Of Tiberium And Time Chapter 6: Command & Conquer 3: Tiberium Wars
For chapter 5 discussing Generals, see here.
For chapter 7 discussing Red Alert 3, see here.
In the fair year of 2007 the next game bearing the Command & Conquer title hit the store shelves. Tiberium Wars was still under the same studio as Generals, though they had now changed their name to EA Los Angeles.
Tiberium Wars returned us to the conflict between GDI and Nod, and is possibly the largest investment EA ever put into a C&C game considering the product they delivered, except perhaps for Red Alert 3. The story was greater, the actors were more known (and overall better), the units were inventive, the missions were varied and the AI was cleverer. They even released an XBox 360 version which I hear wasn’t bad.
That is not to say everything was perfect. While I rate it my favourite of the series because of its story, story structure, aesthetics and cool units; I do think it has some issues regarding balance and gameplay. More on that later.
I still remember my anticipation of this game. I pre-ordered the Kane edition, got the preview DVD, got my In Nod We Trust T-shirt (which I’ve managed to keep in reasonable shape) and finally got the game itself. I spent a lot of time working my way through the campaigns afterwards and had an absolute blast with it. The live-action movies were back with better actors than ever which really helped set the scene and bring me into the world.
Nod have again been laying low for a while, and most of GDI are taking it easy. The former country borders no longer really apply, and the world is divided into blue zones largely free of Tiberium that hold about 20% of the world’s population that GDI rule over, yellow zones with a high Tiberium infestation that hold the rest which is effectively Nod territory, and red zones that are uninhabitable because they’re absolutely loaded with Tiberium that exists in new advanced states. Nod are simply waiting for their time to strike and start the third Tiberium war.
That time arrives when every major official within GDI are up on the Philadelphia space station for a conference. Nod performs a surgical strike towards the GDI A-SAT defence command centre which for some stupid reason (both GDI and Nod point out how stupid it is, amusingly enough) is located on the ground. After taking out the command centre, they launch a space-capable nuclear missile straight into the station, which launches Act I for both sides.
See, this time the stories for the campaigns are not separate. Everything that happens in one, happens in another, even if we don’t get to see everything from both sides. Often it’s just mentioned and referred to in ways you might not catch if you haven’t played them all. And the reason I say ‘all’ and not ‘both’ is because for the first time in a Tiberium game there is a third campaign.
See, after the third act an event happens that results in aliens invading the planet. And after you complete both the GDI and Nod campaigns a campaign for the alien race Scrin unlocks. It’s naturally shorter than the other two, but even so provides some fascinating insight into the aliens and the nature/origin of Tiberium itself. It even makes some tantalising hints about Kane, who still looks about as young as he did in Tiberian Dawn and Red Alert 1.
There is also a GDI mission in Munich that seems to so perfectly encapsulate the utter terror and chaos I imagine would happen during an alien invasion that it has remained fresh in my mind ever since I first played it.
And you get to see such recognisable stars as Michael Ironside (General Jack Granger), Billy Dee Williams (Director Redmond Boyle), Jennifer Morrison (Intelligence Officer Kirce James), Tricia Helfer (General Killian Qatar), Josh Holloway (Intelligence Officer Ajay) and of course Joe Kucan himself returns as Kane.
I would not be surprised if the idea of an interweaving story was one they lifted from Starcraft/Warcraft 3, even if the execution is different. Another thing they also lifted from there is the reversed mouse controls. At launch your only option was to get used to suddenly giving orders with the right mouse button, though an option for Classic C&C controls was patched in later. Force-move is now bound to G, which I guess means the Guard Unit command is out, though force-fire is still the same.
More changes made: They returned to GUI to something more resembling what you had in Red Alert 2 than Generals, while still retaining the option to set up multiple production and construction queues. You no longer train infantry by the singles (except for engineers and commandos), but rather as squads, though each individual soldier can still get killed. Each side has their own special commando and harvester. They’ve added intelligence databases for each side where you can unlock and read entries throughout the campaign. Upgrades that change both the look and function/efficiency of units are in the game. Most vehicles can now fire efficiently while moving. And missions have optional objectives, which often reward database entries.
The three sides have their separate strengths and weaknesses. GDI once again focus on raw power and solid tech. Their units and defencive structures are more expensive, but also generally stronger. They focus on holding their ground and steadily advancing across the map with tanks and air support, while their infantry is often given increased mobility with stuff like jet packs and APCs. In return they can’t really respond quickly to anything as most of their units are pretty slow.
Nod once again rely on hordes of cheap infantry and mass-produced fast vehicles around a core of high-tech units that often outdo most stuff GDI can field. Stealth, fast surgical strikes and ambushes are usually their most efficient weapons. And they have a special fondness for lasers and flame weaponry, but who doesn’t?
The Scrin have a special relationship with Tiberium. They heal while standing in it and use it to fuel their weapons. Their ground units are mostly infantry (even though they sometimes don’t look like it), though they do have some vehicles too. Their main strength though is their impressive range of powerful spacecraft that make up their air force, including fast fighters, long-range bombardment battleships and something suspiciously resembling the carriers from Starcraft.
Speaking of suspiciously resembling; The Scrin do have two units that really stand out from the others. The first is a large walker resembling something from War of the Worlds that uses arcing beams, and a gigantic mothership summoned at the main structure with the help of a special beacon. And then Starcraft 2 came out some years later and featured as new units for the Protoss a large walker resembling something out of War of the Worlds that uses arcing beams, and a gigantic mothership summoned at the main structure with the help of a special beacon. I find that endlessly amusing.
