Monday, April 02, 2007

Review: Command and Conquer 3 - Tiberium Wars

This has been one of my more anxiously anticipated titles to come out in a good while. I am a huge C&C Generals: Zero Hour fan, and I have called it the best RTS of all time, with the possible exception (a tie, maybe) with Warhammer 40k: Dawn of War. So these are some pretty big shoes to fill, in my book.

I was a bit worried at all the complaints about bugs I'd been hearing about, but EA put out 3 patches in rapid succession within 48 hours of the game's release. So they're trying to fix it up. I've learned my lesson, with S.T.A.L.K.E.R. and Neverwinter 2, not to get into a game until the release-day patch madness is over. So, once they got up to version 1.3, I dove in.

The Good
C&C3 delivers. Let's just say that right out of the gate. If you pine for the good old days of GDI and NOD, with maybe just a little smidgen of something new, you won't be disappointed. C&C3 grabs back the original familiar dynamic of C&C and updates it for '07. I was especially pleasantly surprised to find nice things like HD FMVs, native support for widescreen resolutions (which was possible through an .ini file hack in Generals, but it's ever so much nicer to have it as a regular menu option), and the learning curve for the game is particularly gentle. The build order is practically unchanged, the units all behave much as any C&C fan would expect, and the game dynamics take a little bit from every past C&C title and mix in some new bits borrowed from other games.

For instance, C&C3 adopts the "squad" paradigm for infantry now, instead of having to train and order around each individual infantryman, which makes infantry a great deal less useless and cumbersome than it used to be. Civilian structures can be garrisoned (though not with as many units as in previous titles, such as generals, though that's probably because now each "unit" can be 2-6 soldiers), and infantry and light vehicle units have the option to call for air transport, once you have an airfield, which makes it quicker to move units from one end of the map to the other, provided it's safe for the unarmed transport craft to fly between the two points. However, unlike generals, you as a commander no longer gain experience and "level up" with promotions to unlock more abilities, and that's something I miss... but they have kept some of the better ideas that were introduced in Zero Hour, such as having a sidebar for all timered abilities so they are ready to fire at any time. Also, it's a definite leap forward in UI terms to be able to build all units either from the sidebar or by clicking on the structures involved, whichever is more convenient for the user.

Technically speaking, there isn't much to complain about. The movies are Hi-def, the graphics are fully 3d, a wide variety of resolutions and performance scaling options are available, and the controls are intuitive to most anyone who's played an RTS before. A lot of the performance problems that plagued Generals have gone away (I've hardly had any at all, really).

And while you wait for EA to fix multiplayer online play, there's plenty to keep you entertained in single player and network. It took me about 8 hours to get through the 20 missions that comprise the GDI campaign, and I haven't even touched the Nod campaign yet. Supposedly, there's a third unlockable campaign for the alien "Skrin," but I haven't gotten that far yet. Add into this that there are a large number of maps for Skirmish mode vs an infinite number of enemy configurations and combinations, and you've got some grade-A timewasting going on.

The Full Motion Videos themselves are worth commenting on, too. Billy Dee Williams, Michael Ironsides, and of course, Kane himself all make for entertaining (and over-the-top) exposition, supported by a bevy of B-series babe actresses, such as the chick doctor from House, the Psilon chick from the new BSG, etc.

The Bad
Even putting the apparently catastrophic multiplayer problems aside, there are still some minor technical glitches. For example, if your keyboard has special buttons to adjust the volume, I suggest you not use them during a FMV, because doing so on my rig invariably caused the FMV to lock for 10-20 seconds in a repeating half-second loop. Sometimes as well, I ran into a problem where I would give rapid orders to three different hotkeyed groups of units, and even though I heard the "acknowledged" noise for each click, one of the groups acts like I skipped it.

One of my bigger disappointments has been in the game's audio and voice acting, as compared with Generals and Zero Hour. Each unit in Generals/Zero Hour had a very humorous, tongue-in-cheek feel to its dialog, whereas in C&C3 it returns more to the feeling that each unit you click on is a generic soldier with minimal variation between different types of units. It's a bit of a letdown, after Generals showed what can be done with just a little humor and creativity.

