IGN Review of Command & Conquer 3: Tiberium Wars
Just as console games don't usually hold up well during their transition to the PC world, games designed for a keyboard and mouse are generally poor when they come to the home console. This is not the case with Command & Conquer 3. Although the PC version is still the definitive one, those without access to a high-end computer will find a lot to enjoy in this second real-time strategy game on Xbox 360. The fast nature of the game prevents Command & Conquer 3 from being the most ideal choice for a console port, but the controls work well enough that the solid design and great presentation can shine through.
Command & Conquer 3: Tiberium Wars continues the story of the war between the Global Defense Initiative, or GDI, and the Brotherhood of Nod. Tiberium is the focal point of this battle and its destructive nature combined with the Nod's religious fanaticism has wrought destruction the world over. C&C 3 picks up during a lull in the war where the public of the GDI is more interested in cleaning up the Tiberium infestation than thinking about the war. This, of course, all changes when Kane, the prophet and leader of Nod, begins to stir the pot again.
A review of a console real-time strategy game can only begin in one place; the controls. Building off of the well received layout in The Lord of the Rings: Battle for Middle Earth II we saw last year, C&C 3 features a system of commands that is centered around the two triggers on the controller. It takes a little while to get the hang of, but once you are familiar with which trigger or bumper to push in each situation, you can quickly select armies, individual unit types, group units, and send out squads of death. It works well, but there are still a few limitations. Scrolling across the screen quickly and targeting a single unit are experiences that are less than ideal.
You can adjust each of these in the options, but we found it very hard to find a happy medium. Turning up the magnetic properties of units, which allow you to lock on to one unit, ends up making it nearly impossible to grab a particular unit out of a crowd. Likewise, turning up the scrolling speed makes it hard to make deft commands. On the whole, the control setup is pleasing insofar as that it actually works even if it isn't perfect, something that console gamers have been looking to find in their RTS games for quite some time now.
Command & Conquer 3 is, in most regards, a better-produced game than the only other real-time strategy game on Xbox 360, The Lord of the Rings: Battle for Middle Earth II. The game looks and runs better, the FMV story sequences do a good job of engaging the player and the amount of polish on C&C 3 is impressive to say the least. If it weren't for the lack of any way to quickly reload a level when you are near defeat (or after a failure), this game would be close to the complete package in terms of a single player console RTS.
Yet somehow the story mode doesn't quite feel right. As is usually the case with real-time strategy games, this can be chalked up to the player being forced to use a controller. In the multiplayer game, all of your human opponents are on the same playing field and everything works out. Or it doesn't. But the point is that it's fair and you can't blame the control when other people are in the same boat.
When you're up against the relentless AI of Command & Conquer 3, it can be overwhelming. This is a much faster game than Battle for Middle Earth II (forgive the constant comparisons, but there is little other precedent in terms of quality console real-time strategy games of this nature). Fast and the Xbox 360 controller don't play nice in this case. It will take you a good amount of time just to adjust to the style of play necessary to win in some of the more difficult levels. Even then, you may find yourself frustrated. Turtling will never work against the computer. The only way to win is to amass an army quickly and expand your base as soon as possible. One wrong decision can spell defeat.
Ordering individual units around, something that you'll want to do to perform some of the more high class moves such as stealing buildings or bombing strategic locations, is never easy. The command for putting groups of units in formations is a chore and it is impossible to perform actions quickly at two opposite sides of the battlefield. The computer has no problem doing these things. Some levels are a piece of cake, so easy that you'll wonder why there's any fuss. Others take some serious effort and, oftentimes, luck.
It may end up being frustrating, especially when you find yourself booted back out to the start menu for the 20th time when you just want to restart the level, but the experience is still an enjoyable one. The rest of the game is good enough that any amount of frustration you may have with the controller can be overlooked. No, Command & Conquer 3 doesn't play as well as it does on a PC. Nor does it look as good. And the load times are much worse. But the story mode, gameplay, and presentation haven't been changed from its solid PC foundation.
The mission design in Command & Conquer 3 is good enough that the game doesn't grow stale as you play through the 38 missions. The standard "protect this unit" missions exist, as do those where you simply need to build a base and attack another. Sprinkled in between these are a few more interesting missions that produce some cool gameplay moments. Commandos go solo to carve out a path of destruction, warring factions turn on each other mid battle, and the strong AI throws a few curveballs your way every now and then as well. We had one mission where the objective was to infiltrate and secure the bases of two separate armies at war with each other. We had secured one, but didn't move quickly enough to wipe out those on the battlefield and found ourselves with failure when the raging battle that we had ignored turned one sided removing any hope of us securing the other base.
Naturally, new and more powerful units are unlocked as you progress through each faction's story until the end of the game when you'll be pitted against devastating mammoth tanks, assault carriers, tripods, and upgraded avatars. If you aren't familiar with the Command & Conquer world, these units spell trouble. Even with a few on your side, you'll be forced to play strategically and make use of your powers and any diversionary tactics or cheap techniques you can come up with. This makes the end of the game difficult, but rewarding and worth the time it takes to get there.
Speaking of things worth your time, the FMV movie sequences that tell the story are great in that classic, low budget sci-fi movie sense. Billy Dee Williams, Michael Ironside, Josh Holloway of Lost, and Jennifer Morrison of House lead the surprisingly well known and acclaimed cast. Joseph Kucan even reprises his role as Kane, leader of the Nod. The entire presentation feels ripped out of a bad sci-fi movie and is as entertaining as it is funny. Normally, having acted FMV sequences in a game feels out of place, but they fit surprisingly well in this alternate world real-time strategy game.
All told, the story mode in Command & Conquer 3 is a good port from the PC to the console. It doesn't hold up quite as well as it possibly could, but that can largely be blamed on the fast paced nature of the game. The multiplayer side to things performs quite admirably from any angle you look at it.
As we said before, the fact that everyone is on a level playing field on Xbox Live is what makes the multiplayer game work. To make it work even better, the feature set is about as robust as they come. The only notable omissions are system link play and any sort of single console multiplayer option. Nearly every other option you could hope for is present, straight down to the somewhat gimmicky but still enjoyable Vision Camera support.
While the PC version of C&C 3 only had a single Versus mode that allowed you to pick one of the three factions and duke it out, the Xbox 360 version sports four new options for play. Tired of just building a base and waging war? The new Capture the Flag, Capture and Hold, and King of the Hill (all play exactly how you would imagine) may be more your cup of tea. We were most pleased with the last new inclusion, Siege mode. This play option puts impenetrable barriers around each contestant for a predetermined period of time before removing them and letting each player wage war. This alleviates a lot of the issues with players looking for a game where they won't be rushed and gives new players a chance to feel things out before being wiped out by a more veteran challenger.
Some more subtle features that add to the experience are also included. The lobby system works admirably, allowing you to stay in the same game and continue playing with friends in between rounds as well as giving the host the option to adjust game types and options while others select teams, colors, and factions. When creating a game, you can even leave a couple of slots open while marking another as private if you have a particular friend you'd like to hop in with. Once you're in a game, the Back button allows for team talk and planning, a feature that was sadly absent in Battle for Middle Earth II.
Perhaps the best part about the online game is something that you won't even notice; lag. The graphics had to be toned a bit and you won't see smoke trails streaming from rockets, but the game runs quite well. In our experience, we didn't notice any slowdown or lag even during the most intense of battles. Battle for Middle Earth II didn't have much staying power and the online community dwindled rather quickly after its release. Command & Conquer 3 works well enough that finding a good match should not be an issue.
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