RPS Advent Game-o-Calendar: December 5th

By Alec Meer on December 5th, 2007 at 6:06 pm.

We four kings of RPS are,
Bearing words we traverse afar (online),
Guns and looting, tanks and questing,
Following yonder, um, PC gaming.

Yes, the hour is upon us – another door of our RPS-approved fairtrade advent calendar must be opened. What lurks beyond?

If you think it's the fucking Witcher, you're reading the wrong website, bucko.

Crivens. More chocolate snacks for us. Thanks, Fairtrade. Om nom nom nom.

But for you?

I know two people who've touched this man. And I've touched them. So if you touch me, it'll be just like touching Kane.

It’s Command & Conquer 3: Tiberium Wars!

C&C3 is critically indefensible. Playing it is the RTS equivalent of shovelling quarters into that X-Men arcade machine from 1992 that’s still in the local chippy: there’s no justifiable reason to do it except that you want to, because it’s making you giggle despite yourself. There’s certainly no justifiable reason I can seriously tell people to buy C&C3 instead of Company of Heroes or Supreme Commander. It’d be like inviting well-to-do friends around for a pillow fight instead of a dinner party. It’s not big and it’s not clever, but they’d surely smile so much more than they would during polite conversation about Proust while we pass the quiche around.

I think the main reason I enjoy Command & Conquer 3 (file under ‘guilty pleasure’) is that I can play it as I used to play Command & Conquer and Red Alert. Back when I was innocent, and mortifyingly dumb with it. I didn’t know the right way to play RTS games – I just built and built and attacked and attacked until the AI stopped fighting back. I barely even knew what a pincer movement was. I just wanted to blow up tanks and watch silly cutscenes.

Back in 1994, there was none of the snooty RTT-not-RTS admonishment we reviewers have to endure whenever we casually refer to a harvest, build’n'kill game by the genre name most people will recognise; no furious cries of imba! upon the release of a new patch; no rolling my jaded eyes when I see yet another mini-map in the bottom left of the screen and a resource ticker along the top. There was just the commanding and the conquering. The collecting and the killing. The constructing and the cutscenes. Sometimes, I miss that. For a couple of weeks this year, C&C3 brought it back.

While it’s been a slow year for RTS, the last 18 months have nevertheless seen this most PC of genres stand up from the corner it’s been slumped in for a while now, puff out its chest and bay “Come on then! I’ll show you! I AM THE STRONGEST ONE THERE IS!” I’d argue that, between Company of Heroes, Supreme Commander and Medieval II: Total War (and to a lesser extent Dawn of War), real-time strategy is currently the strongest it’s ever been. There’s less heavy hitters around than in previous years, but those that are are true titans of the form.

RTS, you are mighty. But you are hard work, a cruel and unforgiving master. And that’s why I /needed/ C&C3. I wanted a counter to the debilitating demands of the indefatigable SupCom, and the tactical hyper-attentiveness of the manic Company of Heroes. For once, I just wanted – and I’m sorry to drag out this line yet again, but it expresses the game completely – to command by drawing a big box around the screen, and to conquer by right-clicking on the enemy. I just wanted a pillow fight.

Motherships - like motherboards, but with more mothers.

While there’s a slight visual fussiness to C&C3 that doesn’t quite tick the cartoonish boxes I was hoping for (really, I want Red Alert 2′s mind-controlled giant squids all over again), it was the lobotomy it needed to be. There’s a thousand braindead RTSes that work as this does, but C&C3 is the champ because its boomsmashkill straightforwardness is a knowing reward, not a by-product of cheerless development. It makes a virtue of being completely implausible, of coquettishly behaving like Sun Tzu’s nothing more than a good name for a takeaway.

I am aware that parts of the brain must be engaged for online play, where C&C3 is as frantic and furious an undertaking as any other, replete with intimate knowledge of build times and unit costs and rock, paper, scissors precision, but I’m flat-out not interested in that side of it. I’m in it only for the personal gratification of singleplayer, of beating a foe I know is robotic and stupid and leaves giant, obvious holes in its plans, for me to take cackling advantage of. I want it to be easy. And it is. Plus, things go boom. Really go boom. The units on the next level of the tech tree are just bigger and sillier enough that unlocking one during the campaign feels like an event and not just artificial withholding. And I never, not even once, think about pressing Escape during the between-mission cutscenes.

