Of Tiberium And Time Chapter 3: Command and Conquer Tiberian Sun
For chapter 2 discussing Red Alert, see here.
For chapter 4 discussing Red Alert 2, see here.
In August of 1999 Command & Conquer Tiberian Sun launched. It had now been four years since the first game, and three years since Red Alert. Electronic Arts were now officially the publisher for the series, and Westwood Studios were riding high. The game and its expansion were licensed as freeware in 2010.
Tiberian Sun was a direct sequel to Tiberian Dawn based on the GDI ending. It was highly anticipated and well-received by both critics and fans, and it’s not hard to see why. Westwood clearly put a lot of work and effort into this game, which is reflected in the many small details you find, like how every civilian building has its own name, some rather amusing, like the Westwood Stock Exchange and the Port-A-Shack Deluxe.
Ever since that little teaser at the end of Tiberian Dawn I had been looking forward to this game, and I really wasn’t disappointed. Okay, I do rate it third among the Tiberium games, with Tiberium Wars taking the first spot and Tiberian Dawn taking the second, even though Sun really is better than Dawn in most every way. I just never got the same obsession for Sun. It’s still a great game though, and going back to it, even for just 4 hours, was a blast.
I had honestly forgotten just how cheesy and over-the-top the story bits of this game are. But before I got to that, there was a short intro cinematic which gave brief flashes back to the first game while EVA (Jessica Straus) was booting up, and it ended with her going “Welcome back, Commander.” Which felt good. It really did. EVA once again acts as your in-mission liaison and assistant while you’re playing GDI, but Nod actually have their own AI this time: CABAL (Milton James). I can’t recall when this is first revealed, but he is actually based on alien tech from the Scrin, who do get a role in this game as one of their crashed vessels appear early in the GDI storyline. He seems to have his own agenda, but I think he’s mostly loyal to Kane.
The whole story mostly reminds me of a sci-fi B-movie, and takes place 30 years after the first game (that would be 2030). If you start as GDI, you get to see their orbital space station and then the series’ first big-name actor: James Earl Jones, filling the role of General Solomon. Nod have begun a full-scale global attack on GDI positions, and Kane (Joe Kucan) reveals himself to be still alive after being presumed dead at the end of Tiberian Dawn. Solomon calls in Commander Michael McNeil (Michael Biehn, whom the player is this time, as opposed to a nameless commander), and McNeil gets into his spaceflight-capable carrier Kodiak. Along with his two subordinates Chandra (Kris Iyer) and Brink (Athena Massey) he sets forth on his campaign to beat back Nod forces and find out what they’re up to. This quickly leads them to discover a crashed UFO that Nod have been excavating, and things just get crazier from there.
If you start as Nod you are introduced to Nod’s own TV and propaganda channel featuring people cheerfully talking about an upcoming execution in a way that I think is supposed to give you the chills. General Hassan (Adoni Maropis) speaks out and condemns the man being executed as a GDI spy. This man is Commander Anton Slavik (Frank Zagarino), whom will be your protagonist for this campaign. With the help of his trusted lieutenant Oxanna Kristos (Monika Schnarre) he escapes and makes it to his subterranean mobile command centre Montauk. There he executes the man who sold him out and then plans to take out Hassan, who is revealed to be an actual GDI spy. After you have captured the rogue general in Cairo, Kane reveals himself before the now united Brotherhood and says the time has come to wipe out GDI and usher in the Tiberium future. You are then sent into your first conflict with GDI to re-capture the Temple at Sarajevo before GDI discover its secrets.
The world has now been infested with Tiberium for over 30 years, and it’s starting to take its toll. Certain zones are starting to become uninhabitable, and people who have had no choice but to live in the promixity of the toxic material have started mutating, along with certain animals. Several of these people have banded together and formed The Forgotten, whom are the third faction of the game, led by the mysterious Umagon (Christine Steel). You can’t actually play as them, but they feature as allies, enemies or neutral parties in several campaign missions on both sides. The special thing about mutant infantry (including a few units like the GDI Stalkers and Nod Hijackers) is that they heal instead of taking damage when standing in and travelling over Tiberium.
