In a very unconventional sort of surprise ending, Command & Conquer 4: Tiberian Twilight, the finale of the Tiberium storyline, abandons the basic mechanics the series is built on (kind of like Highlander 2, but not as insane). In fact, virtually nothing connects C&C4 to its long heritage - gameplay is far more reminiscent of World in Conflict than C&C. If not for Joe Kucan and his shiny, goateed dome reprising the role of paramilitary cult leader Kane, and the faction names Nod and GDI, C&C4 could be an unrelated sci-fi tactical strategy game.
How different is it? Instead of harvesting Tiberium resources to build a sturdy base and a diverse army, you deploy a specialized Crawler - a walking, rolling or flying distant relative of C&C’s Mobile Construction Vehicles - in a designated spot on the map, and unfold it to crank out units for free until you hit your unit cap. You then pack up your Crawler, advance (or retreat) to wherever the new front line might be, unpack it again and replenish your forces. If your Crawler is destroyed in battle, you just deploy a new one. So yeah, it’s pretty different.
The pace of combat is constant. Even when you lose every unit you’ve got, it only takes a couple of minutes to go from just your Crawler back up to a full-strength army. No costs are incurred except for build time, so the only incentive to keep units alive is veteran bonuses, earned through combat and from picking up Pac-Man-like power-pellet drops from fallen enemies. Pathfinding is fussy, which is a hassle when trying to ensure that your favorite unit gets the pickup, but I love the visual upgrades (like extra arms on the Nod Avatar walker) when you snag a rare blue powerup.
On that note, the Crawler animations are cool but, on the whole, C&C4 is a graphical step back from C&C: Red Alert 3 - for instance, textures are less detailed, and the weaksauce nuclear missiles look like something Wile E. Coyote might launch at the Road Runner.
What’s most impressive about this game is that with three types of Crawler per faction, there are essentially six distinct armies. And unlike the sub-factions of C&C3: Kane’s Wrath, no overlap exists between the Offense, Defense and Support unit lineups. The choice of which specialization to play is meaningful, since each will force you to adapt your strategies to its strengths. For example, a GDI Support player can’t match a Nod Offensive player’s firepower, but his Orca VTOL craft can easily pick apart an undefended Crawler. If your chosen Crawler isn’t working out, you can always pick another class when you respawn.
Units are in abundant supply - a few are pretty cool, like the giant UFO-ish Nod gunships. But unlike nearly every other RTS, you can’t jump into a skirmish against AI and immediately play with all of your toys, because most of them must be laboriously unlocked with experience points, which are logged on EA’s servers. I get what they’re going for here - the same type of reward system you see in Battlefield 2 or Modern Warfare 2 that unlocks new weapons the more you play - but to hell with that. I want to understand the units available to me and my enemies before I see them in battle, and I don’t want to get stomped by a guy online who’s unlocked GDI’s AT-AT-alike Mastodon walker before me.
Only one capture-point-based mode is available on the dozen multiplayer maps, all of which support up to five-on-five games. But these maps are too small for a fracas of that size to be anything less than a whirling explosion cyclone. Two-on-two or three-on-three matches are just about right for an enjoyable pace.
My favorite multiplayer trick is using the Tiberium pickups as bombs instead of redeeming them for upgrade points. A unit can carry the glowing green chunk into combat and detonate it, causing a Tiberium storm that does massive damage to anything caught inside its radius.
One C&C tradition that remains intact is the signature live-action cutscene briefings. C&C4 takes a slightly different approach - gone are the hammed-up and stunt-casted performances and catsuit-wrapped Battestar Galactica babes. Although it’s a darker, more serious story, it’s not what I’d call great storytelling, and doesn’t reveal the details about Kane’s apparent immortality that we were promised. But thematically, it does do some interesting things that turn the Nod/GDI conflict on its head.
As a single-player experience, C&C4 is a bust. The single branching campaign (the Nod/GDI choice happens a few missions in) is fairly typical, but there are several points where it’s frustratingly unbalanced. I ran up against a Nod Crawler that pumped out units faster than I could kill them. In another mission, a massive GDI gunship flew in mindless circles around the map, its huge cannons obliterating units in one shot. In both cases I eventually won, but only by tediously whittling the target down with a constant stream of suicidal units. Not exactly fun.
When you call in co-op reinforcements by seamlessly inviting another player into your game, the action becomes better balanced, faster-paced (since two Crawlers build units twice as fast as one) and more tactically interesting thanks to the combined options of two classes. It’s still second-fiddle to the competitive multiplayer action, but it’s a good place to start out and learn how the Crawler works - plus you rack up some experience points to unlock some decent units before going into the more interesting multiplayer fray.
A nasty catch to playing C&C4 is having to log into EA’s servers before launching the game, even for single-player. Considering that EA recently shut down servers for the less than two-year-old Mercenaries 2, I’m not enthusiastic about buying a product that depends on active servers to play. The multiplayer battles are good enough fun once you’ve ranked up, but a potentially short-lived service is a dagger dangling over our heads.
PC Gamer scores games on a percentage scale, which is rounded to the closest whole number to determine the GamesRadar score.
PCG Final Verdict: 73%
Mar 16, 2010