or youâ€™ll get cramped and slaughtered. Add to that the frantic pace of the AI and the super-fast tech units that the year 2047 brings, and the hardest part for many will be getting used to the 360 controller. Although the absence of a mouse and keyboard will deter many from an RTS, EA have taken considerable time in making the controls as intuitive as possible. The side menu that you will be used to seeing has been moved to the bottom left of the screen and you can control it by pulling the right trigger and scrolling through the options with the D pad. The A button has been assigned to movement and attack orders, and even grouping units and issuing commands isnâ€™t as difficult as you might imagine. Some people will feel frustrated at the lack of exact control, especially when pin-pointing movement or creating a group of two or three units - but overall the controls are easily mastered and manageable. It will take some practise and to be honest, if you havenâ€™t played an RTS on a PC (is this anyone?) you wonâ€™t even notice the handicap.
Where this game really makes its mark is in the visuals. Before long your screen will be blazing with a plethora of lasers, futuristic craft soaring overhead and dozens of infantry locked down in a frenzy of cross-fire. The animations and detail of the units is very well polished and unfortunately, in really heated battle can cause some slow-down on the 360. But when it looks this good, seeing it in slow-motion isnâ€™t necessarily a terrible thing. There is a huge variety of units to explore as well â€“ from vehicles to infantry and even special attacks such as nukes or biological weapons. Memories of playing the original Command and Conquer on the PC were brought back upon seeing the Engineers pop-up on my screen. These sneaky little dudes can pop into an enemy building and claim it as your own and can cause havoc to your foe. You will find that both sides have their own strengths and weaknesses. The GDI are fairly mainstream, with medium-attack vehicles and strength in numbers, allowing you to swarm your enemy. The Brotherhood of Nod (with their restricted finances) prefers to deal in stealth or sudden powerful attacks, and there is a greater need for strategy to get these to work effectively. As previously mentioned, the AI of C&C3 make this game very balanced and challenging. If you prefer to take your time and stock-pile your resources and barricade up your base you might find yourself being surrounded by uber-units who can squash even your best defences. Failing to explore new territory will result in a lack of resources over extended missions, and it almost seems as if the AI will compensate for your style of strategy and exploit it. Plus even finishing a mission may not be enough as it rewards you with a medal or grade depending on how well you do. Youâ€™ll find yourself attempting the same missions again and again to see how you can decrease your losses or time. The game really is this much fun. But like a well-worn Infomercial and their steak-knivesâ€¦ wait - thereâ€™s more! Tiberium Wars introduces a whole new faction to the mix! Just as youâ€™re getting used to the situation of GDI vs. Nod, youâ€™ll come face to face with an alien breed called the Scrin. Immune to the dangers of radioactive Tiberium (therefore being more effective gatherers of the resource) and with better technology, the Scrin will cause you to try out new strategies all over again. The game rewards those who get through both campaigns (the GDI and Nod storylines) by letting you play four bonus missions as the Scrin as well.
On top of the hours and hours of single-player shenanigans are the comprehensive multiplayer modes. You've got the standard melee mode where you can skirmish against other players or the CPU. But the King-of-the-Hill and Capture-and-Hold modes can be more entertaining as they require you to hold certain spots on the map to attain victory. These really do add a vital strategic dimension as you struggle to maintain control on various positions in the map. If this doesnâ€™t float your boat, you can try Siege mode, which keeps you and your opponent from attacking until the timer is up. Sounds pretty boring but given the frantic and â€śrush-friendlyâ€ť aspect of the game, getting your army to its most advanced and then attacking can lead to some dramatic scenes. It also means you donâ€™t need to be concerned about defenses as you wonâ€™t get attacked until the timer stops. The final mode is the traditional Capture the Flag that allows for up to four players to all compete in good sized maps. And for the really vain people you can even connect your Xbox Live Vision Camera so you can see the face of your opponent (and make offensive gestures).
Command & Conquer 3: Tiberium Wars is a great introduction for RTS fans on the 360, and is a spectacular sight to behold thanks to its polished cinematics and in-game graphics. A captivating storyline keeps you playing from one mission to the next and then picking it up all again just so you can play them again but from the other side.