It’s been a dozen years since the Global Defense Initiative and The Brotherhood of NOD started battling for control of the world, and the forces of evil still won’t go down. Armed with a shiny head and an all black wardrobe - that screams "I'm the bad guy" - the malevolent psychopath Kane is on the rise again. But the Scrin, a new alien faction, threatens both sides with metal bugs of death.
That’s Command & Conquer 3: Tiberium Wars' story in a nutshell. For all the hype about the geektastic cast for the campaign movies (Michael Ironside, Tricia Helfer, Billy Dee Williams, etc.) the epic tale still boils down to mission after mission where you run around doing what you are told. It's never clear if the hammy acting is because the esteemed players are taking the material too seriously or not seriously enough. No matter; if you love cheesy full motion videos, this story is for you.
Above: He won't be selling the smooth taste of Colt 45, but Billy Dee strikes back as GDI Director, Redmond Boyle
It's a good thing that the underlying game is much better than the hokey script these guys are reading from. The franchise has always carved its own path through the real time strategy world, and there is never any doubt that this is a C&C game.
Right off the bat, you'll notice how fast the game plays. Even at the default setting, there is little time for planning what you will build next or in which direction you will expand. Get a build order memorized and go, go, go; this is one of the most frantic real time-strategies in recent years.
This is good, in a way, since it means you’ll get to the action quickly. The three factions (terroristic NOD, vanilla GDI and extra-planetary Scrin) are similar enough to make it easy to move from playing one to the next, but different enough to offer something new. The units and buildings on each side serve similar functions, but every now and then one will have a special power that’ll make you stop and go, "Huh. So that's what that guy does." Hang-gliding stealth commandos, mind controlling alien beasties, giant cannons on legs; each of these units has a counter and a counterpart in the enemy camp.
In many ways, Command & Conquer 3 is defiantly old-fashioned. Sure, there are attempts to keep up with the Joneses by piling on superpowers - over a half dozen for each faction - and micromanaging of specialty units. But this is a game about marshalling the right combo of forces to match whatever is waiting on the other side of the map and little else. Territorial control is crucial, from seizing rich Tiberium mines to occupying and clearing urban areas. Once someone gains the upper hand in the economic arena, it can be very difficult to unseat them as the advantage snowballs and the superweapons are brought online. Defenses can be very powerful in numbers, but skirmishes emphasize rushing out light infantry, engineers and harvesters until you have a lead you can exploit.
Once you get into the rhythm of the game, though, you remember why this series is so popular. It's not the mythology or the unit design or the videos as much as it is the kill-or-be-killed simplicity of it all. There are no attempts to educate you, comment on world events or mimic anything beyond a science fiction movie, and a silly one at that. There are many more original real-time strategies out there, but few that scream "pick up and play me" as loudly as Tiberium Wars. Its back to the basics approach to the genre won’t win any prizes for innovation, but it should prove to be a fan favorite anyway.