Speaking of the walkers, each side has one large walker. These walkers vary vastly in function and looks, though all three can be recovered by engineers when destroyed if the wreck is left alone. And they can all crush light vehicles by stepping on them, and also be taken down by a commando explosive charge on the legs.
GDI have the Juggernaut, a towering artillery platform on legs that can fire over most obstructions, and can even bombard from afar if they have snipers spotting for them. They are absolutely devastating, but slow and work best at long range.
Nod have the Avatar, a very futuristic mech which functions best at medium range and while not as tall as the Juggernaut features a hard-hitting laser beam. The most fascinating thing about it though is that it can upgrade itself. By tearing apart Nod vehicles it can add components to itself; it gains stealth detection from an attack bike, a stealth generator from a stealth tank, a flame thrower from a flame tank and a second laser beam from a beam cannon. This ability is especially amusing if you capture one.
The Scrin have their War of the Worlds walker which has less range than the other three, but can direct each of its three beam on separate targets, or focus them on a single target. It’s also the best at firing on the move, and I think it has the heaviest armour of any of the walkers. It can also be shielded.
And now onto some less pleasant things. Tiberium Wars kept up something close to the same tempo as Generals had, and sadly also had some issues with the balancing in the single-player. Some missions are so easy you’d have to try very hard to lose, while others are so frustratingly rage-inducing that they caused many a rage-quit. Perhaps I’ve changed in the past 5 years, but I struggled with missions I recall getting through with minimal fuss. The main reason often being that the AI cheated like a motherfucker. In certain missions the AI was given infinite cash and instant construction. And maybe constant off-map reinforcements that just gradually increased until it got to a point of no return. It felt more like trying to beat the rage timer on a WoW boss than employing actual strategy. And while I’m sure that’s perfectly fine for some people, it’s not how I prefer playing strategy games and just leads to frustration rather than fun.
To make it even worse the re-balancing done in the patches for the game had a tendency of making certain missions even harder, such that a mission I managed just fine on normal difficulty in the launch version I could barely pull off on easy in the patched version. Having long since lost the patience for such bullshit I eventually started cheating myself and just played to see the story again. While I am again certain this kind of challenge is just perfect for some people, and maybe it even was for me at some point, I’m not part of that crowd any longer.
I will add though that I did think the adaptive nature of the enemy AI was pretty impressive. Even when it was pulling bullshit on me I couldn’t help but notice how it adapted to my tactics. Like I have a tendency of favouring anti-vehicle/building vehicles, which usually meant the enemy would field more and more infantry in numbers that even railguns couldn’t comfortably deal with. I did eventually learn to build a more balanced force, but when the enemy has infinite insta-build on everything even that doesn’t help all that much.
When it works like it should though; when the enemy is basically on the same level as you, and you need to set up a decent defence, assemble a balanced offence and find a clever entry point or use of your units, that’s when the game really shines and reminds me why I love it as much as I do. In spite of a few rage-inducing levels the campaigns really feel lovingly crafted; with a lot of work going into the writing, especially on the database entries. It feels like they really had fun with it. Which is strange to say about an EA Games game, but things were more optimistic back in 2007 I guess.
Before I wrap up I would like to mention some minor gripes that I really only noticed because of all the time I put into the game this time, and all the times I started it up and shut it down again while trying to make sure patches worked, Fraps was on, the tigers couldn’t break in or I just needed a break. There’s a specialised unskippable splash screen for EA at the beginning (no ”Challenge Everything” declaration, strangely). It’s kinda cool the first few times. Increasingly less so the following umpty times. Exiting the game is a pain. Alt+F4 does not work, so I have to hit Esc, click Exit, click Ok, click Main Menu, wait a few seconds for main menu to load, click Quit, click Ok and then I’m out. When rage-quitting this does not help me calm down, nor is it fun when I’m just quitting for the night anyway. Why can’t the in-mission menu have a “Quit to Windows” button? And the missions have this habit of being interrupted by cutscenes. Even though you can skip them all, I still found it annoying.
As for the expansion; Kane’s Wrath; I don’t remember all that much, and I couldn’t find my copy anywhere. I remember the story expanded on what happened in the main campaign and introduced some ridiculous super units that were tons of fun. All in all a good effort, but I can’t really say more unless the box shows up somewhere.
In spite of a few missteps and certain missions being more frustrating than I honestly remembered; I will still rate this entry in the C&C series as my absolute favourite. Yes, the story and acting are a little cheesy, but I greatly enjoy it. And the units are fun and varied to play with, the missions do an admirable job of mixing things up and the Scrin are kinda awesome. It’s really a shame how they didn’t really follow up on it, but more about that when it gets time for chapter 8.
Next time though we’re taking a look at Red Alert 3, which should be a hoot.
For chapter 5 discussing Generals, see here.
For chapter 7 discussing Red Alert 3, see here.
Posted on November 5, 2012, in Games, Retrospective and tagged analysis, Chapter 6, Command & Conquer, EA, EA Los Angeles, Of Tiberium And Time, PC, RTS, serial, Tiberium Wars, videogames, Xbox 360. Bookmark the permalink. 5 Comments.