Command and Conquer: The Rise and Fall of an RTS Classic, Part 3

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The third and final part of our in-depth look into the story of the Command and Conquer series

Command and Conquer: Red Alert 3 and Uprising: 31/10/2008

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2008’s Red Alert 3 finally sees the Reds jumping on the time travel bandwagon in a bid to eliminate Albert Einstein and pave the way for a smoother transition to Soviet world domination. Much like the Allies before them though, they fail to anticipate some chronological complications, and as result end up battling not just the Allies, but the Imperial Army of Japan, which for reasons that are not made particularly clear, has managed to ascend to the position of being a superpower. Any last semblance of normality in the Red Alert universe is well and truly blown out of the water in this most recent addition to the series, featuring as it does armoured combatant bears, power ranger-esque morphing robots and psychic Japanese schoolgirls. Despite this, EA fail to conjure the sense of wonder and amusement at the military madness that came to the fore in Westwood’s Red Alert productions. That said, the game is definitely more engaging than C&C3 and offers a much-diversified naval combat dimension that has long been lacking in the C&C series. There isn’t an awful lot to be said for creative online multiplayer tactics; you often end up following roughly the same strategy, but you were at least forced to use a relatively large range of units, instead of just spamming tanks or defence towers.

The Uprising expansion offers an array of extra units and maps for skirmish play, as well as new mini-campaigns for the Allies, Soviets, Japanese, and Yuriko, a Japanese psychic who is discovered by the Imperial military, captured by the Allies, and forced to fight to save her sister. Uprising does not feature any online multiplayer features and as this was, in my view, the most engaging aspect of the game I subsequently saw very little reason to buy it. Knowing it would lack Westwood’s dark, twisted imagination, I simply found it impossible to get excited about the prospect of buying another game to follow what by now had become very direct and limiting instructions, with no prospect of using a few new toys against my friends online.

 

Command and Conquer 4: Tiberian Twilight: 19/03/2010

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EA, what the hell were you thinking?!  It’s as if  they created this game with the intention of destroying any last quality attributes in the Tiberian franchise and, considering the abomination that was C&C3, there really wasn’t all that much left.

The most basic elements of RTS play have always been base building, resource management and the potential for varied strategy. In C&C4, you select either a defensive, support or offensive crawler at the start, and from there on in your style of play is pretty much predetermined. The crawler is your base of operations, and from it you spawn an army of units which all use up a portion of your capped point allocation quota. This essentially means you can only construct a certain amount of units regardless of how the battle is progressing, and if what you’ve produced proves ineffective, you either have to scrap these units or wait until they are destroyed before creating new ones.

There is no significant base building or resource gathering here, and the game is won by claiming ownership of Tiberium control points. These serve up points on a regular basis, edging the player closer to victory in a manner similar to holding bases in Battlefield’s “Conquest” game. The pièce de résistance? Players cannot unlock some of the more advanced units until they have completed a series of long-winded combat challenges, regardless of their opponent’s capabilities. This meant that online multiplayer was dominated by people who sat in front of their computers all day every day unlocking all the units and laying waste to anybody who dared go outside to experience sunlight, without the need to employ any degree of tactical insight or competence.

How anybody found the willpower to complete the game’s excruciatingly boring campaigns is beyond me. Once you’ve made your decision in relation to using a defensive, support or offensive crawler there is virtually no room for freedom of expression in the manner you must play to complete the levels, as you basically just spew out the same old units continually in a bid to emerge from a series of pre-planned and highly tedious engagements.

The story is centred around the notion of Kane leading Nod into an uneasy alliance with GDI in the hopes of establishing a Tiberium Control Network (TCN). It follows the manner in which extremist factions within both the GDI and Nod camps seek to disrupt negotiations and prevent progress in resolving the world’s longest running conflict. Eventually these factions are overcome, and as the TCN comes together, Kane instructs the player to activate Threshold 19: a tower left behind by the Scrin at the end of the previous conflict, which serves as a portal to another dimension. At this point, all Tiberium on earth is converted from a deadly plague into an inexpensive power source, and all of Kane’s followers pass through the portal, leaving what’s left of the human population to live in peace. Despite being a loyal fan of the C&C franchise to the point that I’ve written a trilogy of essays on it, I could not endure this game through to its end. It was bad enough seeing the classic game format of resource management, base building and strategy formulation thrown by the wayside, but trudging through the repetitive, click-intensive and tactically unimaginative series of levels was enough to make me contemplate doing housework – a sure sign of mental illness. After C&C3, it was hard to see what more EA could have done to ruin one of the greatest game franchises of all time, but after playing this, my eyes were well and truly opened.

Command and Conquer: Generals 2…The game that wasn’t to be

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When development of this game began, the signs were – for the first time in quite a while – promising. Base building and resource management were back, and EA were engaging the gaming community in lengthy discussions about what made a good C&C. What’s more, the game was going to be released as a free-to-play entity, meaning there was no risk of wasting your money on a terrible game.

Not all was hunky-dory however. Sources in the alpha testing community were keen to draw attention to the fact that the game was heavily focused on just a few effective units, meaning it could easily have become another C&C3 spamming competition. But it was in its infant stages, and the fact that so many players were involved in the testing program meant that feedback was getting through to the developers, and we had reason to expect things to improve. It seems however that Victory Studios have responded to the criticism by giving up.

Sure, they make promises as regards to future games, but the franchise has been failing to live up to its promise for some time now. If EA and their underlings respond to difficulties by throwing their toys out of the pram like this, then what hope can we really have for one of RTS’s founding fathers ever returning to its former glory? They were finally doing the right thing in consulting the fans about what they had been doing wrong in the former titles, but upon realising just how far off the mark they had fallen, they simply weren’t interested in investing the time and effort to produce the game we all wanted.

EA, you have failed to meet your mission objectives, and in the eyes of this commander at least, your C&C campaign is at an end…

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Featured image: EA Games. Inset images: Simbach via Flickr, www.techxav.com, faseextra via Flickr, D-WRTHBRNGR via www.moddb.com

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