July 29, 2007
Up until last year's Lord of the Rings: Battle for Middle-Earth 2, PC gamers scoffed at the notion that a real-time strategy game could ever be successfully pulled off on a console. It's been tried before, but never with any success. Even the reigning king of the RTS, Blizzard Entertainment, couldn't manage to nail the controls, and their console version of WarCraft 2 was met with condemnation from reviewers and gamers alike. But with Battle for Middle-Earth 2, EA Los Angeles showed that it can be done, and quite well actually. While not quite as fluid as a mouse and keyboard, the Xbox 360 controller proved to be more than manageable. The controls were intuitive enough that the player didn't even notice that they were playing the game on a console, they were just sucked into the game.
Now, EA's decided to bring one of the most recognizable names in the Strategy genre to the Xbox 360...Command and Conquer. Since 1995, Command and Conquer has achieved fame by allowing the player to build massive armies without much limitation to size, a feature that many strategy games of that time period lacked. After three sequels and several expansion packs, the developer of Command and Conquer, Westwood Studios was bought out by EA in 2003. Shortly thereafter, EA liquidated Westwood Studios, and handed the Command and Conquer series over to their EA Los Angeles division. EA Los Angeles released Command and Conquer: Generals in February 2003, to a generally warm reception by critics. However, many long time fans of the series were upset by some of the changes made to the franchise. The entire story had been scrapped, and several features that were a staple of the series were removed.
But with Command and Conquer 3: Tiberium Wars, the series has made a triumpant return, bringing the series back to its roots. The long running story of the conflict between the Global Defense Initiative (GDI) and the Brotherhood of Nod has been revived, and it can only be described as epic. Long thought to be dead, Kane, the leader of the Brotherhood of Nod, has returned and chaos ensues. A globar war breaks out between Nod and the GDI after Kane launches a nuclear missile at the space station Philadelphia, blowing it out of the sky. To make matters worse, in the midst of all the chaos, a new alien race called the Scrin have invaded the Earth, seeking out a resource that appeared mysteriously on Earth called Tiberium. For years, Tiberium has made the Earth inhospitable, forcing the GDI to seperate the globe into different zones based on their level of Tiberium exposure. With 30% of the world designated "red zones", no longer capable of supporting human life, and another 50% designated "yellow zones" which are dangerously contaminated by the Tiberium outbreak, only 20% of the Earth's surface is left untouched by Tiberium. These zones have been designated as "blue zones", and in these zones the GDI have set up their primary military compounds.
With three distinctly different playable factions, Command and Conquer 3 leaves the player open to plenty of strategical options in any given situation. The Brotherhood of Nod is best for stealthy attacks early in the game, with their power lying primarily in guerilla tactics. While not as strong late in the game as the GDI or Scrin, it's best to attack early and often to keep the pressure on the enemy early on. Their vehicles and infantry aren't as strong as the other factions, but they're cheaper to produce, allowing you to overwhelm your enemy while they're still building up. The GDI lie somewhere in the middle of the three factions, with powerful vehicles that aren't too expensive to produce, and solid infantry units like the Sniper or the Commando who's a one man wrecking team, capable of destroying buildings and some vehicles with a single timed explosive charge. The GDI also have access to the massive Mammoth tank, which is a nearly unstoppable machine, and will usually win a game for you if built in quantity. The Scrin are the powerhouse of the three factions, with the penalty of taking the longest to build up. With access to several immensely powerful flying units, such as the Devastator and the Planetary Assault Carrier, the Scrin are nearly unstoppable if allowed to build their forces up. They also have a unit called the Annihilator Tripod (think of the tripods from War of the Worlds), which can generate its own shield, making it perfect for leading a ground assault.
The singleplayer campaign is seperated into three parts, one for each of the factions. With a total of 38 missions, with 17 missions each for the GDI and Nod and 4 for the Scrin, the singleplayer portion of the game will keep you occupied for quite some time. The story is told through a series of live-action cut-scenes, a feature which Command and Conquer is famous for. The cut-scenes feature some high quality Hollywood talent including Michael Ironside (the voice of Sam Fisher in Splinte Cell), Josh Holloway (Sawyer from Lost), as well as Grace Park and Tricia Helfer of Battlestar Galactica fame. As a result, the acting and production values of the cut-scenes are well above par for a videogame. The production values are simply put, phenomenal, and you'll have a hard time distinguishing them from a big budget Hollywood film at times. With plenty of twists and turns throughout, the story is captivating, and it's definitely not one you should miss. The missions can get a bit repetitive at times, and the difficulty level on some of them is pretty steep, but there's enough variety to keep you wanting to come back for more.
Where Command and Conquer 3 really shines however is in the multiplayer. As is to be expected, Xbox Live delivers a mostly seamless experience, even going as far as to offer Vision Cam support so your enemies can watch you gloat as you decimate their armies and lay waste to their base. Up to four players can play over Live at a time, in a variety of different game modes. There's your standard deathmatch and team deathmatch, king of the hill, and capture the flag. The most original of the game modes is called Siege. In a game of Siege, the round starts with walls seperating each player's base. After a set period of time, the walls will drop, and the players will duke it out with the armies they've been allowed to amass without interruption. It's great fun, and a refreshing change of pace from the standard RTS fare. There's a few issues with lag on EA's servers at the time of this writing, and I experienced some problems with the game locking up when searching for a match occasionally, but all of that is just a slight distraction from what is otherwise a brilliant Xbox Live title.
