Units are in abundant supply - a few are pretty cool, like the giant UFO-ish Nod gunships. But unlike nearly every other RTS, you can’t jump into a skirmish against AI and immediately play with all of your toys, because most of them must be laboriously unlocked with experience points, which are logged on EA’s servers. I get what they’re going for here - the same type of reward system you see in Battlefield 2 or Modern Warfare 2 that unlocks new weapons the more you play - but to hell with that. I want to understand the units available to me and my enemies before I see them in battle, and I don’t want to get stomped by a guy online who’s unlocked GDI’s AT-AT-alike Mastodon walker before me.
Only one capture-point-based mode is available on the dozen multiplayer maps, all of which support up to five-on-five games. But these maps are too small for a fracas of that size to be anything less than a whirling explosion cyclone. Two-on-two or three-on-three matches are just about right for an enjoyable pace.
My favorite multiplayer trick is using the Tiberium pickups as bombs instead of redeeming them for upgrade points. A unit can carry the glowing green chunk into combat and detonate it, causing a Tiberium storm that does massive damage to anything caught inside its radius.
One C&C tradition that remains intact is the signature live-action cutscene briefings. C&C4 takes a slightly different approach - gone are the hammed-up and stunt-casted performances and catsuit-wrapped Battestar Galactica babes. Although it’s a darker, more serious story, it’s not what I’d call great storytelling, and doesn’t reveal the details about Kane’s apparent immortality that we were promised. But thematically, it does do some interesting things that turn the Nod/GDI conflict on its head.
As a single-player experience, C&C4 is a bust. The single branching campaign (the Nod/GDI choice happens a few missions in) is fairly typical, but there are several points where it’s frustratingly unbalanced. I ran up against a Nod Crawler that pumped out units faster than I could kill them. In another mission, a massive GDI gunship flew in mindless circles around the map, its huge cannons obliterating units in one shot. In both cases I eventually won, but only by tediously whittling the target down with a constant stream of suicidal units. Not exactly fun.
When you call in co-op reinforcements by seamlessly inviting another player into your game, the action becomes better balanced, faster-paced (since two Crawlers build units twice as fast as one) and more tactically interesting thanks to the combined options of two classes. It’s still second-fiddle to the competitive multiplayer action, but it’s a good place to start out and learn how the Crawler works - plus you rack up some experience points to unlock some decent units before going into the more interesting multiplayer fray.
A nasty catch to playing C&C4 is having to log into EA’s servers before launching the game, even for single-player. Considering that EA recently shut down servers for the less than two-year-old Mercenaries 2, I’m not enthusiastic about buying a product that depends on active servers to play. The multiplayer battles are good enough fun once you’ve ranked up, but a potentially short-lived service is a dagger dangling over our heads.
PC Gamer scores games on a percentage scale, which is rounded to the closest whole number to determine the GamesRadar score.
PCG Final Verdict: 73%
Mar 16, 2010