IGN Review of Command & Conquer 3: Kane's Wrath
The expansion pack has become such a fixture in the PC gaming world that publishers and developers don't think twice about releasing these cheaper, smaller additions to full retail games. Expansions are especially common in the realm of real-time strategy, where strong communities often build up around popular titles and content can be added quickly and easily.
But they're a bit trickier on consoles, where most retail games are standalone units and players aren't as accustomed to buying a second boxed game to add onto the first. In March, Electronic Arts released Command & Conquer 3: Kane's Wrath for PCs, an expansion pack for 2007's Command & Conquer 3: Tiberium Wars. C&C3 earned a respectable 8.2 rating when it was released on Xbox 360 later that year, and EA has decided to bring the expansion to the console as well.
Kane's Wrath is a $39.99 standalone retail expansion for Xbox 360, meaning you don't need to have a copy of the original game to play it. It doesn't have nearly as much content as C&C3 proper, but at a $20 discount, Kane's Wrath offers quite a bit of strategy action for your money.
The Xbox 360 version of Kane's Wrath might be better described as "C&C3 Light" than as an expansion. There are three single-player modes available – Campaign, Kane's Challenge and Skirmish. In Campaign mode, you'll play as a commander in the employ of Kane, the bald, goateed bane of the Global Defense Initiative. The exposition in the C&C series famously unfolds via staged live-action cutscenes, which have included such thespian luminaries as Billy Dee Williams and Ray Wise. Kane's Wrath is no exception, featuring Joe Kucan as Kane and Species' Natasha Henstridge as the beautiful but unstable Alexa Kovacs.
If you've been following the Command & Conquer saga thus far, you know that Kane is a self-styled prophet who's built up a sizeable (and dangerous) cult of personality. His political and military machinations take center-stage in Kane's Wrath, which takes place over two decades of the Tiberium timeline, focusing on the rebirth of the Brotherhood of Nod after the Second Tiberium War and through the third. If none of that means anything to you, then prepare to be completely perplexed by the events in Kane's Wrath. Without the backstory of the previous games, the cutscenes are confusing and dull, except for some moments of purely hilarious acting.
But it's not C&C's storyline that keeps most RTS fans coming back for more. It's the gameplay, and there's plenty of it Kane's Wrath. There are 13 missions in the Campaign mode, which unfolds over three acts. Each mission offers something a little different – there are escort missions, sneaking missions, tactical levels and brute-force scenarios. With three levels of difficulty available to play, you'll find plenty of challenge in the Campaign. The only issue I have with this meat-and-potatoes mode is that you're only allowed to play as the Nod. Kane's brotherhood is a powerful group, but I found myself wishing I could play as a different faction during the Campaign, just to mix things up. To me, the fact that I soon tired of playing as the fearsome Nod says something about Kane's Wrath –that, despite its slick presentation and technical competence, it's just not a rousing gaming experience.
But the Kane's Challenge mode offers the opportunity to mix things up a bit. There are 10 different missions in this single-player mode, and each pits you against a different group. With nine factions to play as, that gives you 90 possible combinations, each of which should play out a bit differently. Kane's Challenge is sort of a mix between Campaign and Skirmish, which is simply a deathmatch against computer A.I. Kane's Challenge is a replacement for the Global Conquest mode included in the PC version of Command & Conquer 3: Kane's Wrath, which allowed you to play a Risk-like game of strategy from a world map. It was a unique addition to the C&C franchise, but EALA chose not to include it on the console version.
The single-player modes in Kane's Wrath are solid and satisfying for the most part, but many players will jump straight online with this expansion, especially those who are well-versed in the world of C&C. There are five game types in the multiplayer mode: Versus, King of the Hill, Capture and Hold, Capture the Flag and Siege. The online multiplayer matches we played ran smoothly for the most part, although we did notice some chugging when large armies clashed. The already tight camera also seemed a bit more constricting in multiplayer than it did in the single-player mode.
Other than the fact that the camera doesn't zoom out quite enough for my taste, I found the overall controls in Kane's Wrath to be among the best to be found in a console RTS. Rather than relying on the trigger and d-pad system of the console versions of Tiberium Wars and The Lord of the Rings: The Battle for Middle-earth II, Kane's Wrath employs a wheel system similar to the one found in Universe at War: Earth Assault.
The advantage of this control scheme is clear – quicker access to build queues, powers and units. Fast, accurate access to these staples can mean the difference between a fast-paced, satisfying RTS experience and a frustrating wade through a clumsy interface. That difference is especially important in a series like C&C, characterized by speedy buildups and blitzkriegs.
There's no doubt about it – RTS games are meant to be played on a PC, with a mouse and keyboard. Kane's Wrath performs well as console ports go, but you can't help but feel hamstrung by your controller as you spin around the wheel with analog sticks. So if you don't have a high-end PC or would just rather play Kane's Wrath on your HDTV, you'll probably be satisfied with the console version. But if you have the choice, you're better off on a computer, as with Tiberium Wars.
One of my major gripes with Kane's Wrath may sound like a nitpick, but after many hours of playing, I grew more and more frustrated with the awkward saving and loading system. Not only do both take way too long, but they are also unintuitive. If you find you're failing epically at a campaign mission and want to restart, you'll have to exit the game and load a save. Again, it may seem a small thing, but it stands out in a game that's otherwise presented very well.
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