A lot, actually.
If you’ve been following the talk on the interweb lately, then you should already know that C&C 4: Tiberian Twilight isn’t doing so well. Inbetween draconian DRM, completely restructured gameplay and a disappointing ‘ending’ to the series, it’s been receiving a lot of flak from just about everyone.
But what if you’re a C&C fan of the first hour and just don’t know whether to get the latest entry in the franchise? You’d like some more details than vague ‘altered gameplay mechanics’ and ‘disappointing cinematics’, right? Just read on!
Now I have to admit that C&C 4’s cinematics do present an intricately woven tale, which you cannot grasp fully until you play both sides. There is potential there, especially so with the more serious nature of the cinematics, but there’s still plenty of overacting going on. This is most readily apparent in the commander’s wife, who is in tears in literally every scene.
More importantly, the story doesn’t make sense. We get a very quick trailer to tell us that Kane has joined forces with GDI and then we’re thrust ten years into the future and the game begins. With Kane’s help, Tiberium has been pushed back to the point where classic C&C style fieldmining is no longer possible. Why did Kane become best buddies with GDI? Why didn’t he do so in C&C 3 when he had every opportunity? How did he acquire the knowledge to conquer the Tiberium threat? No one knows, because none of it is explained.
Newscasts intersperse the cinematics, with ‘real people’ commenting on the war. I’m sure it’s supposed to make the C&C universe feel more gritty and real, but most of these sequences ring utterly false. The locations are beautifully green and sunny, with no sign of rebuilding or damage from the tiberium infestation whatsoever. And none of the interviewees seemed at all worse for wear for the decades of war, death, alien invasion and tiberium that they’ve been through.
In the end C&C 4’s new serious note doesn’t make it stand out positively or negatively from the rest of the franchise. However, this final chapter in the Tiberium saga raises a lot of new questions, while competently refusing to answer a single one. Fans of the first hour will not find their conclusion here.
The Brotherhood of Nod seems fairly consistent with previous incarnations. They retain a lot of their old units and feature improved technology that builds upon their C&C 3 tech. They feel like they belong in this C&C universe.
GDI does not.
The Global Defense Initiative has seemingly thrown out all research from the Tiberium Wars era and made a restart from the Tiberian Sun era. GDI forces consist mainly of mechs, drones, hovering tanks and transformable units. Oh and the infantry? They’re mini-mechs with nifty little exoskeletons. It’s like C&C 3 never happened.
Granted, that does mean GDI has much more interesting units than they did in C&C 3. But it makes C&C 4 feel all the more distant from the old C&C universe.
C&C 4 now features a crawler which serves as your mobile base of operations. No more base building or tiberium harvesting, that’s all gone. You do need to set up shop once in a while to produce units, but beyond that it’s little more than a big support unit with a repair aura.
The crawler is also used to research new upgrades and reach higher tiers. Both can only be accomplished by gathering sufficient tech point froms green, blue and red tiberium crystals that can be found all over the map. Use a unit to bring them to a landing zone and you receive tech points. Similarly, you can improve a unit’s armaments, but only by picking up a blue tiberium core dropped by a downed unit.
Landing zones are where you call in your crawlers (if it dies you simply call in a new one) and are one of several types of neutral structures on the map. You can assume control over these by placing units next to them. Engineers can no longer infiltrate buildings, but have become the mainstay of any decent army. They can now repair from a distance and hop over cliffs with their jetpacks, so they’ve become bonafide scouting medics. The only classic feature they’ve retained is commandeering fallen units like the Nod Avatar.
The end result is a game that tries too hard to streamline strategy gaming while straying too far from C&C gameplay. It fails in every respect where DoW 2 succeeds, heading more in the direction of Stormrise and Tom Clancy’s Endwar, and it isn’t recognizable as a C&C game beyond the name on the box proclaiming it so.
After playing through the C&C 4 campaign, which lasts a little over 6 hours on Hard difficulty, several things become readily apparent.
The support crawler is woefully underpowered, and especially Nod’s variant. Air units simply do not have any notable damage output, which makes it the polar opposite of C&C 3! In multiplayer you can at least benefit from increased mobility, but with the linear nature of C&C 4’s singleplayer campaign (it comes down to hopping from capturable structures towards the objectives) you may as well ignore it entirely.
But damage output really is a problem across the board. Part of why previous C&C games were fun and fast, was because units couldn’t absorb much damage and bases could be wiped in mere minutes. In C&C 4 it can take 5 minutes just to kill a single crawler with a fully veteran Offense army. Okay, so crawlers have tons of hitpoints, but even a basic infantry unit can absorb fire from an entire army and not succumb to the damage if he has 3 or 4 engineers backing him up
Of course, an entire army in C&C 4 is limited by a low population cap, which generally results in about a dozen units per player unless you start commandeering husks with engineers.
It seems like EA didn’t want to bother balancing 2 disparate factions with 3 different unit structures per faction, so they just gave everything a lot of hit points. And it works: nothing dies easily! However, it also ensures that all counters are soft and that singleplayer gameplay is a dull matter of watching HP bars go down, inch by excruciating inch.
This may actually be seen as a positive note by those who found previous C&C games too difficult: C&C 4 is the easiest C&C game yet.
If a crawler dies, then you simply spawn a new one at a drop zone. Armies are nearly impossible to kill with a few engineers thrown in the mix and objectives rarely include destroying the enemy base. So you can simply waltz on by and head straight for the objective.
It may take a while to get used to the new gameplay format, but with the forgiving nature of the singleplayer campaign it’s hard to imagine getting stuck anywhere. But if you really need some help, or just want to speedrun as effectively as possible through the whole thing, then you can always look at my guide for the singleplayer campaign.
If you lose internet connectivity then C&C 4 will not work. This was supposedly done in order to track achievements, but realistically such a thing could be achieved by dumping these statistics locally and uploading the respective files whenever connection to EA servers could be reestablished, so that’s a poor excuse.
I do have to note that I haven’t once actually experienced any problems with this sytem. In theory it should be total crap, but thus far the C&C servers have held up and the wireless internet connection on my laptop proved sufficient for playing through the singleplayer campaign without a single DRM-related glitch. Perhaps the system used here is a little more lax than Ubisoft’s UPlay system.
All being said and done, it took me a little over six hours to finish C&C 4’s singleplayer campaign. Which is only marginally longer than C&C Generals’ 5 hours.
And I’m not really sure whether it was worth it. The cinematics may not answer any questions, but it does provide an insight into where the C&C franchise is headed – and with this ending I sincerely doubt that we’ve seen the last of this C&C universe. Or Kane for that matter. Plus 5 vs 5 multiplayer is fairly entertaining.
But place it in direction opposition to its modern day competition of Dawn of War 2: Chaos Rising and Supreme Commander 2 – and you can’t deny that C&C 4 comes out as a very mediocre strategy game. Potentially worthwhile for completionists, but definitely not EA’s best work.