Kane couldn’t save this one.
I… just… no.
[image1]As a general rule, I applaud developers who try new things, even with an existing and established series. The big key when doing this, however, is to make certain that you don’t lose the core sensation and style of the series. Half-Life would not be Half-Life without scientists, gunplay, and vehicle sequences. Dawn of War wouldn’t be Dawn of War without bloody hand-to-hand combat and tight squad control. Command & Conquer is not Command & Conquer without unbounded armies and complex base management.
Command & Conquer: Generals proved that you don’t need Kane or time travel or big name celebrities in the cut-scenes for the game to be Command & Conquer. You just need tank brigades, generally frail units, and bases that dominate a fifth of a map. C&C4 has none of these.
For a great deal of C&C4, the gameplay bears no evident correlation to the rest of the series. You are heavily restricted in force size, rarely managing more than about 25 units; you have no base, just a command unit – the MCV from previous iterations of the series but with guns this time; and perhaps most galling of all, most units take a ton of firepower to bring down. This is not C&C.
In fact, I was most distinctly reminded of World in Conflict while playing C&C4, as many of the same notions of gameplay come through. The player manages his army through a point-buy system, filling out his force selection from a variety of units available from his MCV. As you lose units in combat, you are refunded the points and can re-pick. Like World in Conflict, this tends to gear you towards picking out a rounded-out force, capable of cutting into most enemies; a few anti-infantry units, a few anti-vehicle units, and a few repair units pretty much solves most conflicts. Any time you lose, though, you can re-tool your fighting force to trump what you just fought. It has some appeal – but there are some problems.
[image2]C&C4 restricts the play to units and abilities unlocked via player progression, much like Modern Warfare or Battlefield: Bad Company 2. Since you don’t get access to higher tier units for some time – and most of the lower tier units of both the factions are pretty equivalent in tactical intent and power – the game is phenomenally dull until you reach a much higher rank. Low-tier units are boring to play with and don’t have the same kind of differences that made the factions feel so distinct in C&C3. It’s lining up the Lego men all over again.
As a rule, your players should not need to play a game for 15 hours before it starts getting fun, developers. That’s like game design 101 – make the game fun within the first half hour of play.
Graphically, the game feels like a step back from C&C3 and C&C:RA3: mediocre texture work, boxy models, and lackluster effects make the game feel like a labor of… well… labor. Manufactured, not crafted. It’s like all of the GDI units come from the 1970 Volvo school of design, while all the Nod units look like they’re rejected mecha designs from some crappy animoo. Don’t even get me started on the effects for the super weapons – nuclear missiles just look lame in C&C4. It honestly looked like the artists just weren’t enjoying any aspect of their jobs. Fortunately for all parties, the soundtrack is quite good – James Hannigan and Timothy Michael Wynn continue to make great music for the series.
The multiplayer is a mixed bag. Once you’ve attained a high enough rank to have access to the real meat of the gameplay – the top-tier units – you’ve already dumped a huge amount of time into the game and probably played through a number of very lame multiplayer games where the rank mismatch ruined everything. Since GDI can’t fight GDI, and Nod can’t fight Nod, and the auto-matchmaking doesn’t take rank into account, you’ll probably find yourself fighting high-ranked players right off the bat. This basically guarantees you a loss; the high-rank player just has access to better stuff. All you can hope to do is make his victory as slow and painful as possible.
[image3]Several other things about the core gameplay are unfortunate – the pathfinding is generally poor, a classic complaint of the C&C games that still has not been fixed. The only restriction on unit spawns is the manufacture time, which is generally fast enough to get a whole army filled out in a couple minutes, so getting a resounding victory can be difficult; there’s no real incentive to try and keep your units alive, as everything can be replaced for free, and veterancy benefits are minimal. Most galling of all, you can’t play the game without an internet connection. No, not even single-player.
Speaking of the single-player – no. No, no, no, no, no. Short, boring, poorly written, unclear, and uninspiring. To say the story was unambitious would be an insult to the unambitious stories of games the industry over. Where C&C3 elected to expand the gameworld and mythos, C&C4 shrinks it. Where C&C3 interwove the GDI and Nod campaigns elegantly, C&C4 clumsily tromps over details. If it weren’t the best way to gain ranks early on, I’d tell you to avoid it like the plague; as it stands, it’s the best way to get out of the low-tier unit doldrums, and that’s just sad.
Command & Conquer 4 is atrocious, end of story. You spend $50 for a new game, and you can’t even play it when your ISP has difficulty or your router takes the piss. The single-player’s bland. There are no visual spectacles to look forward to. Multiplayer is typically imbalanced and unpleasant. I can’t recommend this game. Spend your money elsewhere; you’ll be better for it.