Command & Conquer 4
Don’t play Command & Conquer 4: Tiberian Twilight alone. Play it online and hope that you get reasonable teammates. Play it with buddies and enjoy the intense 2v2, 3v3, and 5v5 objective-based matches. Play through the lame story campaign with a friend if you must. Whatever you do, though, don’t go it alone. The entire point of this game is to bring cooperative real-time strategy to the next level. It accomplishes that goal quite well, but does so at the expense of everything else.
The rock-paper-scissors unit matchups and combat model will be instantly familiar to anyone with a lick of RTS experience. Rockets blow up aircraft, lasers dominate heavy armor, and gunfire owns infantry. A few special abilities like sprinting infantry and burrowing scorpion tanks can give proficient micromanagers an edge. The C&C staples fans expect are present, with engineers reanimating avatar and mammoth tank husks and commandos blowing up everything in sight. Here, though, is where the familiar comes to an end.
Macro strategy is completely different. You don’t collect resources or build bases; you simply order new units from your mobile construction vehicle. Normal play consists of competing with the other team to control point-generating nodes. Like a game of Battlefield, the first team to accumulate a set number of points (which can also be gained by blowing up enemies, though node control is the primary means) wins. Losing your MCV isn’t the end of the line, as a limited number of redeploys allows defeated players to get back in the fight.
This unique take on RTS is a blast when you’re in a solid match. You’re constantly scouting and checking the minimap to stay on top of what your opponents are up to while micromanaging the current battle(s) as best you can. Juggling unit builds and tech upgrades, coordinating macro strategy with your teammates, and simply watching the gorgeous carnage unfold all add up to an intense, fulfilling strategy experience.
Teamwork wins more skirmishes than anything else. Since each player chooses one of three classes – offense, defense, or support – a combined force is far more than the sum of its parts. Offense provides the beefiest units and unmatched mobility. Defense can set up turrets and bunkers, as well as pump out powerful infantry to take advantage of garrison-able structures. Support has a big bag of tricks, from the best air units (which are powerful but cannot capture points of interest) to powers like instant area-effect repair and scouting bonuses. The briefest consideration of the classes’ diverse abilities conjures a plethora of tactical and strategic possibilities, and conceiving them is nearly as much fun as executing them with a competent teammate or four.
This huge investment in cooperative play is both C&C 4’s biggest strength and weakness. Each player is playing basically a third of a standard RTS faction, though you wouldn’t guess it from the large stable of units and powers available to each. Offense is short on air support. Defense lacks strong tanks. Support has a heck of a time alone in any stand-up fight. If your teammates are lone-wolf idiots or just bad, the entire game breaks down. Accomplishing anything of note by oneself is a frustrating, Sisyphean labor. No amount of micro skill or clever unit balance will make up for fighting an entrenched defense class with competent repair and scouting assistance from a support teammate when your ally is off doing something useless.
In that same vein, having no teammate is even worse than having a bad player on your squad. I cannot stress enough the failure of the story campaign in single-player mode. From baffling, objective-scuttling AI on escort missions to boring slogs through weak linear defenders, this scripted garbage goes nowhere. With a co-op buddy, the campaign improves from merely horrible to bad. Even the story makes inexcusable missteps, despite my unabashed enjoyment of the live-action camp that the series is known for. C&C 4 reaches a level previously reserved for Uwe Boll, where the quality of everything from writing to set design and acting is so poor that you can’t even laugh at it.
Some of the reliance on cooperative play could be mitigated by a strong online backend, but C&C 4’s is middling at best. There is a friends list and rudimentary matchmaking, but the stat tracking and achievements leave me cold compared to better solutions like Modern Warfare. Forcing players to be online in order to play single player is lame as well.
C&C 4 is not without redeeming qualities, and in the right situation it offers something truly unique to the RTS genre. I have no doubt that there will be gamers who fall head-over-heels for its tightly engineered co-op design. The binding dependence on teammates can be a pain, though, and legacy issues like bad keyboard shortcuts and unit AI persist. I can recommend the game, but only to a certain style of gamer and only with a handful of caveats.