Xbox 360 owners are in for a treat with Tiberium Wars. First and foremost, it's an excellent real-time strategy game that features an intense story and a well-rounded set of multiplayer options. It's spirited and fun, and a great way for console enthusiasts to experience the fast and frantic action of a Command & Conquer game. Yet it's no mean feat that it plays so well without a mouse and keyboard. By using an intuitive control scheme similar to Electronic Arts' own Battle for Middle-earth 2, Command & Conquer 3 Tiberium Wars proves that strategy has a big role to play on consoles. If you have an Xbox 360 and even the remotest interest in earth-shattering explosions or campy science fiction, you owe it to yourself to pick up a copy.
Scrin annihilator tripods look imposing.
When playing the campaign, 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 Command & Conquer's full-motion video in its previous PC incarnations, and true to form, the campaigns are loaded with wonderfully overblown sequences filled with intrigue and suspense. Actor Joe Kucan has returned as Nod figurehead Kane, and he's as irresistibly creepy as ever. He and other familiar actors serve up a heaping 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 a 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.
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, and they 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 attacks. 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.
This bittersweet victory brings GDI far more than it bargained for.
That's not to say the combat isn't gripping on its own. If you're inclined to turtle up in real-time strategy games, you'll be in for a surprise: Battles are intense and focused, and they give you little time to prepare. Like most strategy games, Tiberium Wars still requires you to build up resources, but it's a quick process of plopping down a bunch of tiberium refineries and power generators and then 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 and complex tech trees, but 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 there are some cases where 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.