Now this is what you call a blast from the past.
Perhaps it’s a mistake to say that Command and Conquer invented the real-time-strategy genre – its developer, Westwood, had already done that with Dune 2 – but it was certainly the game that popularised it. With C&C, Westwood both simplified and sped up the wargame, creating something with the pace, the glossy visuals and the narrative hooks to snare the action-gaming crowd, but with a streamlined tactical element that still appealed to the armchair generals. C&C was straightforward, fast, violent and fun. It has become a legend that just one tactic – the classic ‘tank rush’ strategy – was enough to see you through the game, but that didn’t make it any the less enjoyable.
Arguably, in the years since C&C the genre it created has lost some of this appeal. The games that have followed C&C have elaborated on its basic resource management, added more complex ways of controlling and changing the behaviour of your units, put tactical maps and trading in the game, and implemented advanced systems for position, facing, cover and camouflage. The results have generally benefited gamers – just think of Dawn of War or Company of Heroes – but when faced with something as forbiddingly difficult as, say, Supreme Commander, you can’t help but wish for the good old days when you could pick up an RTS without struggling through a series of tutorials.
Command and Conquer 3 is right there with you. When playing it, you don’t so much feel that EALA has stayed stuck in the past as taken a deliberate step backwards. In many respects, this is a remake of Command and Conquer made with today’s technology. The GDI is back, the Brotherhood of NOD is back, Tiberium is back and (hurrah!) the Tank Rush is back. The graphics are sharper and more detailed, the video clips have gone HD and the AI shows distinct signs of improvement, but the core gameplay is as basic and as frenetic as it ever was.
Bear this in mind if you like a complex, considered strategy game. Most of the time, Tiberium Wars barely gives you time to think, let alone plan. If you’ve played games in the series before you’ll soon find yourself base-building practically on auto-pilot, then frantically scrambling to get troops and tanks out into the field while simultaneously defending your facilities from enemy incursions There are a couple of GDI missions early on where there is barely any time to breathe, so relentless are the NOD attacks.
Of course, this means that the majority of missions follow a familiar pattern: establish your base, build your basic facilities, add defences, build advanced facilities, send out exploratory units, grab Tiberium deposits, build beefy units, then send in the tanks to crush the opposition. Tiberium Wars does occasionally play with the formula by sending you into a base under siege or kicking you off with no base at all, but it’s really just messing around. It’s soon back to business as usual. Of course, we do see the return of the classic commando mission, where your lone soldier heroically takes on entire platoons single-handed (and possibly with one hand behind his back), but if you’re looking for something new and innovative, C&C3 is the wrong place to find it.