BOOM! BOOM! BOOM!.

They’re diabolical, of course – the dialogue, the plot, the performances, the props… Awful, awful, awful. But knowingly so (though a flabbergasting amount of fans somehow do invest themselves fully and entirely seriously in the ongoing fiction of the Tiberium universe), and thus they are fun. Crucially, they feel like a reward, not just tasteless meat-paste between the filling granary bread of the combat. In so many other RTSes, the cutscenes seem to be there purely to try and give character to a game that has none – Age of Empires III is a particularly guilty culprit. When they play it straight, it can serve to remind that the game’s world isn’t a terribly entertaining place to be in the first place, and so requires this sort of tedious, interruptive bolstering. By contrast, C&C3′s cutscenes give you a nudge and a wink – “you thought that fight was ridiculous? Well, check this out.”

Command and Conquer 3, then. It’s the cheeky pint after an hour in the gym, the brazen flirting with your bookish girlfriend’s beautician flatmate, the watching of Predator after a night at the opera. Indefensible. But by God, it feels good.

, .

18 Comments »

  1. Evo says:

    Wahooo :D

    Was wondering if C&C3 would feature in your Advent Game-o-Calendar or not, but I am glad it did!

    I am aware that parts of the brain must be engaged for online play, where C&C3 is as frantic and furious an undertaking as any other, replete with intimate knowledge of build times and unit costs and rock, paper, scissors precision, but I’m flat-out not interested in that side of it. I’m in it only for the personal gratification of singleplayer, of beating a foe I know is robotic and stupid and leaves giant, obvious holes in its plans, for me to take cackling advantage of. I want it to be easy. And it is. Plus, things go boom. Really go boom. The units on the next level of the tech tree are just bigger and sillier enough that unlocking one during the campaign feels like an event and not just artificial withholding. And I never, not even once, think about pressing Escape during the between-mission cutscenes.

    Now that is why I love C&C3, not the online competitive play but the fun of it all! In all honesty it is something that has slipped from my mind during my short time running cncnation.net and I think that once I get a chance I will re-boot C&C3 and let my mind go ‘ahh, welcome home Commander’

  2. MCHN says:

    Makes me want to play it. Nice job.

  3. Chris R says:

    I love the C&C series, not necessarily for the mythos of the universe (though it is interesting), but because it’s so much fun. Will pick up the expansion when it comes out to see the end of the story arc that they started in C&C 3.

  4. Dr Snofeld says:

    You forgot to mention Kane. Truly the real reason for the Tiberium series’ success is that shiny-headed madman. I don’t know what makes him so awesome, but it’s probably the fact that, no matter how insane or evil his plans are, when HE explains them they make so much sense!

  5. Stew says:

    RTSen, like online shooters, have been incredibly hard to get into for a while. Either you were in on the ground floor, blasting away when Red Alert was brand new (or deathmatching in the original Team Fortress), or you’re buggered.

    If C&C3 really is point-click-go-BOOM, I’m sold. It’s a chance to get in on the ground again, like Team Fortress 2 was for online shooters.

  6. dwm says:

    One of the things that I really appreciated in C&C3 was that there was only one storyline, which all three of the different factions played through from their own different perspectives, rather than presenting diverging stories that varied depending on whichever side you were playing as.

    (If nothing else, it means that the C&C3 expansion pack will have true storyline continuity; previously, the developers always had to select one side’s particular story line to pick up and carry on.)

  7. Steve says:

    Don’t forget, the expansion (Kane’s Wrath) should make this game slightly more defensible. It’ll do the same as Zero Hour by giving potential for actual strategies. Sort of. A little. Not really.

  8. Kieron Gillen says:

    I like the pretty girl from House.

