Command & Conquer 4: Tiberian Twilight Preview (PC)

With a long, esteemed history spanning almost fifteen years that has seen the acrimonious dissolution of original creators Westwood Studios and the subsequent takeover of EA’s own in-house team in LA, Command & Conquer has continued to define the modern Real Time Strategy genre with which it has indelibly become synonymous.

Now with the impending launch of C&C 4 next year, the sweeping Tiberium Saga that opened with the first Command & Conquer finally draws to an epic close. And as such, EA LA plan on making this the most cinematic instalment yet, placing an increased emphasis upon the storytelling aspect of the game, promising far more grit and darkness than ever before.

This is the crashed GST Command vessel that you have to fix in the opening GDI mission. As your repair team work on rebuilding it, you can watch the broken parts gradually slot back into place.
You can see the Nod Crawler here, protected by a small unit of Centurions. C&C 4 may be more accessible than before, but strategy is still king.

First to go are the fixed, direct-to-camera monologues, replaced by movie style sequences boasting Hollywood production values that cast you as a fly-on-the-wall as each scene unfolds. No confirmation is forthcoming on the potential acting talent that will feature in the game, but the series’ precedent suggests that some well-known faces are bound to show up with series mainstay Joe Kucan already on-board, reprising his role as the ubiquitous Kane.

The narrative kicks off in 2062 where an uneasy alliance between C&C’s two factions, the GDI and the Nod, has been formed in an effort to harvest the growing infestation of bright green Tiberium crystals that has scarred the Earth’s surface. Naturally, things gradually take a turn for the worse as the GDI begin questioning Kane’s motives in approaching them with the initial proposition to turn the crystals into valuable resources, and inevitably the factions go to war with one another once again.

What ensues should, EA hope, lead to a dramatic and satisfying climax with the truth behind Kane’s return from the dead finally revealed. Still, drama is neither here nor there if the game fails to deliver a rollicking RTS experience, but it looks as though EA LA plans make this the definitive C&C, bringing a far greater degree of accessibility to the franchise to attract new players without alienating the hardcore sect.

This decision has lead to the not insignificant addition of persistent player progression across all three game modes, so you’ll be able to earn experience points (XP) towards levelling up and acquiring extra units and abilities whether you’re playing in single-player, online multiplayer or skirmish. Constant rewards should keep you playing even when you’re struggling, the idea being that any challenge can be overcome by accumulating XP to purchase more powerful units to help you progress whenever you’re stuck.

C&C 4’s producer Jim Vessella is keen to emphasise that although the new game will be more accessible, this doesn’t mean that there’s any less strategic depth however. You can check out our full interview for more on this. As well as aiming to please a much broader audience, the dev team also hopes to shake up the rigid RTS formula by providing players with mobile bases known as Crawlers. These Crawlers can anchor themselves into the ground anywhere on the map and begin spawning units straight away, creating a more immediate alternative to slowly building a stationary base of operations, as is the norm. Each faction possesses a different Crawler with an entirely different set of upgrades and weaponry, so there’s plenty of variation between the GDI and Nod units to discover.

Difficulty is also tapered by including the ability to respawn should you die depending on the level of challenge you select, so failure isn’t necessarily the end in the easier and normal modes. There are three classes - offence, defence and support - to choose from and you can switch between them whenever you get shot into scrap metal, to mix things up a little if you so wish. EA hope that this will bring a new dimension to the strategy while reducing the complexity normally associated with the genre. You can also customise your unit loadout to adopt a strategy that best suits the way you prefer to play.

The same applies to both skirmish and multiplayer; the latter hoping to provide an unmatched social experience with objective based five-a-side matches. You can form online parties to tackle the multiplayer missions in keeping with this social emphasis, although the conditions for achieving victory are still yet to be decided. Infinite respawning in multiplayer mode also ensures that you’re always involved in the game rather than being spat out onto the sidelines if you get yourself killed in battle.

During a visit to EA’s Guildford HQ, we got to see the game’s opening GDI mission where your task is to repair your crashed GST Command ship while staving off a hostile Nod attack. You begin with your Crawler, which Vessella plants near to the ship in order to better protect it. He then begins spawning Hunter tanks, launching a counterattack against the burrowing Nod Scorpion tanks. Before long, the Nod forces have assembled en masse with a frontline of Centurion mechs holding up energy shields to lead the attack. After flanking and decimating the enemy onslaught, the repair team is eventually deployed and the vessel is fixed in real-time.

The GDI Crawler on the left here is in good company with the huge four-legged Mastodon – the GDI army’s highest tier unit.
Every successful kill earns persistent XP across all modes, so your armoury of toys is constantly growing. Struggling with a mission? Play a few rounds of skirmish and purchase some new units.

During the mission, Vessella loses his Crawler base as the Nod headquarters appears out of thin air just mere inches away. The respawn dropship smashes into the ground and destroys every unit within the blast radius allowing you to steadily rebuild without the impossible task of having to suppress an attack in progress with no units. Visually, everything looks predictably accomplished, handling dozens of troops and vehicles on-screen at once, each animated with moving parts and pieces flying off in every direction as they accumulate damage.

Although we’re only shown a very brief demo, there’s more than enough proof to suggest that Command & Conquer 4 will indeed prove to be the epic conclusion that everyone’s hoping for. It still relatively early days development wise, but the game is already looking fantastic. We’re all in favour of the newly appointed facets of accessibility and the scaled levels of difficulty included to cater for players of all types too. Whether you’re a casual strategy fan, hardcore devotee or green horned newcomer, there’s going to be something in here that’ll make you want to give C&C 4 the Nod.