Of Tiberium And Time Chapter 8: Command & Conquer 4: Tiberian Twilight
For chapter 7 discussing Red Alert 3, see here.
For the epilogue about the future, see here.
By Odin’s beard, how do I properly express my opinion on this game without losing all coherence? I guess I’ll start how I usually do.
We were in March of 2010 when Command & Conquer 4: Tiberian Twilight hit store shelves and digital distribution platforms. A mere year and a half after Red Alert 3, and about 3 years after Tiberium Wars. EA Los Angeles was still in charge of development, but I wonder if it wasn’t a different team from those who made the two previous games.
The reception was less than favourable. Reviewers were divided between giving it average and bad scores, the fans hated it (I’ve yet to find a single person who defends it, but maybe one will crop up) and it just seemed like every little warning sign that had appeared since EA took over finally bloomed and overwhelmed what should have been a fairly simple project.
Let me go over how I actually bought this game. In March of 2010 I suddenly saw that Steam had this new Command & Conquer game listed. I clearly remember thinking it odd, as I hadn’t noticed any marketing drive for it. No ads saying “Hey! New C&C game coming soon!”, no series of trailers, no e-mails from EA reminding me to pick it up and not even news articles talking about it on any websites I frequented. I had seen that one cinematic trailer in 2009, but after that the thing had slipped under my radar.
I still bought it, reasoning that even if they were so worried that they wanted to be discreet, it couldn’t be that bad. All they had to do was deliver more of the same, with a new Kane story and maybe a few new unit models. It ended up being my biggest disappointment of 2010 up until the release of Metroid MOther, and even then it was a tie. Those two games turned 2010 into my most disappointing year in gaming. I guess you can say it was silly of me to trust the brand, but after 8 games providing me with at least a reasonable degree of entertainment, it felt like it would be a safe purchase.
So what went wrong? I have a feeling the biggest issue was money. While there are several things that can be pointed out, and I will address those that come to mind, the overhanging feeling I got was this was a game that was churned out under a much tighter budget than previous titles had gotten. Part of that might be due to the highly restrictive Always-Online DRM the game shipped with. I’m sure that can’t have been cheap to make or maintain.
Now then: The plot. The basis for the story isn’t half-bad. The world is being overwhelmed by Tiberium, and Kain goes to GDI offering a solution that he needs their resources and cooperation to implement. So at the start of the game GDI and Nod have an alliance going, but pretty soon extreme elements from both sides spark another conflict. You know, pretty standard stuff.
This is where things get weird. See, whichever side you choose, you are always the same Commander. The first two-three missions are always the same, and then you’re asked to choose whether you want to work with GDI’s Colonel Louise James, or join Kain’s Nod Loyalists. That seemed fair enough to begin with. I went with GDI for the first run through the game. I could tell the story was poorly written, edited and directed, but getting to learn more about Kain and the world was nice. I was still trying to stay positive at this point.
At the end of the GDI campaign I felt very confused, and hoped that playing through Nod’s campaign might enlighten me a bit. That’s when things got really weird. All the same events were happening in pretty much the exact same way, except now I was on the other side, but I was still canonically on the other side as well. I particularly remember the mission where I as GDI commanded a sniper into position to assassinate Kain. And then when I got there as Nod, and Kain got shot. Except at this point in the Nod campaign I knew it was not the real Kain, but instead me, the Commander, given plastic surgery to look exactly like Kain, and even being injected with his magical blood because of reasons. So as GDI I had commanded a mission in which I assassinated myself.
That really was the breaking point for me. The final straw, if you will. I just couldn’t for the life of me figure out what they were attempting to do here. It seemed like they wanted to do the interwoven story thing from Tiberium Wars, but because of time- or budget-constraints (or maybe just crap writers) they couldn’t be arsed to make it work, and just half-arsed it in a way designed to induce aneurysms. There’s also a point where as GDI your command carrier gets shot down. Only when you play as Nod you see you commanded the mission to shoot down that carrier. So both sides have a mission where you have to take down yourself. Just… ARGH!
Aside from Joe Kucan’s return, I could no longer see a single face I’d seen anywhere else, so I assume the casting budget had gone in the drain as well. Maybe Tiberium Wars and Red Alert 3 made a lot less money than EA had hoped, so they no longer wanted to commit the same funds.
The maps were another part where the budget constraints showed. They were now a lot smaller. A lot smaller. See, the gameplay had gone through some pretty big changes. You no longer built bases, or harvested resources. Instead you started each mission by selecting one of three Construction Yards. One for Offence, one for Defence and one for Support. These things drove around the map freely, unpacked whenever you wanted to build units (or the few defencive structures available for Defence and Support) and went back to mobile mode afterwards because you had to keep moving. Instead of resources you had a set amount of points, and building something cost points. If it was destroyed you got the points back and could build something new. Winning maps relied on capturing and holding points (which could grant you more construction points) rather than annihilating the enemy. In fact, killing an enemy Con Yard usually meant it’d respawn within seconds. So it was pointless going out of your way to do so.
A game like this could have worked. With a better budget, some better game designers, better balance and more interesting dynamics it could have been grand, but sadly it still wouldn’t have been a C&C game. (Might have worked as a spin-off, rather than part of the main franchise.) It really didn’t feel like C&C at all. In Command & Conquer I expect to build a cool base, set up my economy and create a massive army to crush my enemies with. It didn’t help that the different Con Yards didn’t feel equally viable. Unless you were playing on a team there was no point in choosing Support, and most of the time Offence would trump Defence. Granted I didn’t play enough to have a final say on this, but those were my impressions from what I could stand of the game.
I heard they even made the crime of forcing you to farm hours of single-player to unlock units in multi-player, and without those units you had little chance of winning. I didn’t try this out myself as I was demoralised long before thinking about trying multi, but from what I hear it sounds pretty bad. Please game developers: Don’t have single-player play a crucial role in multi-player, or vice versa (looking at you, Mass Effect 3). There are plenty of players who have no interest in playing with more than one of those modes, and there is absolutely nothing wrong with that. And even if that wasn’t the case, just… don’t. Don’t do it.
As for the pettiest gripe on my list; that would be the graphics. I noticed the instant I started up the first mission that this didn’t look especially good. In fact, it looked worse than Tiberium Wars did. Maybe that was me just blinded by rosy nostalgia, since the screenshots I’m looking at now don’t look terrible, just a bit more basic than TW was. Certainly nothing like Red Alert 3‘s colourful and stylish presentation. Just another thing that enforced the whole ‘this was made on a low budget’ feeling.
In the end we got a game that wasn’t Command & Conquer, but used its name and setting in an effort to make us believe it was so it could get more sales. It’s not ‘the worst game ever’, or any crap like that, but it was a massive disappointment. The whole Scrin story-thread was quietly dropped, the plot was a confusing mess, the gameplay wasn’t properly polished and there was something soulless about the whole thing (if I were British, I might’ve guessed it was made by gingers). The only plus was some info on who (and what) Kain actually was. This also started my belief that attaching the word Twilight to anything makes it shit.
And here we are. The C&C franchise has been mutilated, and all that’s left is a browser-based mutation and whatever the hell that Bioware Victory studio is cooking up. We’ll be covering those in the epilogue that I’ll be writing next, where we look to the future. In the meantime let’s build a nice, big pyre to put this atrocity onto.
For chapter 7 discussing Red Alert 3, see here.
For the epilogue about the future, see here.
Posted on December 12, 2012, in Games, Rant, Retrospective and tagged analysis, Chapter 8, Command & Conquer, EA, EA Los Angeles, Of Tiberium And Time, PC, RTS, serial, Tiberian Twilight, videogames. Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.