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Command & Conquer 4 (Preview)

Command & Conquer 4 (Preview)

Aliens vs Predator

In the battle of the eagerly awaited real-time strategy titles Electronic Arts struck first and released the multiplayer beta of Command & Conquer 4: Tiberian Twilight. After the third installment of the franchise received some criticism in the gaming press for a lack of innovation this time around we had been promised a radical overhaul. As such, we here at GamingHeaven couldn’t wait to get to grips with the game and see if it delivered on that promise.

The first thing that leaps out is the need to create a user profile before you play. In a bid to increase replayability and to make the game more suited to an era that is dominated by the online multiplayer experience you will now gain experience every time you play. And it isn’t the kind of throwaway experience that simply places players in a skill base hierarchy, but it will actually have an impact on the game world itself. As experience points are earned it unlocks new units, new structures, weapon upgrades and special powers that can then be used at any time in the single player campaign or during online play. This drip-feed system of “earning” access to the later units is a significant deviation from any previous title and will likely be met with a mixed reception from fans, however one thing most would agree on is that it adds a reason to keep playing beyond the limitations of a standard story driven campaign or a competitive streak in the player.

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In addition to this the multiplayer has taken on elements almost akin to the popular Warcraft III mod – Defence of The Ancients. Split into teams of up to 5v5 the game isn’t now so much about who can harvest the most resources and spawn the best units in as short a space of time but now comes down to controlling set objectives. It plays like a sort of “capture the flag” RTS in the sense that the player must take over key points of the map and hold them for periods of time to ensure victory. It is no longer about destroying the enemy base and that is a refreshing deviation from a trend that has been repeated in RTS titles for years. Essentially it brings a new tactical element to the play that will test the ability of experienced strategy game players, while at the same time allowing newer players a way in which they can still contribute.

This isn’t the only major gameplay alteration that EA have decided upon. In fact the game mechanics are unlike any C&C title released before a fact that will either excite or enrage the fans of the series. For starters, forget about Tiberium harvesting. The days of refineries are over. Tiberium crystals now spawn at intervals around the map and units have to go and return them to one of the control nodes, the strategic points that players have to retain as the progress through the game. This brings in new gameplay elements as Tiberium provides upgrade points, used to develop structures and more powerful units, as well as having the option to shut off Tiberium income for your opponent with smart positional play. However, the crystals themselves are volatile and can create ion-storms, presenting players with the option to effectively use them as a weapon. The effects this has on units can be devastating, capable of wiping out entire squads and if a player over-commits to the Tiberium rush a smart player can quickly gain a significant upper hand.

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Perhaps the boldest step, in what is a long list, is the removal of the traditional “base” as seen in previous titles. In place of that are class based mobile units called “Crawlers” that also double up as a powerful attack unit. It can produce different units depending on what class is selected and as well as the experience ranking of the user. The three classes, offensive, defensive and support all have their own advantages and disadvantages but each is more than capable of combat regardless of what selection is made. Traditional RTS players will be more at home with the offensive class but ultimately there is no class so specialist it would present too steep a learning curve for a novice player. This presents the player with a variety of tactical options – it is possible to simply head straight to the front line and start spawning units in a bid for a quick strike to gain a positional advantage on the battlefield, or alternatively you can spawn stealth units that can be used for reconnaissance and relay the information back to other players. If the needs of the team change as the game progresses you can scrap your crawler in favour of another class at any time.

Combat is also different to previous games. When enemy units are defeated they drop a number of crates that are used to both heal and level up those under your control. Veteran units are better at dealing out and dealing with damage and again it brings another consideration into play. The crates can be spread about evenly or given to one unit to make it a force to be reckoned with. Capturing nodes also goes through a different process to that which has gone before. Now nodes are “influenced” by the presence of units. Once a certain amount of influence has been gained the node will be under that players control and will display the fact with some suitably uniform colouration. As such it is important to keep a military presence around nodes to ensure that they are not influenced by an enemy wave of greater numbers and so liberal use of the “guard” function is likely to be employed.

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Graphically the game is the best in the series. The scenery is not only visually impressive but ties in with the storyline in an organic fashion. Huge pipelines rupture the parched earth and the glow of the ever expanding Tiberium deposits pulse under the surface, occasionally bursting through in vibrant splashes of colour. The units have loving amounts of detail on them, their movement possessing a convincing fluidity. The "fog of war" effect is employed well, creating something that looks like a heat shimmer when you uncover new territory and units detected at a distance appear like translucent ghosts. The light and smoke effects on lasers and missiles make the battles a real joy to watch and you almost find yourself distracted by them.

The in game sound doesn’t innovate in the same way everything else here on display does. The unit voiceovers are still not great and can become repetitive after a few plays. The music, at least in the beta, lacks the anthemic qualities of the brilliant Frank Klepacki scores but is still stirring enough and fits the overall tone of the game with its classical sound. Explosions roar and missiles soar but lack a real ferocity. Ultimately the sound would best be described as acceptable rather than anything else.

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That is a minor downside on something that is a hugely impressive overhaul of the franchise. One of the more common myths circulating about this game is that it is a Warhammer: Dawn of War clone, which simply isn’t true. There are similar elements between the two games in some respects, but Tiberian Twilight has done more than enough on this showing to breathe new life not only into their saga but to the RTS genre as a whole. The multiplayer mode is fun and taxing, bringing a new level of social interaction to this sort of title. 5v5 requires a lot of teamwork and communication but working around this is all part of the fun. Games seemed to fly by quickly, which is always a good sign but is also rare in RTS titles where online games can sometimes tend to drag as an opponent clings on. The new game mechanics rid us of this problem and it is a fast paced and exciting strategy experience, something not many games have mastered.

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Fans wanting little more than a graphical enhancement of previous iterations of the series are going to be disappointed but EA have more than delivered on their promise to bring something different to the table. With such a good vibe from the beta alone we really can’t wait to see what extra improvements are made between now and the official release date of March 16th.

About Author

Stuart Davidson

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