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Now I'm down in it.
“Down in it.” “In the trenches.” “In the shit.” Whatever your chosen terminology, it means seeing combat—not from the impersonal, God’s-eye, safe perspective of some regional commander tucked away in a situation room hours and miles away from the front, but first-hand—from where men and machines are getting chewed up. War looks (and is) different at eye-level. EA Los Angeles’ Tiberium is the newest glimpse into the war-torn, poisoned-planet world of the venerable Command & Conquer series, and offers a different perspective on combat; in most of those games you were, literally, up above it—and now you’re down in it.
[image1]There’s just no nice face to put on it; the world presented in Tiberium is fucked up: The namesake alien ore—which started in the first C&C games as a valuable resource first, and only an occasional troop-hazard second (and then only if you were stupid or unlucky enough to order your guys straight through a patch of it)—has spread worldwide like a radioactive, crystalline, geologic cancer, turning whatever (and, God help us, whoever) it touches into more Tiberium. Nice.
It’s turned whole regions of the globe (dubbed ‘red zones’) into barren, lethally-radioactive wastescapes more closely resembling an alien world than a human one. But whaddaya know, folks: The material is still powerful enough for men to fight over it, and amongst, it. The high-tech, more-or-less civilized Global Defense Initiative find themselves in a sticky spot, as they’ve become rather dependent on Tiberium as a war-resource to continue fighting the Brotherhood of Nod…and yet, they recognize the need to check the spread of the alien ore before it does a creeping-death, ice-nine job on the whole planet.
Meanwhile, the radical, pseudo-jihadist Nod nut-jobs around the world are trying just as hard to actually accelerate the spread of the stuff, attributing a transformative and even mystical property to the alien material and hailing it as a Gift from some twisted Above. Oh, and one more bit of good news: Hostile extraterrestrials known as the Scrin have boots (or whatevers) on the ground as well, and have installed massive, towering processing stations at various environmentally-FUBAR locations around the world, for Nod-knows-what malign, inscrutable, alien purpose.
Enter you, as field commander Ricardo Vega, a good soldier in a bad, bad, bad, bad world. It’s your job to drop-ship deep into the world’s red zones and go all FPS on this grim world’s poisoned, war-torn, alien-occupied ass, personally commanding squads of soldiers, huge ground-shaking ‘mechs, Orca aircraft wings, and strategic orbit-based energy strikes.
[image2]Technically, this isn’t the first time the C&C ‘verse has taken the first-person route—anybody remember Command & Conquer: Renegade?—but Tiberium’s tack is much more thorough, much more grim—and believe it or not, much more topical.
Executive Producer Chris Plummer really gets into describing the thoroughly-realized world of Tiberium, making it a particular point that the game is thusly named—even to the point of ditching titular reference to its heraldic Command & Conquer heredity—because the concept of Tiberium itself is so central to almost everything in the game.
With the mien of a likeably-nerdy Nostradamus, Plummer calls Tiberium the “New Oil”—a resource-catalyst for combat that also raises near-future specters from our contemporary headlines: Resource exploitation, wars and rumors of wars, looming environmental ruin, and men driven to kill each other over power and/or ideological differences.
Of course, Plummer’s rousing, apocalyptic analogy to our present world does start to break just down a bit once you factor in the alien Forces From Somewhere Else coming down from the stars…but the future is the future, and you never know when the Universe is going to throw you a curve-ball on that score, do you? Even the zealous Plummer eventually comes back around to the point: In the end, it’s all about combat and action.
Mechanically, Tiberium is a first-person shooter with squad-based aspects and some nifty tweaks. The first is the nature of the player’s arsenal: You get one (read it again: One) weapon, dubbed the GD10. As single weapons go, however, it’s a frickin’ doozy—a hyper-tech Swiss Army Knife of a BFG that physically reconfigures, in real time, to serve a whole spectrum of combat duties. It’s your basic assault weapon, of course, but it also functions as a sniper rifle, an energy cannon, a particularly versatile grenade launcher and even a man-portable SAM launcher (at this time, Plummer would neither confirm nor deny the GD10’s added functionality as a soft-serve ice cream dispenser).
[image3]The grenade launcher in particular looks like more fun than a weapon should probably technically be: Beyond its expected use for indirect fire (aided by a UI guide that shows the path any launched projectiles will follow), it features a “roller mode” function: Essentially, you can lob your grenade at a target hiding around a corner or otherwise behind cover, have it land without detonating…and then use the analog stick to remotely maneuver the damned thing right between your cowering target’s ankles (or analogous Scrin body-part) before remotely triggering the charge and blowing your unseen enemy’s balls (or analogous Scrin body-part) up through his chest-cavity.
