Review by dragondance

Reviewed: 04/09/07 | Updated: 08/28/07

EA blew it

Just like your first girlfriend, the first game that you truly enjoy retains a special place in your imagination. Usually no other game inspires the same glorious feeling, but some come close. For me, it all started with the now legendary Command and Conquer, a now widely recognized as the forerunner of modern RTS games.
Twelve years have passed since the creation of that game, and I am glad to report that Command and Conquer 3: Tiberium Wars, the latest installment in the series still feels like the original Command and Conquer- with enhanced graphics, a third faction and other gizmos. Still, these don't manage to revolutionize Real Time Strategy as much as the original and doesn't quite captivate. Perhaps the original was so innovative and pure genius that it could never be replicated. Or maybe the innovative skills of the developers have declined. I'm thinking it's a bit of both.
Although the single player still has some of the old magic that made the series so great, online play has proven to be a hideous mess that would make most EA fans and virtually all casual gamers want to stay far, far away.

After the military defeat of the Brotherhood of Nod by the Global Defense Initiative seventeen years ago, there has been relatively little active military conflict. However, the situation worldwide did not improve. The mysterious substance known as Tiberium continued to ravage large areas of the globe. Thirty percent of the world is now classified as "red zones", unable to support life as we know it. Fifty percent are yellow zones, where Tiberium infestation is widespread but contains most of the world's population- and is the powerbase of support for the Nod. Through hate-mongering of the GDI, much of the world sees the Nod as the only hops for humanity. In 2047, the Nod suddenly launched a missile at the primary GDI command center, killing the top brass of the GDI and thrusting the gamer into Command and Conquer 3.
A good story? Not really. The best storylines are so realistic that it immerses the player into every tantalizing story and unexpected twist. The GDI had a full seventeen years to neutralize the Tiberium threat. Who could believe that they would sit back and watch Tiberium proliferate, especially if it was such a rich, valuable resource that could be processed into everything from fuel to tank armor? Add this on top of the mediocre acting, and you have just an ordinary run-of-the-mill story that is interesting but not enthralling. If they made a few minor changes, the story would be that much better.

Gameplay- Single Player:7/10
After twelve years, the game has remained essentially unchanged. The player harvests resources and uses it to build an economy that can support the production of troops and tanks to defeat the enemy. Sure, the new units are cool, and the addition of a third faction known as the Scrin is a positive, but there has been minimal change overall. The only new experience for the player is to get accustomed to the new units and acquire a strong sense of how to use them on the battlefield.

Unfortunately, many of the units are still not very specialized. For example, even though it is made somewhat weaker, the iconic unit of the series- the Mammoth tank- can still be used to destroy almost everything. This lack of diversity means that the game requires basically the same build pattern every time, which reduces the replay value. However, there is still some diversity. Since you can't accurately predict what the enemy might do- you have no idea of the combination of units he'll throw at you, you'll be at the edge of your seat before most battles. That is, unless if you scout well and predict exactly what the enemy has. But this requires resources and time, draining resources from building an army, so you have to balance various aspects of your economy and military.

See how many ways you can play the game?

Another change is that you are given ways to manage your army better. Before, you had to manage every single infantry, resulting in a battle you can't fully control. Now, you can place your units in different stances so that they can automatically react in some way to an enemy attack. For example, you can now order a unit to stay put no matter what even if it is under attack or make it attack everything in sight and chase enemy units down.

The overall feeling when playing this game in single player mode is initial moderate enjoyment. There's nothing that fascinates, and after playing a few hours, it begins to get monotonous. Another problem is that the three factions are not balanced. Scrin and GDI are noticeably better than Nod. Although this doesn’t affect gameplay that much in single player, it does greatly reduce the gameplay value of multiplayer.

Gameplay- Multiplayer:2/10
Although every RTS game will start out with some glitches and imbalances, this game is so much more severely glitched and imbalanced than similar games that you’ll cry after playing more than a few games. In the first patch, Nod scorpion tank rush was an omnipotent strategy that dulled the online gaming experience to the point of laughability. As a result, EA released a patch that completely turned the tables on Nod. No late game Nod unit combination can come close to destroying the top tier Scrin or GDI units, and with the nerfing of the early units, Nod stands no real chance in early game either.

