Command & Conquer 3: Tiberium Wars Review (Xbox360)

Replacing the mouse and keyboard with a joy pad has yet to yield the embarrassment of riches that developers regularly proclaim on the back of a game box, and this was always going to be the stumbling block of Command & Conquer 3. As it turns out, my only real disappointment was that Michael Ironside didn’t blow up any heads. The game was good though!

Your boys ain’t paid to think, so make sure they don’t wander blindly (and repeatedly) into the poisonous Tiberium fields
The cut scenes are so bad they’re great! Above, Michael Ironside scans his hyper-foxy colleague, Grace Park. 10 out of 10 for eye candy!

Another Command & Conquer sequel was always going to have to stand up to strict and unforgiving scrutiny; not least of all when it was released for the Xbox 360. Not only are the stalwart RTS fans spoiled rotten these last few years, demanding only the finest battle simulators soaked to the skin with a plethora of brand new and fully expected features, but C&C itself has a substantial sub-league of ardent devotees who’ve already seen some pretty damn fine gaming in the GDI vs Nod arena. Disappoint them, and it could be a damaging false start for this latest offering.

Topping off the difficulties faced by Electronic Arts’ development team is the inevitable comparisons the Microsoft console was going to be - perhaps somewhat unfairly (although there’s no “fair” or “unfair” when it comes to war, I’m sure you’ll agree) - subjected to. And I’m not one to break with tradition, so let’s begin with just such an unreasonable comparison.

First and foremost is the control system. Replacing the single-handed scalpel precision of a mouse with a clumsy analogue stick is bad. So is replacing the incredibly familiar layout of 87 keyboard buttons (yes, I counted them) with four shoulder buttons and a disused D-pad. But, until someone has the apparently distasteful brainwave of a wireless keyboard and mouse for the Xbox 360 (which would solve these, and many other, problems whilst simultaneously opening up a whole new aspect of Xbox Live), we’re stuck with it. Clearly, however, EA have gone to great lengths with Tiberium Wars to vault that particularly irksome hurdle.

Pressing and holding certain buttons extends a menu system not unlike those at the top of the screen in Windows, briefly assigning the majority of the joy pad functions to that particular selection list. Many of the vital battlefield functions are attributed to these menus, and once the wide selection of possibilities begin to sink in, control of an otherwise listless army begins to filter through.

While the core elements of the PC and Xbox 360 versions look and play almost identically (there have been rumours that the PC version looks far superior, and while that may be true for nitrogen cooled gaming super-computers, it looked the same on my reasonably priced old desktop warhorse), the emphasis has shifted to suit the machine in question. The Xbox game has reallocated its attention toward action, rather than world building or strategy, though it certainly can’t be accused of being a ham-fisted transition. Playing to the strengths of the system is a sign of a considered development and is definitely a plus point for the console based game.

While the visuals are terrific throughout, pay special attention to the fire and explosions (as shown here). They’re wonderfully real and add a dangerous atmosphere that really turns up the heat
Cut scenes a-plenty, and while I wanted to be aggravated by them, the truth is they add continuity and entertainment that drastically improve the ordinary gameplay

Normally, I balk (openly) at FMV sequences in my games. For a few wonderful minutes, when the Sega CD was released and Windows 95 was still putting its boots on, these were impressive and awe-inspiring. There really is no excuse in this day and age to cheat the shortcomings of a game engine by crow-barring a blocky, attribute ridden video between levels. That was until Grace Park took the front row, of course.

C&C3 has to be applauded in the most unlikely of circumstances. The FMV of Tiberium Wars will likely be the aspect for which it’s best remembered. Featuring the auspicious talents of, among others, Tricia Helfer, Michael Ironside, Billy Dee Williams (Lando!) and the delectable Grace Park - all acting their heads off in superb camp sci-fi tradition - makes the cut-scenes every bit as entertaining as the battles. While all give their best performances, the excessive green-screen effects, camera staring, cheese ball set pieces and (wonderfully) amateurish direction lend C&C3 the kind of impassive entertainment value usually reserved for late night b-movies, and seldom – if ever – seen in a videogame. Plus, did I mention Grace Park’s in it? She can’t half make a conservative army uniform look slinky. And not wanting to cast a dark cloud of sexism over this review or the game in general, but... PHOOOOAAW!!

Er, anyway. Down to battle. Controlling the field (Korean women are the hottest in the world if you ask me) is no simple task, but despite the heights of complicated dexterity required to manipulate the joy pad to full effect (Tricia Helfer’s in it too, but I’d be thinking of Grace, and she’d know it), there’s little scope to see how it could have been handled better. An adjustable, “magnetic” cursor makes up for some of the lost control of an active mouse, though once battles become more populated and fraught it’s difficult to know whether this is a help or hindrance. Selecting the often miniscule characters (engineers, who stand around on their own, are often very difficult to pinpoint amid the chaos) quickly becomes irksome, and often enough I found myself resorting to the “select everything on screen” function and throwing strategy to the wind in favour of brute force. An ultimately unsatisfying tactic that does nothing for longevity (fortunately, the promise of a private audience with Boomer kept me playing. She’s hot. Oh yes.).

A fairly lengthy, yet tolerable tutorial followed by a couple of test missions gets player accustomed to the extensive and elaborate controls, while figuring out the often exclusive methods for winning each level falls to repetition and experience. The game A.I. is ruthless and efficient, without the problems faced by players attempting to build, deploy, defend and attack all at once. As previously stated, the emphasis is on action, and to that end building, training and researching have all been made accessible without the need to visit the actual facility, armoury, compound or building where the action is carried out. While many will appreciate this shortcut, it does detract somewhat from the usual RTS mayhem of dashing around the screen equipping and ordering, and could leave fans of the genre considering Tiberium Wars to be somewhat “dumbed-down”.

Being based upon the engine at the core of the acclaimed Battle For Middle Earth II, the visuals, physics and mechanics are quite superb. Details are present in abundance, while the heat of a huge battle has rarely been felt so acutely. Missiles stream and explosions light up the false night caused by smoke and debris, while lasers sever mechanical limbs and troops swarm like killer wasps. An extra hand would be useful for that damned joy pad, though a dedicated warmonger will find themselves directing the conflicts like a seasoned conductor at a philharmonic concert.

Multiplayer is very similar to single player action, though humanising the opponent raises the enjoyment factor considerably; if only for the sake of knowing there’s someone else struggling with a joy pad at the same time! Voice and the Vision camera are fully supported during Live play, including the option to speak only to specific players – a nice feature which allows for allegiances to rise and fall during the heat of battle.

The enemy designs are a bit too War of the Worlds for my tastes, but the massive diversity makes it feel as though you really are up against an entire race
Just in case you weren’t aware, Grace Park makes regular appearances in this game. If you aren’t in love with her, you’re wrong

When it comes down to it, Command & Conquer: Tiberium Wars is not a terrific RTS, but it does take into account one feature that many such games feel is contrary to this type of gameplay; light entertainment. In that respect, this game is a complete success, hampered only by an inadequate control system (though it’s hard to blame the developers for a natural and understandable shortcoming of the system) and lightened all the more by the tacky acting and hot babes.

Top Game Moment:
Remarkably, some of the most enjoyable parts of C&C3 were, for me, the cut-scenes between battles. The sheer entertainment value of these FMV gems is quite unheard of in a game, and deserves special recognition. Plus, dude – Grace Park!

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