In a somewhat anime-inspired touch, the GD10 can also lock onto four airborne targets simultaneously via the analog stick, and let fly at them in one go with a twisting swarm of seeking missiles. Even if it doesn’t change your overall situation all that much, it’s still impressive.
There’s no doubt that you’re a veritable one-man strike force with Vega’s GD10 in your hands…but Tiberium’s deadly battlefield would still knock your tech-augmented dick in the dirt without support, and that’s where the reinforcements come in: As you march into hostile territory and secure Tiberium ‘spikes’ (processing facilities), landing-zones and the occasional uplink sites for weaponized satellites, you can continually order up backup squads as you need them (including regular assault troops, anti-aircraft missile troops, massive bipedal-‘mech Titans, and squadrons of Orca strike aircraft).
It’s all about the rock-paper-scissors: SAM soldiers are good soldiers, if you’re really getting nailed by enemy airborne units…but they’ll get chewed up by traditional assault forces. If the enemy eschews the air-based tack and tries to muscle you on the ground, it might be time to call up a massive, ground-pounding Titan (which, handily, can also be used as a moving chunk of solid cover by your boys as your order them forward). The battle situation changes, and you have to change with it. When you want your boys to move up to a new location (or kill something at that location), it’s as straightforward as pointing your UI reticle at the desired point on the battlefield and pressing the proper control.
[image4]You wouldn’t be much of a brother-in-arms if you didn’t support the advance of your men by helping them out with a little direct intervention of your own—anti-aircraft bursts from your GD10 to take down aerial threats, general covering fire, and maybe a little creative, rolling-grenade action. As field commander, you’ll be able to bring up a satellite view of the current battlefield, including the locations of any possible cover. You’ve also got a limited but extremely useful jump-jet ability—maybe you can gain some higher ground, slip into Sniper mode and brain-pan some of your enemies the instant they make the mistake of poking their heads—or in the case of Scrin, whatever they have—out from behind cover.
I don’t know about you, but for me, the best part of past Command & Conquer games was my ability to call down various devastating, strategic attacks—bombing runs, orbit-based beam weapons, even the I’m-not-screwing-around-anymore nuclear warheads (what’s one more ground-irradiating nuke, give or take, in a pre-poisoned world?). Vega can do this as well, under different conditions—Orca flight wings can apparently be called up from regular reinforcement-points, and there are still more specific uplink nodes that can call down energy-weapon strikes from the sky like the wrath of God. No word on nukes, yet—but a gamer can dream.
For every gameplay element we’ve seen, it seems like there are two that we still haven’t: We haven’t seen minute one of multiplayer, have no concrete intel on the exact role, capabilities or portrayal of the Nod forces (Westwood’s lovably-evil, chrome-domed “Kane” had something of a fan following, you know, back in the cheesy-FMV hey-days of the C&C franchise).
[image5]Oddly enough, we have been thoroughly exposed to some of the new audio technology: ASX (it stands for Adaptive Surround eXperience’…yeah, I know). Never mind the bollocks acro-name: It is pretty damned impressive. Explained by Senior Audio Director Erik Kraber, it’s an audio scheme that constantly analyses all possible audio elements in the player’s immediate area, alternately emphasizing or diminishing their contribution to the general soundscape (depending upon what best dramatically suits the current situation).
Aural elements demanding your immediate attention (an order recently given to a huge, clanking Titan, for example, or a squad of your guys that’s getting its collective ass kicked particularly badly) will take aural precedence for a short period of time, and then the overall sound-mix will be recalibrated, over and over. If the battlefield changes in some unpleasant way, the different orchestral elements of the soundtrack will be tweaked to seamlessly reflect the tone of the new situation. It’s all under-the-hood stuff, of course—but it’s ambitious as hell, and unobtrusively clever.
When pressed, Chris Plummer rolls out the company line that the game will be ready “when it’s finished”. That’s never particularly good news—but, coming from him, it doesn’t sound like the load of merde that it might sound like, were it to come from [*cough*] certain other companies we could mention. Tiberium is slated for way late in the year, in any case…but it’s looking well worth that wait. We’ll be watching EA Los Angeles with our shiny satellites: Stay tuned to this frequency.