The battlefield maps are generally extremely symmetrical- which make games less interesting, but even so, some maps still significantly favor one faction over another. Perhaps the most notorious map is Tournament Tower. With no wide corridors to allow a player to move a large ground force, Scrin is at an indomitable advantage because their units are small for the amount of power that pack and they have a very powerful air force that don’t have to navigate through all the tight choke points.

This also makes you notice that Scrin has by far the best air force equipped with two types of aircraft that have no good counters, except mass rocket soldiers. Unfortunately, Scrin also have some extremely good special abilities- which can be used anywhere on the battlefield at any time provided the player has enough money. Perhaps the most dangerous of those abilities is the Buzzer swarm. Buzzers are an unusual type of infantry exclusively on the Scrin side that kills any enemy infantry it comes into contact with instantly. The only counter against buzzers is to kill them before they reach your infantry or not use infantry at all. But the Buzzer Swarm ability allows the Scrin to unleash many buzzers instantly anywhere- but usually right on top of your infantry that eats them with such ease you’ll be punished for even thinking about building infantry. Compare this to the air drop for GDI or Nod that takes a lot of time, sends in four aircraft that can be easily shot down, and gives you two riflemen and rocket squads that won’t really turn a battle to your favor.

Finally, add in the numerous crashes and disconnects, this game will quickly become an exercise in anger management. EA has responded by providing lackluster support and released a few half-baked patches that don’t alleviate the problem.

Every time, just when you’re about to use the disc as a frisbee, you’ll be even more dumbfounded by EA’s despicable decision making skills. In the new patch EA made disconnects count against both players if one disconnects. For those who don’t play a lot online, disconnects usually happen when one player is losing- so he bails out by turning off his computer and not ruin his record. To punish both players the same when one disconnects is maddeningly mind boggling. In the past three online games, right before I won, the opponent disconnected. Now, my record reflects that black mark. There are no other online games I can think of that didn’t give a loss to a disconnector or gave a win to the victim- let alone give a disconnect to the person who didn’t disconnect. In most games, disconnectors get a loss AND a disconnect and the rightful winner gets a win. After all, running away from a game by disconnecting is quite simply the most shameful way to surrender.
EA had a lot of time to fix the problems, but they must have just sat back and watch it all go down in flames.

The graphics suit the game perfectly. Every structure and unit looks fairly authentic and convincing. The shadows and light/darkness effects make them even more realistic-looking. Explosion and attacking animations are some of the best I have seen in any game. Of special note is how realistic the urban landscape seem. A map with the White House in the scenario will capture the grandeur of that building. Depictions of cities reflect their flavor and special characteristics. Natural landscapes are not as well made, but still contain some eye candy.
The best aspect of the graphics is that it is completely compatible with the gameplay. The gamer is supposed to believe that he is fighting in a future world, and the graphics sure make it seem that way.

Sound Effects: 10/10
Unit sound effects and their voices are easily the best in any Real Time Strategy game made so far. You can almost feel the enthusiasm of the Nod Fanatics after listing to him asking you for orders. The music never gets boring, and imparts a nice sensation on the gamer making him play with more gusto.

Value: 6/10
The game has a medium amount of replay value. There are a lot of new units and strategies to try out, but nothing that will keep you addicted for more than a few weeks in single player mode. The multiplayer has proven itself to be virtually unplayable, and it doesn't look like anything will change anytime soon. It's too bad that one of the standard features in other RTS games- good multiplayer gameplay- is absent in C&C3.

Tilt: 8/10
Command and Conquer 3: Tiberium Wars had great potential, but EA turned an about-face to it just when the gamers needed support the most. A primary staple of RTS games now is multiplayer, so it is fair game to include that score when calculating this review.

Overall rating excluding multi-player: 7.5/10

Rating:   3.0 - Fair

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