Last year's Command & Conquer 3: Tiberium Wars featured a horde of freaky alien units, hammy acting, and lots of explosions. With Kane's Wrath, Electronic Arts provides freakier aliens, hammier acting, and bigger explosions, and then mixes them into a stand-alone expansion pack that gives us more ways to experience the terrific gameplay. The additions don't improve the core game in any meaningful way, and the campaign misses its mark, but if you're a fan of last year's entry, you'll enjoy this follow-up.
Kane's wrath is packed with explosive action.
The story, such as it is, fills a number of gaps in Command & Conquer history, jumping around like a jackrabbit on speed. For example, the first act takes place between the second and third Tiberium Wars, whereas the second act jumps to events that took place during C&C3. Joe Kucan as Kane almost saves this scattershot structure with his usual superb mix of spittled monologues and ominous glares. As Alexa, though, actress Natasha Henstridge misses the whole point by misunderstanding the difference between histrionics and plain bad acting. She is less energetic than her bouncy hairdo. Cheese is expected in a Command & Conquer campaign, but its taste is altogether overpowering here. With the third act, Kane's Wrath starts hitting the right notes and then comes to a halt, leaving the promise of yet another expansion...the same promise Tiberium Wars left us with. Let's hope that the inevitable second expansion pack makes good on it.
Once you take command of the battlefield, things pick up, but not in the ways you might expect from an expansion pack. You play as the Nod faction through the whole of the 13-mission campaign, which is fine, but it fails to capitalize on the pitifully brief Scrin campaign of Tiberium Wars. Nevertheless, this is at heart the same gameplay that made last year's game such a success. It's fast-paced, fun, and eminently playable. When the game emphasizes these strengths, such as in a mission where you have to capture a GDI researcher, the gameplay soars. Other missions serve to remind us of overlooked possibilities. For instance, in one scenario, you're teased with the possibility of experiencing one of Tiberium Wars' best missions from the perspective of a different commander. But rather than delivering on the promise of a heart-pounding battle, the game whips the rug out from under you--you get stuck using a commando and saboteur, then a dinky attack bike. Talk about an anticlimax.
Thankfully, all of the issues that the campaign presents are mostly offset by the variety of new toys available. Many of them come courtesy of the subfactions in Kane's Wrath. You can still play skirmishes against other players and the AI as the standard GDI, Nod, and Scrin factions, which have seen some minor changes. However, you should check out the subfactions if you want access to the best goodies. For the most part, the subfactions aren't radically different from their vanilla counterparts, but they bring some subtle and interesting additions. For example, the Nod subfaction called the Black Hand replaces the avatar warmech with a flame-spewing monstrosity called the purifier. The Black Hand has no flying units, though, so this isn't the faction for you if you like to spam venom aircraft. Other tweaks have very little obvious impact, such as the addition of shields to harvesters of the Reaper-17 Scrin subfaction, though such small changes have subtle effects on the overall balance.