Of Tiberium And Time Chapter 1: Command & Conquer Tiberian Dawn
For the prologue discussing Dune 2, see here.
For chapter 2 discussing Red Alert, see here.
Originally released back in 1995 as simply Command & Conquer, it only later acquired the Tiberian Dawn title because of the further naming of the series with Tiberian Sun for part 2, Tiberium Wars for part 3 and Tiberium Twilight for part 4. The C&C series is definitely the biggest one Westwood Studios ever did, and it was still published by Virgin Interactive at the time of release, though Electronic Arts acquired the publishing rights in 1998.
This game was my first real PC obsession. It wasn’t my first game, but it was the first one that really drew me in and wouldn’t let me go for a long time. I became hooked on the Command & Conquer series, and got all the games (though strangely almost none of the expansion packs). While I eventually grew to enjoy the story of the franchise, both for the Red Alert and Tiberium series (maybe moreso for Tiberium), I originally just played for the gameplay itself. The missions were fun, the base-building was absorbing, the battles felt like they had a lot of strategy to them, the cut-scenes were funny and all in all it felt like a well-developed world with comprehensive rules.
Let us start as we tend to do with the plot, silly though it is. As you start up the game you get to pick between GDI and Nod, and each has its own campaign. As far as I’ve been able to tell they aren’t actually connected. They’re each their own story, and not two sides of the same story. (Though if they are connected, I would guess the Nod part happens before the GDI part.)
The basics are the same for both sides. An alien mineral dubbed Tiberium (because it was first discovered by the river Tiber) has crashed onto Earth and has started spreading alarmingly fast. It proves to be highly toxic to all life on our planet, and also capable of terraforming the area it spreads through. Additionally it is highly valuable, and Nod have quickly established profitable ways of harvesting the stuff, and though they’re not recognised as anything more than a terrorist group, they still control nearly half of the world’s Tiberium supply. GDI attempt to control the spread of Tiberium, though they’re not immune to the allure of harvesting it.
If you pick GDI, you start out as a new commander for the Global Defence Initiative, a UN-backed military force that acts across the globe. You are only ever referred to as Commander, and your job becomes to eradicate Nod bases in Europe and hunt down Kane (Joe Kucan, who is also the director for the game), their enigmatic and charismatic leader. Your superior and mission liaison is General Sheppard (Eric Martin), and with his assistance you eventually make your way through several European countries, fighting a war of propaganda, as Kane uses the media to turn popular opinion against you, as much as a more conventional war, and you finally face Kane himself at the Temple of Nod in Sarajevo, Bosnia.
If you pick Nod, you start as a newly inducted commander into the Brotherhood of Nod, a terrorist organisation that seeks to control Tiberium, and with it, the world. In the beginning you are under the command of Seth (Eric Gooch) as you wage a campaign through Africa for control of the continent against the hated GDI. A few missions in Seth is shot in the head while you’re talking, and it turns out to be Kane himself who executed him (because Seth wanted you to invade America, if I recall correctly), and he gives you the orders personally from there on out. You fight until you gain control of GDI’s Ion Cannon and set up a Temple of Nod in South Africa, and the campaign ends with you being allowed to choose the Ion Cannon’s first target out of four historical landmarks: The White House, the British House of Parliament, the Eiffel Tower and the Brandenburg Gate.
The story was nothing special, but the cut-scenes were noteworthy in how they mixed live-action acting with CGI and green-screen effects. Joe Kucan himself especially started a legend with this game. It helped provide context for what you were doing, combined with how the world map mission selection helped you keep track of how your campaign was progressing and gave you an idea of where you were, and helped immerse you in this somewhat silly world that seemed dead serious to those living in it.
The graphics were actually quite impressive for the time. You could see your little soldiers gesture and busy themselves while standing idle, the movement animations were decent, the vehicles looked distinctive and had clear movable parts and drove around in what we felt were realistic ways for the time. And they even included different death animations for soldiers depending on what killed them, although all vehicles just exploded into nothingness. The ground could even get scarred from heavy gunfire and trees could get burned by flamethrowers.
There is a fog of war mechanic in place, though unlike newer games it does not cover back up after being discovered, but rather remains revealed for the rest of the mission. And you have to construct a communications centre to even be able to see the map or minimap.
