Reviews: Truly the twilight hour of the C&C franchise
Command & Conquer 4: Tiberian Twilight has very much been billed to the public as the final installment of a saga that Westwood Studios began fifteen years ago and the final appearance of the series' great villain, Kane. EA Games, however, has not proudly boasted to the public that this final game in the Tiberium series is NOT an RTS like the games before it. No, Tiberian Twilight will go down in history as a misconceived spin-off like Command & Conquer: Renegade (the sole C&C FPS, for those who wisely saved their $50), a half-baked shift in gaming genres that must have had a room full of EA execs saying, ?It'll grow the brand.? In addition to that, EA has slapped some pretty restrictive DRM on the whole package. Oh, and the game sucks too.
If C&C4 isn't an RTS, well then what is it? Fair question; C&C4 is a Tactical RPG or Tactical Strategy Game. It's not a big genre these days, but fans of Jagged Alliance, Commandos, and Fallout: Tactics know what I mean. Some people might disagree, so let me define for you what I consider RTS gameplay. To me, an RTS is building a base, gathering resources, and amassing an army. In C&C4, the player does not gather resources, you can build only one or two types of turret, and rarely controls more than ten units. You and your units level up and become more effective. Instead of structures, you have giant ?walkers? that produce units to fill your limited ranks. This is a novel idea which initially excited me, but the level of micromanagement needed to make this set-up work is just plain not fun.
C&C4 may be a Tactical RPG, but it is not a good Tactical RPG. Risking redundancy, ?not fun? is pretty much a catchall description. The campaign is an absolute slog; expect to choose between saving every few minutes or scaring your neighbors with screams of frustration when you restart a mission for the millionth time. Also, the cinematics, which are usually a highlight of C&C games, are hampered by the use of a first person camera perspective. This hackneyed gimmick turns most of the scenes into monologues, where an actor just looks at the camera and talks to the player. Now I'm not Orson Welles, and C&C isn't Citizen Kane, but that ain't drama.
If C&C4 had a saving grace (and it doesn't), it would have been the multiplayer. Draconian DRM requires an Internet connection to play C&C4 (yup, even for single player), and the game takes advantage of this by weaving together the multiplayer and single player aspects of the game. In C&C4 a player has an overall profile that they level up when playing any game type, by themselves or online. Leveling up your profile gives you access to new units, instead of advancing a tech tree in old school RTS style (another instance of RPG elements replacing RTS gameplay). This also means that you can easily end up playing an opponent with much tougher units than you do; the games matchmaking service doesn't even take this into account!
Being an EA game, C&C4 is a high budget affair and it looks and sounds like it. The soundtrack for the Nod missions is especially good, its Middle Eastern flair is a nice break from the marching music and bland rock of most strategy games. The game has lots of recorded dialogue and good voice acting; every unit has a few amusing things to say when you click on them. The cinematic acting is fun too, the same hammy, scenery chewing performances fans have come to expect. Graphically, the game is up to snuff with the competition, but never has to render as many units as games like Supreme Commander 2, or even C&C3, its superior predecessor. All in all, C&C4 has the kind of high-end production values one should expect from EA Games. That and the Command & Conquer name are the best things the game has going for it.