When development of C&C 4 was announced, many Command & Conquer vets were concerned about the changed game dynamics. Many feared a repeat of Red Alert 3 and its dubious departures from C&C design canon. However, while the game dynamic has, indeed, been drastically overhauled, the overall feel, both in terms of flavour and in terms of the fast-paced action, remains true to its roots.
First, the bad. This game has very much been made for first-world computing audiences, ie. “computer” = hardware/software + always-on broadband Internet connection. Unfortunately, all-too-often our local “always-on” Internet, isn’t. This is a problem, as this game is very sensitive to network hiccups (remember the age-old “game is out of sync” error that C&C is infamous for? Déjà vu…) So if you are in a game and your connection skips a beat, your progress in that game is lost. Furthermore, the game sometimes crashes to desktop from the menu screen, if the connection fails – and you now have to restart the game and log back in (the login interface has no option to remember your password – weak!) Overall, this always-online approach seems to be an unnecessary evil. The lobby system is rubbish: you scroll down a list of channels or players within a channel, then as you are about to click on one, someone joins, and the list jumps back to the top! Why?! Also, you can’t add a friend directly via a known persona name – you have to meet in a channel the first time, and suffer the abovementioned hassle. Hopefully, these problems will be ironed out in updates (which happen automatically.)
Now the good – and there is a lot of it! While the single-player campaign is rather short, it is unusually replayable thanks to the experience level system employed in this game – so you can go back to missions wielding new toys, perhaps having cranked up the difficulty. In other respects, the level-up system is rather pointless: you grind for a couple of days and max out at 20, and then you have everything unlocked – the only way to play. Single-player is definitely secondary in this title – the focus is the multiplayer experience, specifically the team multiplayer experience. To that end, it is always GDI vs. NOD, with no mixing of factions within a team. While EA claims that the various classes are totally balanced, they are not really conducive to 1-on-1 – playing as the Support class against the Offense class in 1v1 is basically suicide, for example. So what about these classes? Each faction has an Offense, Defense, and Support class. When the game starts, you choose which of these classes to deploy as, and an appropriate MCV (or “Crawler”) is sent to you. Each class has units and other elements that are unique to it. The idea is to combine classes effectively, with Defense players holding control nodes, Offense players dislodging enemy control nodes, and Support players backing up either or both with aircraft and abilities. Should you find that a certain class doesn’t suit you or that particular map, you can re-deploy as another class. If your Crawler is destroyed, you can likewise, after a death penalty time period, re-deploy as the same or a different class.
It is this idea of re-spawning that worried C&C fans. Yet not only does it work, it works very well. How? By making it more inclusive – no player is ever eliminate; no longer do you have a situation where a weaker player is knocked out 5 minutes into a game, and sits waiting for the game to end. Everyone plays the whole game – more fun for all. Another departure is the absence of traditional Tiberium harvesting. Again, though initially worrying, it is not merely OK, but actually great (some, of course, will miss that aspect). The real resource in any RTS game is time – but to the novice player it is all but invisible. In Tiberian Twilight, it is all about time – units cost no Tiberium, but it takes time to make them – use them poorly, and you have to find or make time to replace them. All in all, the action is unrelentingly intense, usually from the very first minute of the match.
How about immersion? The graphics are a bit chunky, but that’s because they are closer to being to scale than ever before. EVA talks to you constantly, updating you on battlefield conditions. Overall, this game looks and sounds great, complete with flashy, thunderous explosions, battle chatter, and constant motion and action. It also offers many tactical subtleties to explore.