Real-time strategy games are interesting beasts. When Westwood Studios unleashed Command & Conquer on the unsuspecting public in 1995, the top-down strategy game came into its own. Since then, we've had Command & Conquer: Red Alert, Command & Conquer: Soul Survivor, Command & Conquer: Generals, Command & Conquer: Tiberium Sun and a great many others. The most notable is that if you've played one, you've pretty much played them all. Even after the advent of 3-d game technology, the basic game underneath is exactly the same. This is fine for the likes of Tetris, but we as gamers deserve better.
It's on this rather depressing note that we come to Command & Conquer 3: Tiberium Wars. The omens were not good for a new, fresh game. It once may have been arguable that there simply wasn't anything new to do with the genre - this has been completely disproved with the newer PC based titles, such as Company of Heroes, Dawn of War and Supreme Commander. These are all real-time strategy games, but each with something completely new, something no-one had considered doing before. They created a gaming experience that drew you into the environment, drew you into the characters, drew you into the strategy of the war. This is something that Tiberium Wars simply hasn't managed.
For example, in the new crop of PC-based strategy titles, it is possible to zoom straight in to the action. The camera can move so close to your units that you can read the expressions on their faces, watch the bullets pock the surfaces of buildings, and in the case of Dawn of War, watch your tanks crush goblins under-tread and chainswords tear limb from limb, all from ground level, all within the action. Tiberium Wars simply doesn't have this. This is the first Command & Conquer title for the 360, and with all that next-gen power available, one would expect better. The camera is controlled with the analogue sticks, with the left stick panning and the right stick responsible for zooming and rotating the perspective. The level of zoom is extremely disappointing, and the amount of detail on units is low. The squads of riflemen, in particular, are featureless and bland. Compared to the amount of attention-to-detail lavished on the character models in Company of Heroes, this is very disappointing. Games such as Viva Pinata have proved that the 360 is more than capable of producing extremely detailed models and textures, making the lack of such finesse in Tiberium Wars disappointing.
Aside from that, the game has the usual trademark Command & Conquer gloss. The plot is advanced through a series of high-production value cutscenes, filmed with real actors on real sets, possibly with real cameras. While the number of large-breasted women in low-cut tops and tight skirts is telling of the audience at which the game is aimed, these scenes are actually quite enjoyable, with good attention to detail and remarkably well-scripted dialogue and direction. They give the missions an immediacy and tension that may have otherwise been missing, given the limited drama possible from sending wave after wave of faceless minions to their various demises.
Squads of men and entire armoured divisions are cheap and disposable. When attempting to clean out an enemy base, it soon becomes apparent that the benefits of keeping units alive is soon out-weighed by the fact that purchasing new ones is easier than using healing old ones. While units accrue experience and are promoted for fighting well, the low costs of replacement units means that you won't care if they are slaughtered. There is no limit to the amount of units you can create at one time, meaning that tactics soon become more about who can create more tanks than who has the better tactics. Other modern RTS games have overcome this by limiting the number of infantry and vehicles that can be constructed at any one time, meaning that the player must choose the exact mix of troops to combat a particular situation, or to provide a particular tactical advantage in general. By omitting such controls over the player, EA have crippled the tactical side of combat.
The A.I. is particularly crippled. When attempting to send minions across the map, they will often become stuck on structures or wander into poisonous tiberium fields, leading to unnecessary damage. Groups of units will often follow the longest path available, leading to them entering enemy territory before you were intending on stirring them up. The enemy A.I.'s tactics involves building masses of units and sending them off towards your base. There has been no effort to attempt to implement any more advanced tactics in the A.I.'s processes, meaning that it is easy to predict and frustrating to counter. Wave after wave of enemy assault will divert your attention from more interesting pursuits in order to control their advances. Furthermore, your tanks and soldiers will happily sit beside enemy structures and not bother attempting to blow things up to make your life easier. They'll just sit watching while the A.I. cranks out another squad of soldiers or a tank. Honestly, have these soldiers no initiative these days?
Given that the traditional home of the RTS game is the PC, with its mouse and keyboard controls to allow precision unit-selection and hotkeys for groups of soldiers, the controls for this console version feel vague and awkward. Selecting units is easy, with a single button press activating them and controlling where they move or attack - however, the game does not have the always useful selection box tool, which allows players to 'lasso' groups of units to send them off together. Instead, the player either has to use a 'select all units onscreen' command, or assign units to battlegroups through the fiddly and complicated menu system. While this may not sound too inconvenient at first, attempting to use such selections in the middle of a firefight is a daunting task. This may have been made easier with the inclusion of a pause system, which would allow players breathing space to battle with the menus, but this has not been implemented.
The menu systems also hold the player back when it comes to building structures and new units. In theory, it should be possible to order a new tank or power plant from the aforementioned menus, navigating to the relevant tab and selecting from the list that it shows. It practice, it is easier to click on the construction yard or barracks directly to order new stuff. The tab menu system is also key in utilizing the available 'powers', which are supposedly key to turning the tide of battle in your favour, ordering in airstrikes or orbital weapons platforms with their impressively sized lasers - something that reminded me of ants burning in a magnifying glass (no animals were harmed in the writing of this review). Again, the fiddly tab system meant that these powers were difficult to access, and it was often easier just to use the vanilla-flavoured ground troops and vehicles to achieve one's goals.
In summary, if you are searching for a game to idle away those long summer months, it might be better looking elsewhere. Command & Conquer 3: Tiberium Wars is a reasonably well-presented RTS game for a console system, with decent battles somewhat spoiled by poor controls and a lack of character to the units. Play it for the high-production values, the low tops and the tight skirts. For strategic gameplay, there's better tactical options to be found for under £45.
6 / 10