Command & Conquer 4: Tiberian Twilight

After Electronic Arts successfully continued the Command & Conquer saga with its releases of Command & Conquer 3: Tiberium Wars and it’s expansion Kane’s Wrath in 2007 and 2008 respectively there was a great deal of hype and excitement when EA announced the fourth and final title of the current Tiberium saga: Command & Conquer 4: Tiberian Twilight.  EA added to the hype by promising that Tiberian Twilight would introduce new mechanics and concepts never before tried in a Real-Time Strategy game.  These would of course be appearing alongside such iconic C&C staples as live action movies, familiar faction units, and the desolate landscape of a tiberium-scarred earth.

One of the most important aspects about Tiberian Twilight is that it is a server based game requiring an active online connection to update the player’s profile.  EA utilizes what they called an RPG style approach toward player profiles.  As the player completed missions and won skirmish and multiplayer battles their profile gained experience which unlocked units and technologies of the faction that they played as.  Once their profile reached enough experience for each faction they would be able to utilize all of the units, buildings, and technologies of those factions in any single player or multiplayer game.  Each faction levels up separately, although the player need not create a different profile to play both factions.  The game can be played without an internet connection and single player games are not interrupted if the connection is somehow lost, but the player’s profile will not gain experience in offline mode.

Command & Conquer 4: Tiberian Twilight does away with the old C&C convention of a single unit providing a central building from which a static base grows to provide the player with a fully advanced and capable army.  Instead at the start of a game the player receives the option to choose  from three different crawler units.  Each crawler represents offensive, defensive, and support classes and the player will have access to different types of units and abilities depending on which class is chosen.  The chosen crawler appears in a deployment zone and serves as both a unit and factory for all of the player’s units.

Crawlers are heavily armored and as the player unlocks more technologies the crawlers gain weapons, armor, and other defensive abilities.  Like their MCV predecessors from previous C&C games crawlers must deploy to produce units which are produced almost instantly.  The support class emphasizes air units and their crawler appropriately is an air unit, but it must still deploy to produce or call down other aircraft.  If a player’s crawler is destroyed, or if the player wants to switch classes, a new crawler can be chosen and will appear in the same manner as the first one.

Each map in single player or multiplayer has several small landing pads on which green and blue tiberium crystals will routinely spawn.  These crystals can be collected by ground units and carried back to the player’s deployment zone to unlock technologies and are an important point of contention for players as the player who gathers more crystals more quickly will have the better army in the early game.  Once a player unlocks all of their units and technologies, the crystals provide small boosts to their victory point track.

Single player missions still feature traditional objectives and follow the game’s storyline in terms of the enemies and maps encountered.  In skirmish and multiplayer modes victory is determined by a point track.  The principle way to gain points is to control a majority of tiberium nodes around the map.  Nodes are structures that can be captured by stationing more units than an opponent near the node for a certain amount of time.  Battles over these nodes take place on arena style maps with AI controlled structures defending each faction’s deployment zones while the nods themselves are situated in the map’s central no-man’s land.

EA finalizes its changes to the C&C formula by introducing rock-paper-scissors style interaction between units based on their type and weapon.  For example, machine guns are effective against infantry and light vehicles while laser weapons are effective against heavy vehicles and structures.  A heavy unit with machine guns will be effective against infantry, but vulnerable to lasers, and vice versa.  Some units deal enough raw damage to be somewhat effective against any threat, but the formula holds true for the arsenals of each class and faction.

The many changes to the RTS and C&C formulas that appear in Tiberian Twilight practically make it its own game with unique style and strategies.  Sadly, this is perhaps the single greatest failure of the game and EA.  If Tiberian Twilight had been produced as its own game, distinct from the style associated with its predecessors, it may have been far more successful and well received.  Unfortunately it turns out to be another attempt by EA to project their own creative designs onto a classical franchise in an attempt to sell their own ideas on the shoulders of someone else’s giant.

The profile leveling system ensures that players cannot experience the full game until they’ve played dozens of hours of meaningless grinding.  The fact that profiles can’t be leveled in offline mode slaves the players to a continual internet connection and makes offline mode a pointless option.  Poor or even moderate latency will result in continual disconnects forcing players to reload games to continue gaining experience.  The single player missions do not restrict a player’s units and buildings and are thus not balanced for any level of technology, which can confuse and frustrate new players.

The crawler based combat is hectic and clumsy at best.  Units are thrown into a mosh-pit style battles with little chance for strategic planning and no possibility for territory control.  The rock-paper-scissors dynamic to weapons is also a disappointment.  Units have been marginalized from their distinctive roles in previous C&C titles into generic types that have little use if their intended opponent type is not present.  Combat also devolves into players trading unit types as endless counters are swapped.  Units die quickly to their hard-counters but practically ignore attacks from any other weapon type.  This leaves players who maxed out their limited population cap with the wrong types completely out of luck until they suffer enough casualties to allow rebuilding.

The faction’s distinctive styles have also disappeared.  The fast and stealthy Nod no longer clashes with the slow and steady GDI; now each faction is essentially a mirror match.  Resources are no longer present so the only limitation on a player’s production is the population cap.  This cap is far too small to control a significant portion of the map and players can find themselves kitted around by small groups of fast units stealing tiberium nodes while avoiding direct conflict.

Finally the game itself, for all its nostalgic units and references to previous C&C titles, lacks theme and flair.  It is a boring slug-fest where units without identity or history clash on generic and alien battlefields for objectives with no tangible accomplishments or definable impact on their opponents.  There is no sense of accomplishment or ownership for the player profile, only a grind to unlock units, which should rightly be available from the start, until the full tech tree is unlocked.  The fact that players have to work to experience and enjoy a game they paid for in full is itself an unforgivable sin.

Command & Conquer 4: Tiberian Twilight had a lot of ideas that, taken by themselves, could have been very successful.  Mashed together they ensure that yet another attempt by EA to match the MOBA and Starcraft environments has only succeeded in ruining another beloved gaming franchise.  If Tiberian Twilight had at least been marketed as a different game instead of trying to usurp the C&C series it might have stood a chance; but many fans were left feeling cheated and frustrated by the alien style and disorienting focus of gameplay.

Fans who want to see the Tiberium saga played out need only invest about a dozen hours into completing the campaigns and will find that purchasing the game on sale is about equal to the value; but they should avoid buying the game at EA’s full retail price.  Any other gamer hoping for a fulfilling RTS experience, or gaming experience in general, should not waste the money and time on Tiberian Twilight; a sad end that such a storied franchise did not deserve.

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