If you're a fan of the Command & Conquer series, three small words are bound to get you excited: Kane is back. Indeed, so are a good number of beloved series hallmarks, like a huge amount of full-motion video and intense strategic combat. But Tiberium Wars is a lot more than just lip service to franchise enthusiasts, and you don't need the rose-hued glasses of nostalgia to appreciate its polish and intensity. It's simply a superb game that's fun and exciting to play both online and off.
Bald is beautiful.
No matter which of the two main campaigns you start off with, you're rewarded with a whole lot of live-action video in between missions, featuring familiar actors getting hammy in near-future command centers. There's never been anything subtle about C&C's full-motion video, and, true to form, the campaigns are loaded with wonderfully overblown sequences filled with intrigue and suspense. Yes, Joe Kucan has returned as Nod figurehead Kane, and he's as irresistibly creepy as ever. He and other familiar actors serve up a heap of extravagant solemnity against a backdrop of flashing lights and important-looking video screens.
If you think it sounds over the top, you'd be right--but it's cheesy in the good way, and it won't take you long to get involved in the story and the characters that drive it. The narrative is structured well, with the Global Defense Initiative and Brotherhood of Nod campaigns telling the same story from opposing viewpoints. There's also a new player in the mix: the alien Scrin race. At this stage in the series, the mineral tiberium has propagated over most of the Earth, but it's more than just an environmental plight--it's a key to future technology. It'll take you a couple dozen hours to get through the campaigns, and just when you think you've finished, there are a few surprise missions in store, and they are well worth the time it takes to unlock them. There are also plenty of reasons to return to the campaign once you're done, since the game rewards you with medals based on your performance and tracks a good number of statistics for you to chew on.
The missions themselves are incredibly varied and involve a lot more than destroying an enemy base or defending a particular structure. You'll have to do these things, of course, but you have both primary and secondary objectives to complete, which include using engineers to capture certain buildings, amassing beam cannons to take out defenses, or teaming up with your sworn enemy to defend against alien attack. You'll be doing it all in a variety of real-world theaters, such as Washington, DC, downtown Sydney, and the eerily dry Amazon basin. The near-future take on familiar locales makes the intense battles feel even more thrilling, because the settings are recognizable and meaningful.
These Firehawks are delivering more than pizza to Nod's door.
That's not to say the combat isn't gripping on its own. If you're usually content to turtle up in real-time strategy games, you're in for a surprise: Battles are intense and focused, and they give you little time to prepare. Like any RTS, you still need to build up resources, but it's a quick process of plopping down a bunch of tiberium refineries and power generators and finding the action, because if you don't, the action will quickly find you. Once you get past the first two acts of each campaign, you'll discover that Tiberium Wars' artificial intelligence is aggressive and resourceful, and it will take advantage of your strategic flaws. Don't expect to put your trust in one or two favored units, because even the most powerful units have noticeable weaknesses.
It's a rusher's paradise, but you shouldn't take it to mean that technological advancement and thoughtful strategy don't have their places. You won't need to deal with long, complex tech trees, and it makes Tiberium Wars feel somewhat limited in this aspect next to advancement-focused strategy games like Supreme Commander. However, you do have multiple powers and upgrades to earn by building various structures. The powers run the gamut from GDI's powerful ion strike to Nod's vapor bomb, and they fit each faction perfectly. As you use units they level up, making them more effective in battle, and in some cases you improve units by more unconventional means. For example, you can use a Nod warmech to destroy your own flame tank, and the mech will then spew fire in addition to its own native attack.
How differently each faction plays is impressive, especially with the new Scrin faction added to the mix. GDI units tend to be straightforward and powerful, and a huge force of mammoth tanks and juggernauts is a challenge to counter. Nod relies on sneakiness and smart use of unique abilities, and a small force of stealth tanks and viper bombers can cripple an enemy's economy. But playing as the Scrin is Tiberium Wars' greatest delight and challenge, since the alien faction is so different from the others. Your first encounters with the Scrin in the campaign are breathtaking, since even low-level units like buzzers look interesting and intimidating. In fact, the most threatening sight within the game is a fleet of Scrin assault carriers and their accompanying fighters. Yet while the Scrin have some potent units and other advantages, such as the ability to collect endless tiberium without building silos, they require a lot of micromanagement and intimate knowledge of each unit and structure.