The moment that EA announced the new C&C would be free-to-play, interest for the game took a dive. We all sat around the office grimacing at each other. It was a sad day, and that’s been the general feeling from most people I spoke to. With that in mind, you can understand that I was a little hesitant going in to the hands-on session at Gamescom, but now, after doing so, and speaking to Victory Games’ general manager Jon Van Caneghem, I’m actually rather looking forward to this game.
I had a chance to play three matches against relatively easy AI opponents – more to get a feel for the game mechanics than have a real challenge. On a recommendation from the devs, I chose an EU general who specialised in railgun weapons and fired up my first game. The EU follows the most simple system of base building, with a tech tree based on the construction of Tech Labs (standard first, then advanced), and the basic Barracks, War Factory and Air Fields used to train units and research some passive and active abilities. Additional upgrades can be researched at the Tech Labs, and their Power Stations are generally low-end and numerous.
Since I had the Railgun General, most of her units used some sort of rail tech, such as the high-powered by low rate-of-fire basic infantry and the Railgun Turrets. I didn’t get a chance to get all the unit names, but they seemed to be pretty normal, with the basic rock-paper-scissors configuration and various upgrades to make them stronger and/or more versatile.
My next game saw me take control of a GLA general with a specialisation in salvage. Jumping into the game felt just like it did in Generals and I knew immediately that I wanted to lock the AI in its base, with reinforcements coming in the form of a tunnel network. Since the GLA don’t require any power for their buildings, I spent my starting cash on erecting a couple of oil derricks near to my base to secure a trickle of income as early as possible. While my little workers were off gathering supplies from a nearby depot and building the derricks, I produced a couple of basic infantry in the form of individual suicide bombers, which I’d use to scout thanks to their high speed. Thinking about it now, many of the game’s units are quite fast, which Miklós once noted as giving the game a frenetic feeling. Unfortunately, the GLA’s second infantry, a small mob of angry militia (most infantry now come in squads), weren’t too light on their feet, so I built a few Battle Busses from the War Factory to carry them across the map. Just like in Generals, the Battle Bus can deploy into a fixed bunker, which I used to lock the AI in their base while pummelling their units as they trickled out. From there, it was just a matter of constructing a tunnel network, upgrading it to accommodate vehicles, and sending through a ton of tanks to secure my victory.
With two of the three races done, I figured it was only fair to choose a general from the APA (Asian Pacific Alliance), and decided to take the Rocket General because rockets are awesome. This time I chose to play a little more defensively, as I noticed that the AI was putting on more pressure than they did last time. At this stage I overheard one of the devs mention that the AI will adapt to your level of skill, and with two wins already under my belt I found myself having to protect outlying resource points from light harassment – nothing a few Rocket and Flame Turrets can’t handle.
With three games done, and my interest in C&C now well piqued, I thought it’d be a good time to sit down and chat with Jon about the online service. The game is solid, I had discovered – it handles well, looks good, and feels like C&C – so it’s all up to the F2P stuff now.
“We want this game to be exactly what people would expect from a ‘purchase in a box’ game,” Jon tells me, but he explains that this model isn’t designed around hitting up players for odd bits of cash here and there. The nature of F2P and micro-transactions means that the game never has to stop evolving, and players don’t have to wait months or years for new content and balance changes – C&C will be a dynamic experience.
“Features we’d have to cut from previous games now just get added to the release schedule, and on top of that we’re working with players and seeing what the data says,” he explained. Regular feedback and community input will be a vital part of C&C, and this opened the door to my next question – that of eSports support. Jon tells me that they’re going to have all the necessary tools, like shoutcasting, streaming and observer support, ready to go, should the community deem the game suitable for use in eSports.
I return to the micro-transactions, and Jon explains that there will be two currencies: the real-world, and the in-game which you grind for. “Almost all” content can be bought with both currencies, and I was chuffed to learn that the content is, at least at this stage, going to be limited to Generals (with their full complement of unique units and upgrades), and visual modifactions, as well as a few XP boosters and the like.
“Maps and scenarios are part of the free service. We don’t want to fragment the community.”
That means players who chose not to spend their real money can always play against those who do; there will be no disparity in terms of who has which maps available.
C&C is certainly shaping up to be something far greater than I expected just a few months ago. The game plays well and the service seems fair and honest. The only way it can go wrong in its current form is in terms of balance, and this is something everyone on the team is acutely aware of. If they manage to get that balance right while still releasing new Generals every few weeks (on top of the 16+ available at launch), then this could well be a C&C worth playing.