The Other Twilight: C&C4 Reviewed

You heard the lead designer’s take on the final chapter of the Tiberium saga this morning, and now here’s what I, a man who plays too many videogames, think of this RTS do-ever. Well, it’s over on Eurogamer rather than here, but it’s always a pleasure to see you splendid gamery types pop back to RPS to share your thoughts. Having seen what an evidently lovely and thoughtful chap Mr Bass is, I can’t help but feel a little bad about some of my observations about the game, but y’know, I say what I see (though some of that is in line with he and his team’s stated intentions). That said, EG have understandably chopped the piece back a little from the overlong version I sent over, which particularly means the full extent of my great disdain for the unlock system is perhaps not conveyed. There was originally a naughty swear and everything.

Anyway, token link and token quote:

On the one hand, it’s important to look at this as its own game rather than through change-fearing spectacles. On the other, it’s called Command & Conquer 4, and that bald bloke who keeps waving his arms and talking about ascension is all over it.

69 Comments

  1. GT3000 says:

    Ah well. Good end to a great franchise. Let’s hope the next iteration is just as fun. They ain’t Westwood but they ain’t bad.

    • PHeMoX says:

      They seem to have gotten rid of the ‘race to the best tech tree’ stuff, which is good, but they’ve also seem to have got rid of basically everything else worthwhile to the series.

      I think I am going to stick with Supreme Commander 2 and score C&C4 from the bargain bin a few months later.

  2. SpinalJack says:

    I was in the beta for this and I was rather bored of it after a few games. I agree that it shouldn’t have the main C&C title. They should have gave it a spin off name like C&C walkers and kept C&C4 for a proper traditional RTS. I bought supreme commander 2 which scratches all the RTS itches while being a nice streamlined update to supreme commander 1.

    • Thants says:

      “I bought supreme commander 2 which scratches all the RTS itches while being a nice streamlined update to supreme commander 1.”

      It’s more “streamlined” than streamlined.

  3. Casimir's Blake says:

    C&C1 and Red Alert were solid but ruined the genre for me, everything else seemed too anal or un-fun. I caved and bought C&C3 after trying the demo, finding that it was actually pretty solid. An appropriate update of all things C&C with a fairly solid plot, only ruined by a couple of insanely hard missions right near the end of the GDI campaign. But still, pretty damn good.

    For C&C4 it sounds like all of the worst possible options were taken during the development stage, and footage I’ve seen of the beta suggests as much. The whole unlocking mechanic smacks of MMO grind, and while I’m sure there will be a bunch of people that enjoy this mechanic, it sounds horrid to me.

    And on top of all that, online-only “DRM” even for single player.

    Well done EA, well fucking done.

    • PHeMoX says:

      Yeah, the mission balance in C&C3 was totally off.

      Now I’m not usually a guy that complains about difficulty curves and all that, but using certain strategies (that do make sense, like repel an attack to save your anti-air guns and basically your base) you’ll always die.

      I hope there will be a C&C4 demo.

  4. TheSombreroKid says:

    i think it looks worth a purchase but the drm scheme is 2 steps too far. It’s firmly in the DoW camp in the Dow vs. SupCom rts style war, whiich is the same side i’m on, so i applaud it for that.

  5. Evo says:

    C&C 4’s divergence from the series norm is doubly puzzling when you consider that C&C 4 is PC exclusive. You’d have thought they would have tried all this new and accessible RPG stuff in C&C 3 or Red Alert 3 which were multi-platform releases.

  6. SpinalJack says:

    The multiplayer part is pretty good if you have a good team and all the unlocks but getting there is such a grind… You do learn each and every unit though as you’re stuck with a very limited selection for such a long time. Even when you do get the big stompy bots you don’t have the unit cap to be able to support them properly and they fall to lowly tier 1 units. I guess that’s where team work comes in.

    • BabelFish says:

      All my interest went out of the game when I read there’s a level grind to get equal footing in multi-player.

      Bad Company 2 is like this too: Most of the unlocked weapons are straight up upgrades to the starting equipment, and you don’t even start with basic items like an ammo crate or medpack. What happened to the days where your success in a game was determined by your ability, not by how many hours you had sunk into the grinder.

    • megaman says:

      I suggest you start playing L4D (or L4D2). No grinding, no unlocks, no tech tree or anything. Only your ability and experience saving you from death by zombie hordes. :)

    • Malibu Stacey says:

      Unlocks granted through XP grinding can frack right off in Battlestar Galactica parlance.
      Did I miss a meeting or something? Since when did shitty game mechanics suddenly become ubiquitous?

    • HermitUK says:

      Indeed, the unlock system in the beta was absolutely diabolical.

      I have no issue with multiplayer unlocks in theory – drip feeding new content to a player can keep him playing and give him new stuff to keep trying, instead of overwhelming him with stuff from the off. But CnC4 and BC2 both miss the key point, which is that you can’t have better stuff at later levels, it has to be different.

