Summary: The Nod and GDI are back in C&C 4, which marks the end of the Tiberium saga according to EA. Unlike its predecessors, C&C 4 trades resource-gathering and base building for action, with an emphasis on squad-style gameplay. Does the new formula work? Read Vandy's take in our review!
15 years after the Scrin invaded Earth, Tiberium has continued to spread across the planet at a rate that will render it uninhabitable within a few years. Humanity is on the brink of extinction, and Kane approaches the GDI to propose an alliance in hopes that the two factions can work together to avert the crisis. Using the Tacitus, an ancient relic containing knowledge of untold alien technologies, he plans to construct a Tiberium Control Network that could be used to halt and even reverse the spread of the extraterrestrial substance. Even with TCN nodes nearing completion, extremist activity on both sides causes a breakdown of diplomatic relations, resulting in the end of the alliance and the beginning of the Fourth Tiberium War...
Ever since the first Command & Conquer game was released in 1995, the Global Defense Initiative and Brotherhood of Nod have been fighting over Tiberium, the valuable, mystical mineral. There have been C&C spin-offs such as Red Alert and Generals, but the conflict between GDI and Nod is the core of the franchise. C&C 4 represents the final chapter of Tiberium saga, and it’s been a long time coming. Joseph Kucan, the actor that portrays the charismatic Nod prophet Kane, even holds a Guinness World Record for the longest recurring role in a video game.
In a stark contrast to the gameplay style of its predecessors, C&C 4 revolves around controlling a smaller, mobile force, similar to what Relic did with Warhammer 40k: Dawn of War 2. That’s right, this Command & Conquer game has no resource gathering and no base building (aside from a few defensive structures). There’s also some gnarly DRM present, a la Ubisoft’s Assassin’s Creed 2, which requires you to sign in to your EA account before the game even launches. Despite all of this, is the game good enough to merit playing? Don’t hold your breath…
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.
In an unprecedented bout of ridiculousness, we have here a PC-only title that is even more consoley than most ports are! I believe the method behind this madness is that the developers are lazy and so minimized the amount of work they have to do to adapt the game to the Xbox and/or PS3. Don’t kid yourself – C&C 4 will almost certainly appear on other platforms in a few months or so, just like Red Alert 3 did.
Unlike C&C 3 and RA3, which went back to the sidebar control panel characteristic of early games in the series, this one employs a ginormous UI that takes up pretty much the entire bottom 1/3 of the screen. I don’t mind the usual RTS style of interface, but the developers (EA and most others) could stand to learn a thing or two about minimalism. Even if they didn’t pare it down and/or remove all of the wasted space, they could’ve crammed it onto the side and left a more spacious view open (a full 4:3 on a widescreen) rather than a skinny rectangle. Combine that with the super close-up camera and disproportionately large units and you get a seriously claustrophobic experience. But hey, at least you can see everything from across the room!
The overly restrictive population cap, focus on smaller scale conflict, and removal of base building are all things that make things easier to manage on a console. I do hope that it wasn’t the driving force behind these changes, but I wouldn’t be surprised. They had to put a limit on buildings how many turrets and whatnot you can build because the only resource you spend on producing them is time. The worst part is, they don’t have the balls to tell you directly that you can only make X number of units or buildings. Instead, they say you have 50 “command points” to spend, with each thing costing 3 or 6 or 8 of those. It seems to me that they realized how stupidly low the pop cap is and wanted to make it appear to be higher than it really is.
Live-action, full-motion video cutscenes. The production values are better than most other games put into this stuff. Too bad the writing and acting aren’t up to par.
Internet connectivity-based DRM. Activating online is one thing – requiring you’re online at all times is another.
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