Real-time strategy games have always had their work cut out for them on the consoles, but as EA have already proved, there is still some hope for the genre on the 360.
Tiberium Wars, the last title in the franchise, came out last year and allowed the Los Angeles based EA studios to trial a new control system for the Command & Conquer franchise. The final product was so well received that they have continued the story with the follow-up title, Kane’s Wrath.
While the game is available on the PC as well, the 360 version is a stand-alone title rather than an add-on pack. This means that newcomers don’t need the original Tiberium Wars to play the game, although some of the later storylines may prove confusing for those not familiar with the plot. Kane’s Wrath still does an excellent job of bringing people up to speed though thanks to the star-studded, high-definition live-action cut-scenes throughout the game. In fact the cast is like that of a high-budget sci-fi series, with Natasha Henstridge (Species), Curt Lumbly (Alias) and Joe Kucan, the original actor who played Kane superbly in the original game, making appearances.
Henstridge, who obviously didn’t invest her money very well, plays the part of Alexa Kovacs – a devoted Kane worshipper and routine piece of eye-candy. Her performance, along with all the actors are over-acted in parts and full of cheese, but still pull you into the game brilliantly.
Kane’s Wrath tells the story of the Tiberium universe from the Brotherhood of Nod’s perspective. Covering twenty years of struggle, the single-player campaign consists of 13 intense missions featuring all of the original units and structures from Tiberium Wars. However, Kane’s Wrath does introduce six new sub-factions, two each for the three main blocs - the GDI, the Nod and the Scrin. These new sub-faction include new units, powers and upgrades as well as special vehicles known as Epic Units that can turn the tide of a battle when implemented well. For example, the GDI possess the brilliantly titled MARV (Mammoth Armed Reclamation Vehicle) that acts as an uber harvester, siphoning funds straight to your bank as it plows through Tiberium fields. Nod's epic unit, the Redeemer, has the ability to mentally manipulate soldiers on the battlefield, causing them to open fire on their own team-mates. And the Scrin have the Eradicator Hexapod, a massively powerful machine that generates funds with each enemy unit destroyed.
These Epic Units can even be improved simply by having infantry units garrisoned into them to give the vehicles extra abilities. For example, placing a sniper into a MARV adds an extra turret which increases anti-infantry firepower, while an engineer will gradually restore the health of the vehicle.
But as many may be expecting, there is still an issue with the controls in Kane’s Wrath. It turns out that despite EA’s best effort, there really is no substitute for the old fashioned mouse and keyboard. Selecting and controlling large numbers of units or moving around the map can still be awkward at the best of times. Despite this though, the game does feature some of the most intuitive controls seen for an RTS title on a console. This is mainly thanks to the introduction of the novel Command Stick interface. Although not perfect, the Command Stick is a radial menu system that you can call up at any time by holding down the Y button to quickly build or deploy units. Sometimes having the ability to build reinforcements anywhere on the battlefield can be a life-saver, especially considering it avoids the need to pan all the way down your map to find your barracks.
And trust us – you’ll need all the help you can get thanks to the ruthless difficulty in Kane’s Wrath. Like Tiberium Wars, this sequel is still frustratingly hard and even seasoned RTS players can expect to lose numerous battles frequently. On the easiest difficulty you can expect AI opponents to storm your bases from multiple directions, usually with devastating results if you have sent your forces off on a scouting mission. Of course though, the flip-side of this is that Kane’s Wrath can be satisfyingly rewarding for truly determined gamers. There is no question that getting through a mission in this game deserves a celebratory shot of whiskey and a cigar.
The lop-sided AI difficulty isn’t an issue on Xbox Live however and Kane’s Wrath is sure to get plenty of online play. The game is supported by an impressive 50 maps, with half of them being new to the series, all offering plenty of variation and requiring adjusted strategy to match. Up to four players can partake in any skirmish, allowing for team play or just plain all-on-all madness. There are plenty of game types too, including Versus, King of the Hill, Capture and Hold, Capture the Flag and a Siege mode for hours of fun, especially if all the players are of a similar skill level. Finally, throw into the online mix the ability to use your Xbox Live Camera to capture your opponent's grimace when you slaughter his troops and leader-boards to record your best achievements.
Overall, if controls have been a deterrent for RTS games on your console, then Kane’s Wrath might be just what you’re waiting for. There is no question that EA have done an admirable job with the tools they have at their disposal. The stunning production values in the cut-scenes are worth the price of admission and it is all wrapped up with a comprehensive multiplayer component too. Just be prepared for some brutally tough single-player gameplay. Bubble-wrapping your controller, TV and living room break-ables is recommended for those with gamer rage.