      For all its faults, CoD4/MW2 get this right. You get a good mix of stuff to play with from the off, some excellent guns unlock at quite early ranks, and often the later unlocks are designed to be more specialised rather than just better. Not that either game doesn’t have uber weapons locked out behind a level barrier, but you rarely find yourself cursing someone for being a higher level – Which I did an awful lot in BC2 til I unlocked Mr Overpowered M60 and the GOL sniper.

  7. Diogo Ribeiro says:

    Any chance of sharing with us the bits taken out of your submission, Alec? I felt you had a bit more to say than what was in your review (on a related note: is it me or do some EG.net reviews seem shorter recently? I think I’m seeing less 3-page setups and more 2-page ones) and since I was semi-following CC4, I was kinda bummed to know it had gone this route but was still holding out for something more elaborate.

    Prtty plz? ^______^

    • Alec Meer says:

      Unfortunately it’s lot of little bits and bobs from all over rather than easily shareable chunks, but the conclusion did originally have this on the end:

      It’s a little like selling a box with a picture of a chocolate gateaux on the front, but finding there’s a pie inside. Pies are delicious, granted – but you wanted a cake. And, with this particular pie, you have to dig through about eight inches of pastry before you get to the tasty but slightly watery chicken and mushroom underneath.

    • Kester says:

      Alec: So it’s a decent game beneath the unlock system, which stops you actually getting to it? Do you have any idea how long it’d take to get to the point where the game becomes more fun as the unlock system stops being an encumbrance? Cheers!

    • Alec Meer says:

      It says it the review, lazyperson!

    • Kester says:

      I blame the internet. It has made me incapable of reading anything longer than 140 characters.

    • Diogo Ribeiro says:

      I see, Alec. Thank you in any case. Pretty distressing: the more I read about it the less I’m finding myself interested in it. With Napoleon and Dawn of War 2 now slowly starting to consume my time, and poking the RUSE beta being a strange delight, I don’t think I can slot CC4 anywhere :/

      Also: Tom doesn’t like food analogies, eh? :P

  8. rocketman71 says:

    They’re shouting in their own forums that, and I cite

    First thing to be clear about, Command & Conquer 4 has NO DRM. Zip, zero, zilch, none. We already made this clear.

    Pretty clear, yeah. The only thing this has for no reason whatsoever (or… for the stupid usual reason, whatever you prefer) is LAN.

    So, if we apply the common sense theorem: Stupid DRM + No LAN = No buy

    • Gunrun says:

      Yeah it has no DRM just you need a constant connection to the internet and if you lose it the game stops playing or something, therefor the new Ubisoft thing isn’t DRM either. Hurrah!

    • Thants says:

      Wow, not only are they going the insane Ubisoft route, but they’re brazen enough to lie directly to us (e.g. screw those bastards).

  9. Serenegoose says:

    I think that going ‘you have to always be online, but it isn’t DRM!’ is missing the point so hard, that it’s almost like making an RTS game where you need to grind XP in order to get access to the fun toys.

    Wait.

  10. the wiseass says:

    No LAN, no game!

  11. Hunam says:

    Tom Bramwell cares not for your swear words or soliloquies of the wretched unlock systems!

    • Will Tomas says:

      And Tom “Tom Bramwell” Bramwell seems to have a disliking for cake-and-pie-based metaphor…

    • drewski says:

      Maybe he just really, really likes pie, and doesn’t really like cake, so found the metaphor inappropriate, as he would be absolutely delighted to open a box of cake and find pie.

  12. Thants says:

    It’s no real surprise, given that the interview earlier today contained such gems as: “Gaining tickets and capturing areas is fairer because you aren’t just wiping people out completely” and “Red Alert 3 could be relatively hardcore in that if you rolled out with a huge army and it was the /wrong/ huge army you could get crushed.”

    They feel that wiping out an opponent in a multiplayer RTS is unfair and units having different effective uses is too hardcore. Christ, and I thought SupCom 2 was over-simplified.

    • Starky says:

      They’re very much correct in a way though – If you’ve ever watched some of the Battlecast matches (or even the highlights on Primetime) you should know how really sodding boring C&C matches are…

      Bar funky micro stuff and tricks (which usually only happen early game), the huge armies were always basically the same reliable units with fewest weaknesses. Scorpion tanks, Walkers, so on, maybe with some backup, but essentially boring.

      People memorize the counters, the build orders, the tech order… and it takes what should be a dynamic system, and turns it stale. It’s no longer about who can come up with the best strategy, but simply who can execute THE strategy faster.

    • Thants says:

      Ah, well that doesn’t sound very good either. I haven’t played much of the C&C games since the first one.

  13. Starky says:

    Speaking as a guy who’s played Every C&C game on release day from the first command and conquer (win 95 CD version) – and had Dune on the Amiga before that. Hell C&C95 is what made me switch to PC from Amiga…

    Honestly they kind of had to try something new, CnC3/RA3 pretty much wrapped up the entire westwood/C&C formula, that style of RTS is just plain done.