Additionally, they need to find some costumes that fit those poor girls in the GDI FMVs. They're tight in some places, loose in others, and neither in a manner which is appealing. They look uncomfortable to wear and neither look like realistic military garb, nor are they cheesecake (no T&A fellas, sorry). Oh, and I just can't seem to take Jennifer "Dr. Cameron" Morrison seriously when she talks about ion cannon disruption fields... I can practically see, behind her dewy, glistening eyes, her thoughts of "dear God, my acting career is over just as it was getting started!"

And of course, there's the universal RTS complaint where sometimes your little troopies just flat out don't do what you tell them to do, or do it in the dumbest way possible. A few times I've had units "forget" that they were on "hold ground" mode (which means they don't move around unless I tell them to do so explicity), and go back to the default "limited chase" mode where they will chase after enemies a medium distance before returning to the general vicinity of where you put them... but often enough there's enough slop in their reasoning to get them into trouble, break up carefully placed defensive units, or just plain piss you off.

And finally, I have to say that I was expecting something with a little more "wow" factor than this. Really, this is a "return to formula" for the franchise, and updating old gaming concepts to new technology, but even so I was expecting something novel that never materialized for me. Now, don't get me wrong, it's a good, solid FPS and enjoyable, but Generals impressed me much more at its time than C&C3 is doing now.

The Final Word
A worthy successor to the C&C franchise, and a sizable improvement in technology and performance. Multiplayer is plagued with issues for a good number of people, but EA is working hard to get them resolved. The game is a technical and visual step up from generals, and the gameplay is of similar calibur, minus a few little nifty touches. The UI is also a great evolutionary step forward, and many will laud the return of C&C's trademark FMVs between levels. Rating: B+

And that's the word from Bandit Camp


PPMcBiggs said...

Bah. Just more of the same old RTS crap that I have been cursing since the days of Dune 2.

I am just not an RTS guy. And how could I be when mission after mission is "You've got 4 infantry units. Eliminate the 3 enemy bases on this map. Oh yeah, your broke too." I just don't have the patience or the time to figure out what little exercise I have to do to get my 3 little pigs past the endless hallway of big bad wolves. I have said it a million times in the past, I will probably say it a million times more: Why do developers feel that a game is not fun until it is impossible? Playing the same 5 minutes of a map 75 times in a row to figure out some little trick is _NOT_ fun. It isn't, not at all. I know that I just suck balls compared to _REAL_ RTS guys, but I should be able to make _SOMETHING_ happen on normal difficulty within 2 tries.

Now for my take on the rest:
Graphics: Updated. Hooray.
Gameplay: Much better than the original C&C series, still not newb (read: FPS player) friendly.
FMVs: Too over the top. Maybe thats the point. Whatever.
Sound: Seems the same as always.
Bugs: Havent seen any yet.

This game feels alot like the original C&Cs, which is probably what alot of people are looking for. I would have preferred it to act more like Generals: Zero Hour. I will cheat my way through to the end. "LAME!" I hear alot of geeks saying. Sorry, real life is riding shotgun and it is telling me to hurry the hell up.

PS: Warhammer 40k is not even close to Generals: Zero Hour.

Gas Bandit said...

Mutant! Alien! Heretic! :P

Seriously though, I definitely can attest to their being too much of the old "Don't let your engineers die, even though they are soft and squishy and everything on this map is invisible and deadly and will concentrate on killing your engineers to the exclusion of all else, even food, drink, sleep, sex and excretory bodily functions."

It was rather irritating, but there are only a couple of those missions.

You might want to try skipping the campaigns entirely, the skirmish modes are a lot less bullshitty about that sort of thing, and feel a great deal more like Generals did.

Frankly, the overly-scripted single player levels was one of the things that drove me away from C&C back in the day.. I didn't even get through Red Alert all the way, and I didn't even give the franchise another look until generals. Of course, when the "First Decade" compilation came out, I went back to see what I missed, and honestly it mostly looked like a lot of aggravation was saved.

Rojo said...

I'm actually liking the scripted single player missions. It's just another gameplay mode, nothing to get fired up about. And really, if you could defeat it the first time you play it, that's not really considered 'fun' by most gamers. Slide it down to easy mode or take my dad's route and grab a trainer. It's his way of still having fun in today's evolved gaming world.

Nice write-up, GB :) Totally agree with everything you said. And it's weird that someone else noticed the uniform thing. (if you haven't yet, watch one of the earlier GDI vids and check out Mike's general-gut LOL)