Electronic Arts crossed the bridge that made real-time strategy games a viable option on home consoles when the company released The Lord of the Rings: Battle for Middle-earth and an interface custom-designed for the Xbox 360’s controller. In the time since that game’s release, EA collected feedback from users and reviewers and took the best of the LOTR control scheme to make an entirely new, yet remarkably familiar, interface for Command & Conquer 3: Tiberium Wars.
C&C3 features a relatively straightforward single-player campaign that has you take control of one of rival factions. The Brotherhood of Nod is on the shady side of the morality scale, while the Global Defense Initiative (GDI) are the good guys. As the game progresses, a campaign for a third faction, The Scrin, opens up (although the Scrin are available to play in other modes from the outset).
Remarkably for an RTS, the story in C&C3 helps propel the game forward somewhat, thanks to the return of the full-motion video featuring some well-known actors such as Billy Dee Williams, Lost alum Josh Holloway and Michael Ironside, just to name a few. The story pits the Nod and GDI against one another in the race to control tiberium, a fabled crystal that contributes to the building cost of units and structures alike but that also has the potential to kill wandering units due to its alien origins.
But really, you’re not here to watch some story unfold while you play. RTS gamers are all about controls and building massive armies to sweep like waves through an enemy territory. Once again, EA did a great job with adapting the controls to a controller — and even went further than they did in BFME by adding more shortcuts, making the gameplay a lot more intuitive. Camera controls are exactly like they were in BFME, and they are adequate for the type of game this is. Ironically, the biggest nitpick I have with the controls is similar to a complaint I had with LOTR: the units are sometimes so small that staying zoomed-out for a nice overview of the map and all your units makes selecting a specialized unit somewhat of a challenge, even with the auto-select sensitivity cranked up.
The biggest challenge to new gamers has to be the sheer speed that is required to build up a large enough army and coordinate attacks while calling for reinforcements. The pace of C&C3, even on easy mode, is relentless. Enemy forces will inundate you with attacks from all sides, forcing you to reinforce your base, all while trying to find the opening you need to attack the enemy’s base, which usually is the mission’s objective. You’ll need to quickly become adept at using the hotkeys to build new units while managing attacks, a skill that comes into play not only in the single-player campaign but in the excellent online options as well. In fact, the pace if the title really makes the online matches a lot of fun thanks to the ability to turn the tide of an attack in very short order.
Not all campaigns will be won with use of force as your sole means of attack. Each faction contains a unit who can repair structures as well as capture both neutral and enemy structures. By sneaking in a back door to a base, the unit can easily capture a building and quickly sell it to make a quick buck and hurt their opponent, or they can build units for their army from within the enemy base; the perfect sneak attack.
Some other slight flaws which are worked out as the player becomes more used to the control scheme and the layout of the onscreen options are in the game. Especially important and somewhat buried in the building options are support structures. It’s far too easy online to overlook the option to build automatic turrets or anti-aircraft positions, but once this option is discovered, the playing field evens out and players can hold their own in online battles. And don’t think I’m alone in this: while playing online, I heard many questions about support structures.
The online modes are your fairly standard fare: versus matches with the option of teams, Capture & Hold, Capture the Flag and King of the Hill. Siege is also a mode that some players will love. Siege mode is similar to Versus, except all possibilities of rushing opposing bases are stopped for a period of time. Once that timer expires, a barrier disappears, opening up attacks on the map. This is a sure-fire way to create a massive army, and it results in some spectacular firefights until the end. Here, the player who can replenish his or her army the fastest is sure to come up on top.
Visually and sonically the game comes up strong as well. The audio is very well done, all the way from the B-movie-style cutscenes to the in-game action. The surround-sound speakers get a good workout during battles, and you’ll find your subwoofer pumping out some thunderous explosions as the game progresses. Visually the, game is very sharp too, both when zoomed out fully to get a view of the battlefield and when zoomed down to the unit level to watch the action unfold in detail. Unit animations are also quite nicely realized, with a lot of detail in each and every unit.
With the RTS genre very limited on home consoles, EA has created a winner with C&C3. While a good step up in performance from the also-quite-solid Battle for Middle Earth, there still is a little room allowed for improvement on execution of these games, but gone are the horrors that were Starcraft 64. Gamers whose PCs don’t quite pack enough power to play this on the RTS system of choice will get a fair substitute here — once the learning curve is overcome.
– Jeff Paramchuk