The Good: Co-op play, multiplayer and skirmish modes
The Bad: Online connection required to play single-player, some technical problems
The Ugly: A lousy ending to a decent series story line.
The Command & Conquer series, at its core, has always been a solid RTS with amusingly campy FMV sequences that never took themselves too seriously. The supposed finale throws the conventional game play out the window, eliminating resource management and base buildup in favor of micromanagement and command points. Unfortunately, the game requires a constant online connection, and losing that connection in the middle of a mission forces you to play part, if not all, of it again. Solid co-op, multiplayer and skirmish modes provide a lot of replayability for C&C enthusiasts. Maybe that’s enough for others that liked the series, but not for me. And fair warning: If you were a fan of the storyline, the ending isn’t nowhere near worthy of the enigmatic Kane.
The original Command & Conquer helped define the RTS genre and each iteration has tried to refine the genre, for good or bad. It has never been content with the status quo, becoming a noble grande dame in the ever-evolving RTS field.
Unfortunately, this grande dame insisted on some cosmetic surgery to stay attractive, but I come away from our encounter unsatisfied.
Kane makes an enigmatic return as the proverbial cat working on his ninth life and the familiar factions of Nod and GDI again square off. The look of the game is still familiar and impressive and the music still properly sets the mood, whether you are preparing for battle or engaging in pulse-pounding combat.
But from there, the similarities end. Trying to invigorate the series for one last hurrah, EA Los Angeles has tossed out many of the conventions that have kept C&C fans enthralled. Base building and resource management are out and micromanagement and command points are in. If you aren’t familiar with games of this style, it can take some getting used to as the learning curve makes the AI seem a bit unforgiving on anything but the easiest setting.
Micromanagement isn’t as complicated with a smaller army. You rarely have more than 20 units to control at any one time. The AI is pretty smart in making the units behave properly when your attention is elsewhere, but pathfinding problems emerged when moving large groups, with larger units tended to get hung up on smaller units and terrain.
One of the biggest series changes is that this is now a purely online game. Like it or not, you need to be connected at all times, even when playing single-player. Twice during the missions, I had an internet hiccup that disconnected me. I got a warning that I had lost my connection, but the game progressed in the mission as if nothing had happened. But at the end, when I got my promotion and achievements, they apparently didn’t save, because I was forced to play the mission again. So forget about booting up the game for a quick skirmish or mission without a connection.
Also, three times as the game was starting up and approaching the chat screen and main menu, I got a Windows crash error saying a problem had been encountered with C&C4 and it was shutting down. On another occasion, when I had to alt-tab, it gave me the old blue screen of death when I popped back in. Infuriating to say the least.
The story’s mission structure again shows some events from both Nod and GDI perspectives, depending on your side. Joe Kucan continues his masterfully cheesy portrayal of Kane as Nod’s fanatical leader, and the story from both sides builds anticipation for a climax that’s as barren as Kane’s head. With all the effort placed on the story , it’s sad that, instead of tying the series up neatly, it leaves the door open for another sequel, if EA is in a milking mood.
Despite the negativity, the game does shine in multiplayer. The addition of co-op into the traditionally one-player missions gives players more replay value to test different roles and strategies. Skirmish is still intense with an unrelenting AI that provides a challenge on all the maps, although selection is a bit limited. Multiplayer is definitely the way to go.
Tiberian Twilight tries to take the series to another level, but it just doesn’t cut it. While the story and multiplayer aspects are entertaining, the online requirement, technical glitches and blasé ending combine to leave a gaping Mammoth-sized hole in a once quality franchise. I can live with someone getting some Warhammer mixed into my Command & Conquer. But it’s time to let the grande dame retire in peace, with her false good looks and memories to sustain her. I don’t think many suitors will come calling after this.
(Originally published in EGM magazine, 2010)