It all came with a simple and easy to understand interface, user-friendly menus, a helpful computer assistant in the pleasantly-voiced EVA who told you when construction was complete, battle was going on, and units were lost, and a brilliant musical score composed by the talented Frank Klepacki, who has kindly put up all his videogame soundtracks in a handy jukebox on his website.
While the game does indeed have a game speed slider, the default setting will probably feel very slow to any modern RTS gamers. I do tend to turn it up a notch or two, but I kinda prefer the somewhat slower pace of these older games, even though I can definitely see the appeal of the newer, faster games.
So long as you don’t have a base, the screen is very un-cluttered. There is the constant Credits counter at the top (and your amount of credits for the next mission is actually influenced by how many you had at the end of the last one, adding a certain consistency to the missions), but the sidebar only appears once you have buildings. There you have two scroll menus with images, governing buildings on the left, and units on the right. Buildings must be placed in contact with existing buildings. There is also an indicator for your power level. Low power means base defences won’t work, your map and minimap go away, and construction times are doubled. And below the minimap you have the buttons to access repair, sell and map functions, all clearly labeled.
Controls are a little different from most other RTS games I’ve played. You select with the left mouse button, but also give orders with the left mouse. Click empty ground to move, and click enemy targets to attack. Right mouse de-selects. By using the Ctrl and Alt keys you can force-attack and force-move, for instance to attack the ground where you think something might be hiding (or even attack your own forces) or order tanks or harvesters to run over infantry to squash them instantly. You could also set control groups, though it gave you no indication it was done.
You had to think about how to approach combat, especially later in the game.
Your basic machineguns do good damage vs infantry, decent vs light vehicles, poor vs buildings and heavy vehicles and can’t hit aircraft.
Flame weapons are excellent vs infantry, good vs buildings and light vehicles, poor vs heavy vehicles and can’t hit aircraft.
Grenades and rockets work well against anything on the ground, but can’t hit aircraft.
Missiles are poor vs infantry, good vs vehicles, aircraft and buildings. (The SAM site is, as its name suggest, Surface-To-Air only, and the MLRS (Multiple Launch Rocket System), despite its name, actually counts as a missile platform and can as such hit aircraft.)
Cannon weapons are poor vs infantry, good vs vehicles and buildings and can’t hit aircraft.
Lasers own everything on the ground, but can’t hit aircraft.
And then you have the engineers who can capture any enemy building you get them into.
One of things I appreciate with this game is how it makes the two sides feel very different. Buildings-wise the main differences are the defencive structures and unit-producing structures, but it gives a sense of identity to the two factions. GDI’s defencive structures focus mostly on defeating infantry and light vehicles, because Nod do not have many heavy vehicles and aircraft. Nod defences focus on anti-vehicle and anti-air, because GDI favour vehicle-heavy armies with air support. GDI units mainly rely on brute force and slow advances, using heavy tanks (and mammoth tanks) followed by missile artillery and VTOL aircraft, while Nod favour more specialised units with focused abilities, like the stealth tank, the flame tank and the mobile artillery platform. This game is what taught me to recognise the shimmering a stealth field causes, a skill I’ve put to use in many later games.
Command & Conquer: Tiberian Dawn was a worthy start to what became a long-standing series, which is among the most beloved game series to me personally. This is probably highly nostalgia-fueled, but this is still my favourite game in the series, and the Commando plays a role in that. With lines like “Keep ’em coming!” and the iconic “I’ve got a present for ya!” this little, real tough guy was a delight in his over-the-top macho antics.
Next time we’re looking at C&C: Red Alert, the start of the other half of the C&C series, and definitely the sillier half. Even though Tiberian Dawn was rather camp itself, Red Alert showed what happened when Westwood really let themselves go.
And remember. In Nod We Trust. Peace Through Unity. Kane Lives. Join The Brotherhood.
For the prologue discussing Dune 2, see here.
For chapter 2 discussing Red Alert, see here.
Posted on July 28, 2012, in Games, Retrospective and tagged chapter 1, Command & Conquer, EA, PC, RTS, serial, Tiberian Dawn, videogames, Virgin Interactive, Westwood Studios. Bookmark the permalink. 5 Comments.