As they were no longer confined to ‘near-future’ restrictions, Westwood were free to go pretty much nuts with the units. Mechs, burrowing tanks, cyborgs, hover-vehicles, VTOL craft, lasers, and so on. I’m not really qualified to talk about the balance between the sides, but as before the two sides require different playstyles to compensate for their weaknesses.
GDI are this time full of the more ‘traditional’ future-tech. They rely on a force full of mechanised walkers and futuristic VTOL craft. Westwood even brought back the Carryalls from Dune 2, and included the medics from Red Alert. The main GDI infantry force consists of riflemen and disc throwers. The disc throwers are basically upgraded grenadiers, and throw explosive discs that bounce on the terrain, which can extend your reach if you find a good spot and use the Attack Ground command. You can also get jump-jet infantry, amphibian APCs, hover-tanks and several types of Orca fliers. As for the Mechs, there are three main types. The small and fast Wolverines with machine-guns, the big, slow, long-range Titans perfect for disabling base defences, and the enormous walking weapons platform the Mammoth Mk II, which is very reminiscent of an Imperial Walker. GDI are still aimed mostly at slow frontal assaults.
Nod still opts for the cheaper units to mass-produce mixed with experimental tech beyond GDI’s capabilities (or morals). The basic infantry are the riflemen and the rocket soldiers. Beyond them you have the intentionally mutated Cyborgs and their Commando versions. Vehicles are mostly fast, cheap and weak like the attack buggies and attack cycles, but they quickly get the curious Tick Tanks as well. These can work just like regular tanks, but you can also burrow them halfway into the ground to turn them into a turret. This doesn’t increase range or damage, but does make them significantly tougher to destroy. They also have APCs that burrow, and the flame tank makes a return with burrowing capability as well. Air power is still not great, though they do have fast attack bombers now based on Scrin tech. As before Nod work best with harassment tactics and flanking, especially with their new burrowing capabilities.
When it comes to their respective bases, they have been further diversified. GDI are still the more expensive, so to mitigate costs and reduce the space needed they have started on modular tech. Power plants can be upgraded with extra power turbines, upgrade centres allow for different special powers and defencive structures are now limited to a single component tower that can get different turret upgrades for different roles.
Nod don’t care for upgrades, and rather focus on specialised buildings. You can get advanced power plants later on, but they are a replacement of or addition to rather than an upgrade of the old ones. For defencive structures they have now been able to miniaturise the Obelisk technology into smaller laser turrets that work well against all ground-based units, and they still use good, old SAM sites for anti-air. The Obelisk of Light itself is also around, and works even better than before. Nod have also started experimenting with using Tiberium as a chemical weapon.
Both sides also have several ways of fencing in their bases now, and even gates that only open for friendly forces.
The mission structure is a little different this time, with the inclusion of optional missions. In certain scenarios you will get the option of a doing a smaller mission before a big one to cut supply lines, deny reinforcements or give yourself some other bonus. This could go at the expense of giving the enemy enough time to finish whatever task they’re engaged in, or giving up the element of surprise, but usually it’s just a way of further adjusting the difficulty beyond your initial choice.
When it comes to the gameplay it still feels very similar, but they have actually done quite a few upgrades this time. Something I forgot to mention in my Red Alert piece was crate pickups. There had been a few of them in Tiberian Dawn, but they really only made their proper debut in Red Alert, and they’re back in Tiberian Sun: Health, money and even veterancy crates if I’m not mistaken.
Veteran status was another thing the game introduced. It’s not as refined as in later titles, but after a certain amount of kills a unit would be awarded two bars, then later a star and gain improved battle effectiveness. The first level is just a general upgrade to stats, but the final level will provide a significant boost, and maybe even give a new weapon or ability.
