The inevitable rising of the (tiberian) sun is the only thing more reliable than the release of a C&C expansion, and Kane’s Wrath gives us the basics we expect. Namely, new units and a continuation of the storyline with an extended campaign. Though Kane’s Wrath is a mite more risky than expected.
While it flaunts a fan-pleasing timeline with 13 new Nod missions, it also adds the fantastic Global Conquest mode - world map Risk-style gameplay that you’ll recognise from Empire Earth III and Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War - Dark Crusade, but which C&C has taken to new levels of balance and engagement.
We’ll delve deeper into this world domination mode, in which armies stage skirmishes on a continental level, later. First, we need to discuss the fact that for all but the hardest of hardcore C&C players, the campaign missions of Kane’s Wrath are ball-kickingly difficult. We’ve barely slept since we played them, as our dreams are plagued with replays of their various tactical injustices.
The Nod campaign kicks off with the smooth-headed maestro of hyperbole striding into an abandoned Nod command centre, resplendent in a delightful terminator hat and eye-patch ensemble. Aside from the inevitable armies soon to be at your disposal, you’re the murderous Messiah’s only trusted aide. No pressure then.
Your first task is to start a revolution within downtrodden Rio de Janeiro, and this you’ll achieve by capturing radio stations and undermining the GDI presence by destroying their buildings. To start this is all par for the course - a casual stroll through the streets, knocking off a few GDI soldiers, until you’re attacked by a Nod splinter group. At which point the entire situation goes to shit. What unfolds defines the campaign - endless, merciless waves of units that seem to know just where to hit you, and at exactly what time. On our first go we were obliterated, because the sheer number of units that dropped onus at once was unspeakably vast, and could only be planned for with prior knowledge.
This trial-and-error approach seems vital to progress, forcing you to strategise around forthcoming surprise attacks. For example, a mission against The Black Hand, a Nod splinter group, drops GDI units on you from the east with no warning and no explanation. This is impossibly frustrating, and in a lot of missions you’ll spend most of your time desperately trying to keep your base in one piece long enough to get the lay of the land and launch a huge tank rush to the other side of the map.
While it’s laced with plenty of C&C lore, there are times when the stupidity of the challenge makes the campaign feel somewhat fan-made, with little consideration for balance or giving you time to prepare. What it comes down to is repetitive turtling, with the occasional movement of a surveyor to set up an outpost closer to your target - if only so you can build a few more refineries to fund the gigantic force required to do the job.
This would be intolerable if it weren’t for the remarkably engaging story, with the hilariously camp overacting that makes C&C what it is. The Tiberian Sun and Firestorm storylines are interwoven, along with a continuation of Tiberium Wars’ storyline, in a fascinating way. Just fascinating enough, in fact, to make it worth wrestling with the Herculean tasks of the campaign missions to reach the next cutscene. Some people will lack the patience or mettle to conquer them, which is a shame as they’ll be missing out.
The missions are bearable and beatable once you get used to the continuous stress and paranoia of having to defend your bases constantly, and once you’ve attuned yourself to the sometimes predictable AI (they won’t walk over mines, they kill your harvesters, etc.), you can actually hurtle through the missions a bit more quickly. Just don’t expect any of the quick fix, small-scale unit battles of C&C3 - this is a war of scraping attrition that will force you to use every damn dirty trick in the book.