Once you’ve logged into your EA account using the game’s launcher, you get into the main menu and might notice that the interface is sort of like Blizzard’s Battle.Net. That is, it’s meant to be a sort of online gathering place where you can join a lobby and socialize with other players in between rounds. You’re automatically put into a chat room, and soon the bottom third of the screen will be filled with idle chatter and people trying to find someone to play with them. This isn’t necessarily a bad feature, but I wish I was able to opt out of the interaction when I don’t want to be bothered.
The previous might make more sense when you realize it’s possible to play the entirety of C&C 4 online. That includes both campaigns in a 2-player cooperative mode and skirmish, where up to 10 players play a team-based, domination-type game. Introduced in the latter stages of the Nod story, this is the only mode of skirmish and involves holding the control points (TCN nodes) to increase your team’s score. You can also play with bots, though there is no offline mode, even if you’re playing by yourself. Losing connection to the internet mid-game will produce a pop-up message (without pausing) which informs you that your progress will not be saved. It is possible to save your game manually after that, but you will have to quit, sign in again, and reload to resume normal play.
Replacing your traditional C&C base buildings is a souped up, all-in-one Mobile Construction Vehicle, or MCV. Placing an emphasis on the ‘M,’ they are also known as “crawlers” and come in 3 flavors: offensive, defensive, support. The choice basically equates to whether you want to primarily use vehicles, infantry, or air units. Vehicles (offensive) have the most brute strength, so the other two are allowed to build bunkers and turrets (defensive) or use helpful commander powers (support) to help balance it out. All of them allow you to queue up several units for production while moving (up to 5 can be stored for deployment immediately after setting down) and will repair/heal units in a small radius..
In line with the current trend of boiling down RTS warfare to simplified, rock-paper-scissors-type counters, there are a handful of unit types that are vulnerable only to certain types of weapon damage. This results in the need a balanced force to survive, but can also leave you lacking in firepower against an unbalanced one. That’s because, thanks to the population cap, you will never have more than 10-15 units in your whole army. There’s quite a learning curve to managing this, but it helps you out by telling you what units to counter your enemies with. The fact that there is only one weapon type that works well against each unit ends up in some unrealistic scenarios, though, such as tank shells or rockets doing very little damage to infantry.
The campaign levels vary from straightforward and boring to downright tedious. There are a few neat ideas, but none contribute particularly well to the overall designs. You’re almost always outnumbered by enemy crawlers. Often I would be battling it out with one enemy force for several minutes, only to have to face another crawler with a different type of units I wasn’t prepared for. To top it off, enemy crawlers usually respawn after 2-3 minutes, so it’s just an endless struggle (uphill, in the snow!) trying to complete objectives. I imagine playing co-op with a friend might help, but if it does significantly, that’s pretty unfair to those going at it solo like me.
The AI is stupid in the sense that sometimes they’ll leave their crawler defenseless, but won’t come back to stop you when you attack it. The rest of the time, they’ll annoy you with simple hit-and-run tactics, crawling up and spitting out a handful of units, then running away. By the time you kill those ones with your woefully underpowered yet balanced force, more will be on the way. The final stages of the GDI and Nod campaigns are way too easy and hard, respectively, because the AI is so inadequate.