Deploying units was another little experiment they did. This was really only a part of a few Nod units: the Tick Tank and Artillery, but it added another little bit of complexity to things.
And the biggest thing in my opinion was the new elevation mechanics. Terrain plays a much bigger role than in earlier titles. Wheeled vehicles move slower uphill and faster downhill, and even threaded vehicles do to a smaller degree. Buildings and units have actual in-game height now, and only certain units are able to fire over walls and buildings. Plus having the high ground is a definite advantage. Units up high gain increased weapon and view range, while units down below can’t see up over cliffs without finding a way to get up there, and suffer a range penalty versus units up there. And projectile weapons like discs and rockets can get caught on terrain. In fact the bouncing of the discs can be quite wild depending on how the terrain curves.
Civilian structures have a much bigger presence now. You might even find trucks containing crates in villages, and villages are all over. You generally can’t attack without the force-attack command on GDI, but as Nod they’re usually fair game. Certain civilian structures may also be captured by Engineers to provide you with certain bonuses or allow for reinforcements.
Speaking of Engineers, they have been returned to their Tiberian Dawn efficiency of always capturing a building no matter its state of repair, and they now also have the ability to fix bridges, so long as the bridge has a repair hut by it. See, most bridges in the game can be brought down with enough firepower, making warfare on bridges a highly risky proposition.
The AI has gotten a few upgrades as well. It still doesn’t really seem to understand flanking unless it’s scripted, but it will now target-fire your weakest units, focus-fire on a single unit to bring it down (some of the time at least), roll out to defend harvesters under attack, and even try to lure you into base defences as your units (if standing idle) will pursue enemies that attack them. There is also the tendency, at least on certain missions, to auto-sell all their buildings if you capture or destroy all their production structures. It helps things from dragging out too long, but for someone like me who likes capturing entire bases intact it can get a little annoying, especially since certain sold structures will deposit riflemen. Pathfinding is still an issue though, so troops can end up getting separated and you have to work overtime to get them to stick together and not get killed by accidentally wandering into the line of fire of a turret or across hazardous terrain.
And I’m really happy they finally added the ability to hold down shift and click units to add or remove them to your current group, and even making it work with control groups. The lack of that made going back to Tiberian Dawn and Red Alert feel rather clunky.
The musical score is still done by good, old Frank Klepacki and this time he even got the assistance of Jarrid Mendelson. The music feels fittingly futuristic, and they worked to make sure each piece fit the mission it was paired with. I can’t really say any of the tracks stood out as truly memorable this time, but they certainly added to the ambiance.
There’s really not that much to say about the graphics. They work. Every unit is easily distinguishable, the buildings are easy to recognise, the animations look nice. It all has a certain cartoony feel to it. Infantry still die differently depending on what killed them, and vehicles now explode into a cloud of flaming debris when destroyed. They also changed the camera angle to slightly to the side instead of straight down as the two previous games. It’s a choice they’ve stuck with since, and it does add a certain style to the game.
In spite of any issues that look silly with the benefit of hindsight, I quite enjoyed going back to Tiberian Sun. It’s a title that holds up well, and the work and effort they put into it is still highly visible to this day. In fact, I think I’m going to go and play some more of this before moving onto the next title.
I feel like I’ve overlooked things here, but I’m going to conclude my look back at Tiberian Sun there. Even though Renegade is the next title they launched, I am going to look at Red Alert 2 next time and save the FPS for a bonus chapter. Until then: Kane lives! Peace through power!
For chapter 2 discussing Red Alert, see here.
For chapter 4 discussing Red Alert 2, see here.
Posted on August 13, 2012, in Games, Retrospective and tagged analysis, Chapter 3, Command And Conquer, EA, Of Tiberium And Time, PC, RTS, serial, Tiberian Sun, videogames, Westwood Studios. Bookmark the permalink. 5 Comments.