    KG

  9. Acosta says:

    Actually, I was impressed for the actors. Their lines were SO cheesy that it really impressed me they manage to do to the performance so well and with such a straight face (the opening for NOD was hilarious).

    Yes the game is fantastically silly and surprisingly satisfactory to play even if is not sophisticated or its mechanics are not specially designed for a neat purpose. Recollect, build, defend, attack and make sure there is lot of huge boooms on the way. The C&C 3 nailed the C&C feeling and I think that is why the game is succesful in middle of such exquisite RTS around (and I would place Dawn of War among them, but that it´s just me and not based on 100% objective values).

    And yes, I loved seeing the beautiful girl from House telling me how impressed she was of me.

  10. Garth says:

    I was just talking about this with a friend of mine.

    I miss the old days of not-knowing what the fuck I was doing, and just going head-long into battle with my fleet of

    Maybe I’ll try C&C3, thanks for the heads up :)

  11. Kieron Gillen says:

    I’ll echo pretty much everything Alec says – it’s got something which many RTS simply don’t: Charisma. The units almost feel like toys they’re so chunky and memorable. The tactics, as such as they are, are very much X beats Y, which is reliable and rewearding. Enemies in a house? Bloke with grenades automatically wipes them out. It’s not realistic. But neither is her from House saying how wonderful I am, and it doesn’t stop it being splendid.

    KG

  12. Butler says:

    Sorry, I have to disagree with you where you say that RTS is currently in its heydey. I suppose it comes down to taste, but I have little time for SupCom, CoH or C&C3 – and all feel flawed in one respect or another.

    Compared to the days of Red Alert, Total Annihilation and StarCraft… well… little needs to be said IMO.

  13. Pete says:

    Someone had to go and mention Zero Hour.

    Possibly my favourite multiplayer RTS. Super weapons, tank armies, invisible armies, airforce armies… so unbalanced, but so ridiculously fun and over the top. C&C 3 didn’t have quite the same level of awesome on the multiplyer side of things, try though it did.

  14. Citizen Parker says:

    I can’t help but notice that it sounds like C&C3 is to the RTS as Serious Sam is to the FPS. If so, I may have to give C&C3 a looksie.

  15. Dr Snofeld says:

    I can’t help but notice that it sounds like C&C3 is to the RTS as Serious Sam is to the FPS. If so, I may have to give C&C3 a looksie.

    Oh, it is. Trust me, you haven’t seen a tank rush til you’ve seen a twenty-strong railgun-equipped Mammoth Tank rush.

    But yeah, Red Alert was, and still is, awesome. Though I’ve noticed that whenever a magazine is talking about Red Alert, the screenshots are invariably from Red Alert 2. Though that was awesome too.

  16. Springchicken says:

    As soon as you did CoH:OF, I *knew* C&C3 would feature. Because I’m a mad, diabolical genius. Kane would approve.

    C&C3 is gorgeous. It’s big and it’s bold, but it’s ultimately brainless. It’s ditzy, and when it accidentally smashes a glass, it coquettishly puts a hand to its mouth and giggles. Your eyes are drawn to the way its breasts move during the motion. I’ve gone over to strange erotica in the space of one sentence and didn’t realise.

    I like C&C3. It contains genre staples that were being ignored far too often these days. I *like* my units to say daft things when I click on ‘em (alright, CoH gets a high five for that too). I want to build a base in unfeasibly close proximity to my enemy, along with hastily constructed superweapons, and wipe that silly little smile I just *know* is on his face.

    Gawd bless it.

  17. po says:

    This is going on the shopping list.

    Generals then Zero Hour were the only RTS games played at the local LAN. They’re just stupidly fun in 8 way multiplayer, and everyone had their dirty little tactics, mine being the huge GLA tank rush that wipes out 2 of the 8 players before they’ve got any vehicles made, then I resorted to sticking tunnels everywhere and skulking around annoying everyone by being impossible to wipe out, and sneaking rocket soldiers and hijackers into enemy bases :D Then DaveL came along and beat us 1 vs 7.