“I’m a mechanical, I’m a mechanical, I’m a mechanical man! I cut down trees, I wear high heels, suspendies and a bra”… or something like that.
It’s been twelve years since the original Command & Conquer defined the real time strategy genre and Westwood perfected what they’d started with Dune II. Back then happy hardcore wasn’t completely ironic. Games were made with sprites – manly two dimensional sprites. And there was nothing better than a nice, overhead, ever-so-slightly isometric, fixed camera view. Those were the days.
It’s not surprising Command & Conquer’s been on a bit of a hiatus – for starters Westwood Studios got eaten by Electronic Arts in 1998, but there’s always the problem of updating a classic game. Command & Conquer spawned most of the real time strategy games that now flood the PC market. How could a modern Command & Conquer do the original justice and stand out in the crowded market full of its bastard offspring?
If you were worried they’d make everything bigger and brasher, throwing millions of bump-mapped polygons at the problem, worry not. Command & Conquer 3 is great, precisely because they haven’t really changed it at all. Yes they’ve sexed up the graphics, but it’s not too drastic – you certainly won’t get lost in spinning camera angles or buried under a million context sensitive menus. It plays pretty much just like the original, which could well be called perfect.
Build your base, harvest tiberium, create an army, point and click a lot, watch as you hopefully destroy the enemy army and win the battle. It’s pretty simple. You should know exactly what to expect, this is practically the definition of real time strategy. Before and after each battle you’re treated to cheesy but brilliant high definition video sequences, featuring the cream of sci-fi’s C list celebrities. Unlike most derivative RTS games, it really is worth playing this for the plot. It’s not particularly intellectual, but it’s entertaining to watch (there’s a full movie’s worth of video to sit through) and it’s nice to play the game three different ways, from each side’s perspective (those being the righteous GDI, the terrorist NOD forces and the alien Scrin invaders).
Online multiplayer is also stupidly well catered for. Comprehensive leagues, performance tracking, match making. The type of thing South Korea might consider as a national past-time. On a related note, the Xbox 360 version should be the king of console RTS games, integrated into Xbox Live and featuring video and voice chat.
So, that’s pretty much it. Command & Conquer 3 remains faithful to the original and sticks the fun right back up the real time strategy hole. To top it off, what other game features bad acting by Lando Calrissian, that bloke from Starship Troopers, Sawyer from Lost, the cute but intelligent girl from House, and the cyborg love bots Six and Boomer? Or the actresses that play them at least. It’s like a sweaty geek’s cameo-ridden dream.