Most of all, though, I think C&C3’s success comes down to a killer combination of charm and nostalgia. The basic units and buildings of the GDI and NOD have, by now, imprinted themselves on gamers’ memories in a way that those of other games (with the exception of WarCraft and StarCraft) could never hope for. We don’t need to learn what the Hand of NOD does or what the Power Station looks like – most of us already know. Even units that have changed haven’t lost their charm. While the commando has a new suit and a handy jet-pack, he’s still the same lethal joker we’ve come to know and love. Other troops are destined to become firm favourites. The Zone Trooper, for example, might be vulnerable to aerial assaults, but in other respects he’s a tank on legs, capable of jet-packing behind enemy defences and using a lethal rail-gun to annihilate buildings and enemy troops alike. You have to admire those guys when they go to work. The NOD fanatics, meanwhile, are cheap walking bombs, desperate to throw themselves against high-cost units or buildings. I haven’t laughed so much since the exploding zombie in Myth….
I suspect there will be some finer issues of balance in the long-term, particularly as multi-player takes off. The GDI’s super-units are incredibly tough, and the Scrinn equivalent can dish out and take a beating too. This may put NOD players in difficulties as the end-game approaches. Overall, however, the game is a fine example of streamlined design. The AI hits what will be a good place for most of us on Normal level, offering enough challenge to avoid each mission turning into a walkover, but not so much that you have to stress about every single lost unit or foolish decision. My only real quibble is to ask why, after all these years, do your highly trained troopers still feel it necessary to take short-cuts across fields of Tiberium? It’s still the most annoying way to lose a platoon.
Still, I guess maybe EALA felt that was just part of the overall C&C experience (albeit a very irritating part). What can’t be denied is that while Tiberium Wars does nothing to move the RTS genre forward, it does provide fans with a game worthy of the brand, and gamers in general with one of the most fundamentally enjoyable RTS games in a long while. C&C3 is fun. It can be stupid, cheesy, ridiculous, clumsy and even a little too gung-ho for its own good, but there’s rarely a second when it’s bewildering or boring. At the end of the day, it’s in no position to challenge Company of Heroes for the best current RTS title, but maybe that isn’t the point. What is is that Tiberium Wars brings back a lot of fond memories, and will give you some new ones to boot.
A back to basics exercise, but one that does the C&C name justice. If you feel alienated by the increasing complexity of today’s RTS games, this one is guaranteed to hit the right spot.