The controls, which are one aspect of the game that skeptics were sure would doom it before its release, are executed flawlessly. If you've played Battle for Middle-Earth 2 (and if you haven't, you should), you'll have no problems picking this game up and playing it like a pro from the get-go. The A button is used for the majority of the commands, with the D-pad being used to scroll through your various construction queues. Selecting units is done by hitting the shoulder buttons to select all the units of that type on the screen or to select all the units available on the screen. The camera is controlled with the right stick, and can be used to rotate around the battlefield or to zoom in and out on the action. It's incredibly simple and intuitive, and within five minutes of playing you'll be building bases and giving your units orders like a real five star general. The only thing I wish would have been implemented is the option to open up a selection box to manually choose which units you want to pick. This feature is commonly done in PC strategy games by clicking the left mouse button and dragging it to open up a box that will select any units within it. But aside from that minor complaint, everything here is done exceptionally well.
Graphically, Command and Conquer 3 is amazing for a strategy game. Strategy games aren't usually known for their graphics, since the developers have to accommodate for potential framerate drops that may arise with putting so much action on your screen at once. So the graphics aren't on par with many of the other games you'll find on next-gen consoles, but when you take into account that there's dozens of units of different types firing lasers and rockets at each other at once on your screen, you can't help but be impressed. Some of the battles you'll witness are simply stunning. The detail on the units is remarkable, and the effects like explosions and gunfire are astounding. This all comes at a price though, which is a slight drop in the framerate when there's just too many units fighting it out onscreen. The drop in framerate isn't bad at all though, and if you've played Battle for Middle-Earth 2 and you're worried about framerate slowing to a crawl like that game does at times, you've got nothing to worry about. Unfortunately you won't notice most of the graphical prowess of the game if you do not own an HDTV as most of the detail is lost and some of the text is blurry in standard definition.
The audio is exceptionally done throughout, and the quality shines through at every turn. The voice acting is exceptional, which is to be expected from such a star studded cast. Each faction's units sound entirely different, and the effects are spot on. Between the air strikes, cannon shots, explosions, machine gun fire, and other effects, the audio in firefights is frenetic and immersive throughout. The most outstanding audio experience amongst the different factions is by far the Scrin. The organic, otherworldly sounds of their units and structures is spot on, and worthy of praise. Sometimes I play the Scrin just to hear the Devastators and Planetary Assault Carriers lay waste to an enemy's base. There really are no glaring issues with the audio in this game whatsoever, and it's all masterfully done.
The achievements are a mixed bag, and they're really my largest gripe with the game. It seems not much thought was put into them at all, and it's just your standard "beat the game with X faction on X difficulty" fare. They're challenging though, and will certainly take some time. I'm not kidding when I saw they'll take some time...one achievement is for logging 100 hours in multiplayer over Xbox Live. I personally can't stand it when developers add these time requirement achievements into their games, since it really requires no skill on the part of the player whatsoever. Also, the fact the achievement is called "No Life" is a bit unneccesary, and a blatant insult to anyone who happens to enjoy the game enough to put the time into the game to unlock it. It would have been nice to have seen some other multiplayer achievements thrown in there, since aside from the aforementioned achievement there's only three other multiplayer achievements, two of which provide no gamer points and are awarded for losing matches.
Overall, Command and Conquer 3 is as good as it gets for strategy fans on the Xbox 360. Featuring prominently a robust and addictive multiplayer component, and a solid singleplayer campaign, this is a game that simply can't be missed. With solid controls, great graphics, and Hollywood production values, Command and Conquer 3 not only shows other developers that strategy games can be done on a console, it shows them they can be done well. Hopefully with enough success, Command and Conquer 3 can be a catalyst to influence more developers to release strategy games for consoles as well as the PC. Whether you're a longtime fan of the series, or you've never played it at all, Command and Conquer 3 is an excellent addition to any gamer's library, and you're doing yourself a disservice if you pass it up.
Excellent throughout. From the top notch voice acting to the spectacular battle effects, everything here is quality. Each faction has its own unique and distinctive sound, and it's all quality.
While the graphics are outstanding for the genre, they're a bit poor compared to what your average 360 gamer is used to. But if you've played a strategy game before, you can tell that these graphics are amazingly detailed. The explosions and gunfire are done particularly well, and the units have a great deal of detail. Unfortunately, it's hard to enjoy them without an HDTV, as much of the detail is lost on a standard definition set.
Compared to the PC version, the controls are somewhat sluggish and unrefined. But they're more than passable, and praise has to be given to EA for finally breaking down the one barrier that's prevented strategy games from being successfully pulled off for years. The bugs are also minimal, and while there's a touch of choppiness in the framerate in large fights, it's certainly bearable and a huge improvement over last year's Battle for Middle-Earth 2.
Everything about Command and Conquer 3's delivery is top notch. From the artfully done menu and loading screens, to the quality live action cutscenes, this game has outstanding production values. It's also great to see that EA listened to the fans and returned the Command and Conquer franchise to its roots, and they did so in a commendable fashion.
The one area where Command and Conquer 3 is lacking is in the achievements department. It's obvious not much thought went into them, and some are just unneccesarily insulting to the people whom took the time to unlock them. The singleplayer achievements are uninspired, and the lack of any real multiplayer achievements is disappointing. It's clear the achievements were just an afterthought, though that doesn't detract much from an otherwise brilliant game.
Command and Conquer 3 is a strategy masterpiece, and an excellent continuation of the series. Whether you've played the previous games before or not, the story is enthralling, and the live action cutscenes are unique and perfectly executed. If you're a fan of the Real Time Strategy genre, you owe it to yourself to pick this game up sooner than later. With an incredibly indepth multiplayer offering and a lengthy and deep singleplayer campaign, Command and Conquer 3 will keep you playing for months. The controls are amazingly fluid and easy to learn, and you'll be playing like a pro within the first half hour of picking up the controller. Easily one of the best Xbox 360 titles to date, and arguably one of the greatest strategy games of all time.