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Command & Conquer 3: Kane's Wrath

The Scrin-er takes it all.

By now, the wives of the assorted Command and Conquer head honchos have got to be getting a little suspicious. "So, who have you hired for that new job in the office?" they'll ask. "Oh, no-one special. Just the best candidate," says the commander. "Her references were impeccable." An eyebow twitches. He glances out the window. "Oooh, isn't the Tiberium lovely at this time of year." "Is she attractive?" "Well... if you like that kind of thing. Could do with a few square meals, of course." "She better not be another sex symbol, Mr Commander!" "Is that the time? I need to get to bed." "I'm going to Tank Rush all over your Tesla Coils, mister."

So, following on from C&C3's Tricia "Number 6 from Battlestar Galactica" Helfer and Jennifer "Lovely, lovely Cameron from House" Morrison, we have Natasha "The Only Reason Anyone Has Ever Watched Species" Henstridge pouting and ordering her way through the patented brand of Command & Conquer FMV cut-scenes. There's going to be stern words in the Kane household. Never mind dodging GDI; Kane's going to be dodging Mrs Kane's frying pan.

Anyway, there's much that's familiar with this expansion pack for last year's well-received Command & Conquer 3. What's interesting is that not all of it is - familiar, that is. The series has the rich-man's problem of being stuck in a straitjacket of expectations - people at once want something that hits the exact formula that popularised the RTS all those years ago, while still being fresh. While those without a popular history - like, say, last year's brilliant World in Conflict - can be experimental, C&C carries the weight of a lot of fanboys who even take Kane's preposterous overacting a lot more seriously than perhaps they should. (Hey - I love it for its high-camp charm. But, as far as fiction goes, C&C is as silly as any just about game series that begins with Einstein travelling through time to try and assassinate Hitler.)

Mechapede is so awesome it deserves a song like Freedom Forces' Nuclear Winter.

Kane's Wrath is EA Los Angeles finding a relatively safe place to try some experiments. On one hand, it does everything that you'll expect from a quality RTS expansion. On the other, there's stuff we haven't really seen seriously in a C&C game before, and you can imagine them trying it here in a minor way, and then examining the response from the audience. If people dig it, I'd expect some of this to turn up in future C&C games.

The regular stuff is the regular stuff. That is, new units and campaigns and cut-scenes with Kane. The campaign follows the rise and fall of Nod after the end of the Second Tiberium War (i.e. the end of C&C2), leading into the third Tiberium war (i.e. C&C3) and gives you a look of what the evil guys are up to. It's absolutely the sort of linear campaign which C&C has made its money from for this decade-and-a-bit. In fact, it's a bit underwhelming in places; some missions are just straight stomps, while others do that "you have four soldiers to complete this" thing. These try and mix up the format, but are only intermittently successful - there's an instant-death stealth mission that hits a particular nadir.

Ultra-space-death games of Cats Cradle are somewhat risky.

More interesting is how EA LA approaches the issue of extra units. Yes, each of the three factions gets a selection of power-ups and units, such as GDI picking up a very fast-moving anti-air unit called Slingshot, Nod receiving a Stealth artillery tank to go alongside their many stealth chaps and the Scrin getting the incredibly lovely Mechapede. This - as the name suggests - is a mechanical millipede, which can be expanded eight times with new sections. Each one makes the creature more effective against a certain unit type. Do you mix and max or go for a specialist? Or do you just admire it make its old-school centipede arcade way across the map?

There's a small innovation in the addition of what they describe as Epic units. Taking from Supreme Commander's devastating Experimental Units, these are singularly enormous creatures. Only one is available at any time. The GDI gets a M.A.R.V. Hyperultromegatank ("Hyperultromegatank" is copyright Eurogamer, by the way - don't steal), Nod gets a Redeemer combat mech with disgustingly massive lasers, and the Scrin get the excellently named Eradicator Hexapod, which is either a "Mobile lifeform recycling system" or a late '90s indie rock band. Each of these can also be upgraded by garrisoning infantry units inside it, allowing you to customise it. For example, adding grenadiers to the M.A.R.V. leads to a grenade launcher turret. Woo!