This past weekend, I purchased the latest installment of the Command & Conquer franchise, "Tiberian Twilight". As a long-time fan of this series, I looked forward to playing what is said to be the final installment.
It seems that Electronic Arts has decided that it no longer cares about producing a quality product and instead has taken the George Lucas strategy of "who cares if they like it, I'll still make money" to heart. Several facets of basic gameplay have changed from previous incarnations, not in the slightest for the better.
The first major difference in purely a UI change, but the time-vetted sidebar control has been replaced by one at the bottom of the screen. Many times while playing this game I've started to move the mouse to the side, but that's not a huge deal.
Tiberium harvesting, one of the critical tasks of earlier version has been replaced by a system involving "command points". Tiberium is still present in the game, but instead of fields to be harvested they're now single crystals that must be returned to player-controlled land to get points that can be spent on upgrades. Every unit, rather than having a monetary cost, costs a certain number of command points, almost always in multiples of three. This would be tolerable if one was given a number of command points that was divisible by three. Instead, one is typically left with a few worthless points that can't be used for anything. The command points limit equates to a population limit which is a familiar concept to gamers. However, since any unit of real value costs at least six points, one maxes out the population with 15 or so units - the days of fielding a massive army are over.
Base design used to be a major strategic decision, as one needed to place critical buildings in protected areas so they wouldn't be vulnerable to engineers or combat units. No more. Bases have been replaced by the "crawler", a single unit that packs and unpacks like the MCV in days gone by. It produces infantry, vehicles, planes, and base defenses (based on your class - more on that later) and can be moved at will. Part of the excitement in previous games was losing buildings and having to compensate while you rebuilt, and the fun of taking out an enemy's power plants, shutting down their base defenses. Your crawler can be destroyed, but you can immediately drop another one from space and you're back in business. Crippling attacks on an enemy's infrastructure simply can't be done.
Crawlers fall into one of three classes, offense, defense, and support. Clearly this game was designed to be played exclusively in the multi-player arena. The offensive class fields vehicles like tanks and walkers. Defense allows one to build base defenses like turrets and SAM sites, but limits your ground units to infantry and a vehicles or two. Support class weapons are predominantly aircraft. Why I can't have both tanks and planes is beyond me.
The graphics are a throw-back to the original "Warcraft" where it was impossible to tell different infantry types apart. While it can be done here, it seems that the graphics budget was instead blown on the neighborhood community theater from whence they apparently sourced their actors. Grainy and pixelated, they simply serve to detract from the already awful game play.
I mentioned the acting a moment ago, but just in case theirs any confusion I'll talk about it a bit more. I've seen better acting from extras in Godzilla movies, but given the quality of the plot I imagine they would have had trouble getting someone as talented as the people in the Doritos "Friendchip" commercials. For example, the apparently awesomely-skilled sniper in campaign mode is an aging black female who could have been edged out of the role by a bottle of shampoo. The person who in the role of the player's wife is a 30-something white female capable of making Keanu Reeves look like the genius thespian of our time. Her delivery of "What's the sound?" made me consider euthanizing my speakers out of pity. The plot, which I stopped paying attention to three minutes into the game, apparently involved something about the Scrin (see C&C III) who apparently decided Earth wasn't worth invading after all but graciously left some of their technology behind. "Dick and Jane At The Seashore" is a taut thriller in comparison.
What I miss the most though, is the the way skirmish mode used to work. One could choose a map, a number of computer-controlled opponents and their skill, and play any number of different combinations of games. The gameplay now is directed solely at multi-player (in fact, you have to be on-line to even play it). The AI is dreadful and the only game mode is a variant of "king of the hill" wherein one must control "tiberium control nodes" to gain victory points. When one amasses 2500 points (which can't be changed) one (surprise!) wins. Every games plays out identically - there's an early land-grab and then it's just about becoming a turtle and waiting for the enemy to come to you (which may or may not happen).
All told, this game is simply awful. Were I on the project team, I would be truly ashamed to have my name associated with this piece of software. Terrible graphics, awful story, abysmal acting, dreadfully predictable AI, and atrocious gameplay make this one sorry excuse for a Command & Conquer product. I have never played a more poorly-written RTS game in my life.
A final thought. This game strikes me almost as an attempt to recapture some aspect of gaming in the days of yore. I'm not sure what they were trying to recapture, but I sincerely hope that whatever it is is protected by the Geneva Convention.