After the dissolution of Westwood Studios in 2003 the Real Time Strategy market experienced a general stagnation in productivity. Several companies continued to produce stand alone RTS titles and some spinoffs but suffered from a lack of stylistic direction as they attempted to formulate new templates of RTS gameplay separate from the Blizzard and Westwood formats. In this period gamers were introduced to a lot of different RTS mechanics and interfaces; yet none of them were able to compare with the genre setting giants of old until Electronic Arts introduced a new title in the Command & Conquer series: Command and Conquer 3: Tiberium Wars.
Command & Conquer 3 revived the long absent Command & Conquer series; bringing with it the familiar standards of the Westwood RTS format such as a central Construction Yard, refinery resource processing, and flashy explosive late game battles. Most skirmish battles, multi-player battles, and single player missions start the player off with little more than a construction yard from which the player must construct a base and army in order to crush their opponents. Base and army building follow the standard Westwood format with higher tier buildings unlocking more advanced units and abilities. Power plants are required in increasing numbers to maintain a growing base and base defenses are divided by their effectiveness against different unit types.
The series’ principle factions, GDI and Nod, return to continue their struggle over the eponymous resource tiberium and their differing views on its terramorphic properties. The game’s storyline picks up not long after the series’ previous title Command & Conquer Tiberian Sun and its expansion Firestorm. Reminiscent of previous C&C games players begin the campaign with a limited tech tree; benefiting from more units and abilities as the campaign progresses. Missions include the old RTS fares like escort missions, base defense, and territory control. Yet unlike older RTS titles Command & Conquer 3 spices up these familiar missions with more appropriate strategies and units; often taking the unique tactical situation of each mission as a chance to introduce the player to a new unit type. Stealth missions will utilize Snipers teams and Juggernaut artillery or Commandos and Stealth Tanks. A feature not unheard of but seriously underused in previous RTS games.
Support powers, available on the left hand side of the screen as the buildings required for them are built, make an appearance in the mainline C&C series for the first time. These powers require a certain amount of cash to be used and must recharge between uses; they also require a line of sight on their target. Some powers are more useful in a multiplayer setting against human players and, sadly, many rapidly become obsolete as the tech tree is unlocked. However many can be used to game changing effect and overall the support powers should be actively utilized; particularly in the single player campaign.
The single player campaign is undoubtedly C&C 3’s strongest feature. Following the vein established by earlier Westwood games the campaign for both factions follows a series of story-driven missions where the player completes a series of objectives, often gradually unlocked as the player progresses through the mission. New units and structures are made available each mission until the faction’s full arsenal is unlocked. The enemies each faction faces vary as the missions go by and some missions will involve the player facing off against two enemies. Unlike older titles which feature supposed ‘bitter enemies’ ignoring their differences to attack the player; in C&C 3 three way battles remain a constantly fluctuating contest between all three factions (some brief ceasefires do appear).
The Scrin, a new playable race that EA has introduced to the Tiberium series of C&C games, is an alien race based off of hints and plot elements from earlier titles in the Tiberium series. The Scrin are very dependent on tiberium and many of their strategies revolve around it; they also feature more heavily specialized units and a greater reliance on aircraft than other factions. Although their short, unlockable campaign provides only a brief glimpse at their faction history and story it still provides challenging missions and entertaining cinematics (all CGI however).
Live action cut scenes and cinematics reappear with renewed visual splendor. Each mission is interspersed with a live action briefing prefacing the situation the player will face in the upcoming mission and its relevance to the faction’s overall goal. The acting and dialogue could certainly be called campy but is far more enjoyable as the characters struggle with the increasingly complex situations the game’s plot thrusts them into. For what could be the first time in RTS history the characters actually sympathize with the player when real time situations turn grim. Settings come alive with numerous extras and improved background visuals. The only thing sadly missing are the old Westwood endgame videos; sadly few if any in-game units are seen in CGI animation. In a masterful move by EA the story of C&C 3 is concise enough that players need not have played the older C&C games to follow the story (although their enjoyment of the cutscenes is enhanced by familiarity with the series).
Following on the heels of EA’s last C&C title, Command & Conquer: Generals, C&C 3 features a very vivid display with heat waves, sonic pulses, and dust clouds all beautifully rendered alongside vibrant explosions and flying wreckage. While beautiful this does exact a heavy toll on graphics utilities and PCs with up to date graphics cards and drivers are recommended for anything beyond the barest visual experience when running C&C 3.
Skirmish mode varies little from previous C&C titles. Map options ranging from 2 to 8 players are available and players can set the amount of starting cash they begin with as well as special options like bonus crates and allowing superweapons. Although playing with a faction’s full tech tree is inevitably entertaining the game’s AI can be predictable and varies widely in its skill between difficulty levels making for a poor learning curve. EA mitigates this somewhat by allowing players to select archetypes for the AI personality such as Rusher or Turtler. Games also tend to be fast paced with the winner or loser often decided within the first ten minutes. While this is preferable for many gamers it does deprive anyone wishing to explore and enjoy a faction’s tech tree of more than a few opportunities to test strategies and units.
Multiplayer in C&C 3 is smooth and consistent. Sadly it suffers from the same flaws as the skirmish mode, namely predictable AI and a poor learning curve. However the large number of map options and quick gameplay fare far better in a multiplayer setting and combine with easy multiplayer setup to allow a large number of diverse games to be played in short order.
Newer gamers, particularly those familiar with RTS games but not with older C&C titles, might find C&C 3’s rehash of Westwood’s style dated and perhaps even simplistic. Fans of the C&C series will love this game and although EA’s touch has made subtle changes to the old Westwood formula the favorite elements of C&C, particularly its entertaining and immersive single player experience, return in new and vibrant glory. Command & Conquer 3 brings back all that was good about old school RTS gaming. Newer gamers will also enjoy C&C 3’s rich single player campaign. Anyone who is a fan of the RTS genre should find this title a refreshing rework of the old RTS giants and C&C 3 by far is the best RTS game to be produced in the late 2000s.