By Joseph Viney
Command & Conquer 4, if the developers are to be believed, is the last in the long and drawn out ‘Tiberian Saga’. Is the story of NOD vs. GDI waging war over the mysterious energising green substance speeding to a satisfactory conclusion? Or is it stuttering towards the end with the maniacal bald-headed Kane waving his arms around and using quasi-religious metaphors unnecessarily?
One of the more stark and unfortunate aspects of C&C4 is the distinct lack of structures or indeed the opportunity to build a massive army capable of swamping the enemy. The old adage goes “If it ain’t broke, then don’t fix it”, but in what could most diplomatically be described as a moment of madness the developers have seen fit to completely overhaul the gameplay to the point where it negates the enjoyment of the entire game.
Gone now are the building blocks of what made the preceding games so immersive; no more rows of power plants, no barracks, minimal defensive structures and a shockingly low number of fighting units allowed per player. Where once before you could build and utilise wave after wave of units and recreate your own private Somme, you are now bound to around 25 units at any time. Some may argue that this new measure ensures more skill and knowledge of how to manage your army, but there is no doubt that the majority of players would argue that the beauty of the previous games was evoked during the massive pitched battles fought upon pixelated wastelands.
Is this replacement system adequate? In short… no. The game now invokes nothing more than frustration and bitterness, no less a wish for the good old days. Remember MCVs? Forget about them. At the start of each scenario you are offered three classes: offence, defence or support. From here you are given a ‘Crawler’ which transforms into a base depending on which class you choose. Then you can create various infantry, vehicles and aircraft as well as upgrades.
C&C4 does try to be more tactical. Those of you (like this reviewer) who prefer the idea of swamping the enemy until victory is achieved will be sorely disappointed. The game is now based on a philosophy of attack and counterattack. Don’t be mistaken in thinking that this now means it’s more nuanced and intricate. There is still the propensity for carnage but this time it is in smaller numbers. When one attack falters, you’re forced to go back to the beginning and rebuild entirely which can be frustrating. The game’s strangely small population limit means that the concept of a ‘second wave’ doesn’t exist and may God help you if you want to change your HQ’s strategy. For example, to go from defence to offence, you have to destroy your own base, order a new one and then re-deploy it. There is no such thing as a quick game anymore.
The aim of the game is no longer simple destruction. It has now morphed into a version of capture the flag. Taking its lead from Warhammer 40k: Dawn Of War, you are now instructed to capture and retain various points. It’s a pain to keep harking on about the low population limit but once more it does nothing but leave you in danger. Instead of setting up a bulky defence you’re reduced to scrambling around trying to find reserves and unused troops. This means that the hot spots on the map are traded with a frustrating regularity.
One of the more limiting aspects of the game is the persistent unlocking of units, buildings, upgrades etc. It’s a fantastic idea to reward consistent users with the promise of goodies but it could well destroy the casual demographic. Coupled with the idea of levelling up via single and multiplayer, C&C4 rewards regular use but what the developers have failed to do is construct a game actually worth playing time and time again. Your first go will give you nothing but the most basic of units and it means having to play through the very short campaign modes again and again to ensure you aren’t destroyed immediately in the multiplayer games. This method of unlocking might work well in FPS and platformers but with RTS it both puts you off the game and ensures you waste time repeating yourself.
The most endearing aspect of the Command & Conquer series is its ludicrous plot, acting and scenery. Fans of B-movie levels of production need not worry. Apparently worked with a budget lesser than Mega Shark vs. Giant Octopus, most of the story involves your unnamed wife crying at you, multiple army officers screaming at you and scenery that wouldn’t look out of place on Crossroads. For a game set in the future everything looks distinctly retro and cheap. Joe Kucan assumes his role as Kane once more, perhaps the campest and most ridiculous villain since Dr. Evil. He of the bald head and silly goatee is back to spout more claptrap at you with his usual emphasis on “brotherhood” and “destruction.”
One would suppose that the developers must be commended for their attempt at a new approach, but it’s hard to see just how they thought the finished product would actually inspire confidence. Strangely, it seems that the long-term fans and loyal customers were last in mind during development. It’s a sorry end to the once great ‘Tiberian Saga’. It’s very doubtful that this is the end of the Command & Conquer franchise and you would hope the developers learn from their very obvious mistakes and bring the game back to its former glories. Instead of trying to chase what other developers are doing, perhaps they should utilise once more the format that we all know and love.
If you haven’t twigged, then a game where the notoriously terrible acting and cut-scenes are the best part must be avoided at all costs.
4 OUT OF 10