Thursday, January 28, 2010

Command & Conquer 4: Tiberian Twilight

Can it be true? Is this the last ever Command & Conquer? Has Kane finally met his match? Respectively: Apparently, ditto, and it would appear so. We’ll believe it when we see it, but according to assistant producer Matt Ott, “We’re really going to wrap it up this time.”

It’s mildly terrifying to consider that the first C&C game came out in 1995 but it’s one of those rare games that can genuinely claim to have pioneered a genre. Real-time strategy may not be the poster boy for the PC it once was, but the development team at EA are refusing to rest on their sizeable laurels, and are indeed introducing fundamental gameplay changes for this fourth and, allegedly, final fling.

As any fools knows, one of the key concepts of C&C is fortifying your base, hunkering down and clinging on for dear life, repelling all that the enemy throws your way. Not anymore. Step forward the crawler mobile base, which as the name suggests, can stagger to a point on the map and unpack into a fully working base. Furthermore, should your base be destroyed, you can simply redeploy the crawler, even switching to a different class. Yes, there are three classes, namely offence, defence and support. Bluff traditionalists needn’t panic however: “There’s a lot of classic elements in there,” says Ott.

“If you choose to play a defensive class you’ll be able to fortify, hold down an area, build up around it. You’ll still have access to classic buildings like super weapons: the Temple Of Nod, the GDI Ion Cannon. So that kind of bunker down and build up your base gameplay still exists in the game; we’ve just added the offensive and support classes for people who work together as a team.

“Offence class is more tank-oriented - you also have the commander unit, and the support class has access to the airport - they’re very mobile, quick, and they also have player powers that can be used anywhere on the battlefield.

“Any of those classes is going to have all the tools you need to be successful. It is possible to have a team of five offensive players and still win a match. However, the classes really play to each other’s strengths by working together as a team.”

It’s a lot to take on board at once, particularly for someone who struggled to complete the demo of the original C&C, which came on a floppy disc and was played on something called a 486. This time round, We’re on a 10-PC LAN in a disused dairy in East London, sitting next to none other than Kane himself, or at least the man who plays him, Joe Kucan.

There’s no shame in admitting that we make a pig’s ear of our time with C&C4, simply sending all of our troops to a fiery death before trying again with a different class, and similar results. It’s almost a relief when our PC crashes, sparing us the indignity of another crushing defeat. Although we later learn that we’ve been playing at level 20 – the highest. Yes, there are RPG-style levels, with persistent player progression throughout the entire game, whether in you’re in campaign, skirmish or multiplayer mode.

Although in terms of story it’s a classic Nod vs GDI scenario – The Scrin, C&C3’s purple aliens, having been dropped – C&C4 appears to be advancing the genre that the original Command & Conquer founded. The advancements will also impact on the single-player campaign, which will be fast-paced and heavily reliant on map awareness, albeit more forgiving in that you can simply redeploy your crawler, whenever your base is wiped out.

So is this really the end? Ott is adamant: “This is the epic conclusion of the Tiberian saga, the story that we started back in 1995. It’s going to be the conclusion of Kane’s plan, GDI versus Nod, the fate of the world, the fate of Tiberian, it’s all here. It’s going to wrap up the saga.”


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