    Hell I’d go so far as to say Star Craft 2 might be the last hurrah of the entire C&C style RTS genre.
    At least for a good while anyway – It may get a resurrection in time as some old dead genres have been getting recently.

    Like the space sim/shooter before it, the base building, tech tree climbing, resource gathering RTS genre has reached it’s gameplay zenith and there is no place left to go but sideways, narrower (like World In Conflict), or wider (like SupCom).
    Star Craft 2, is basically going to (should it succeed) – recreate that gameplay zenith in higher fidelity and with a lot more polish, but it’s never going to reach a new gameplay plateau.

    Sub-Genre’s peak – That doesn’t mean new good games will come from that genre, just as Mario 3 was basically the zenith of 2D platformers – Braid still exists, gameplay wise it’s not better, it just adds a twist.

    They may have failed (I don’t know I’ve not played it) – but they made the right call in trying something new in my opinion. Sticking to the old formula would not have brought anything to the table.

    • Bowlby says:

      I was very much the “Give the fans what they want!” guy when they announced how they were renovating the gameplay. Now, though, I concede that something did need to change for the series to evolve… but this is also the series finale, so why go changing things now?
      I really am totally confounded by this product. Everything about it seems really, really weird to me, like it’s having some sort of identity crisis.

    • Starky says:

      Now that I kinda agree with, they should, it would have been smarter from them to wrap up the Tiberium story with a CnC3 expandalone, then given this new gameplay over to a new CnC Universe.

      Still if it was a case of one or the other, never both – they made the right choice because even if this game flops, they’ll learn and maybe correct those mistakes for the next C&C (or at least any future Dev team dealing with the IP might, given the current team may be dissolved).

    • Bowlby says:

      I think, if it were me, I would have gone more towards the SupCom route in ramping everything up to an epic scale. I would have made sure the presentation was immaculate and that they homaged the original games in the series, and then I would have gone the MW2 approach of making every level of each campaign memorable in some manner, full of spectacle.

      For the multiplayer, I’d do what they seem to be doing already, but I would’ve got rid of unlockables that unbalanced gameplay, and I’d have a metagame, whereby each player created an avatar and selected to play as either a NOD or GDI commander, and each individual skirmish, victory or loss, would be reflected on a huge global tracker, viewable on the EA website.

      It would be totally unrepetant fan-service, and the most C&C-est game yet. It would also be a huge undertaking, probably requiring a much longer development period and level of investment than EA were prepared to risk.

      I can dream, though, can’t I?

  14. Premium User Badge

    DollarOfReactivity says:

    Thanks for giving it to us like it is Alec, though I did have this vision of a dour Mr Bass the whole time I was reading it.

    I have good memories of CnC and playing Red Alert and modding Red Alert into bits (first game I modded I think). The last few entries just seem to be trying a desperate catch-up to a genre that has (depending on how you look at it) either moved on to other mechanics or polished themselves up much better. Maybe it was good to try across-the-board changes, but sounds like it wasn’t the fix they needed.

  15. Gunrun says:

    Like I said in the other news post I had bad feelings about this game since earlier this week I noticed not a single review anywhere, not even the day before release. It’s really sneaky and nasty that EA would stop reviews being published before release date of the game.

    • Michael says:

      Standard industry practice. You only send out the review copy if they agree to publish said review after release. Seriously, I can’t imagine anyone expecting much out of this game. When the developers are getting fired regardless of the game’s performance, it’s difficult to imagine this being their top priority.

    • drewski says:

      Well, standard practice when you’re not sure the review is going to be glowing, anyway…

  16. Dean says:

    There’s a difference between having to be online all the time and using that requirement for DRM though.

    That said, ‘no DRM’ means no CD key which I somewhat doubt. But is the game at least transferable? So I could remove my key and sell on the game, and someone else could use it?

  17. MinisterofDOOM says:

    I sincerely hope this game gets its arse handed to it by reviewers as a whole. Someone needs to send a message that beloved, established series are NOT the place to do “what if” experimentation. Make this game and call it Generals II or something, but why it had to happen to C&C4 is baffling. Just like the “lets appeal to more people” abomination that is Metroid 4, C&C4 is dead to me. It does not exist. The series ended with Kane’s Wrath, and rightly so.

  18. jarvoll says:

    Am I the only person in the whole world who took the original C&C and RA as completely serious and not even vaguely (deliberately) camp? I always viewed the “zany, self-parody cut-scene” phenomenon as having started with RA2, which is the main reason I disliked that game. The only thing I thought humourous about RA was the secret ant levels, but even then, *I* had to take them seriously, because they were freaking hard. It weirds me out to this day that people see cheap, not-serious cutscenes as the hallmark of C&C, since to me, it (at least the originals) has always been as serious as any other sci-fi universe.

    • drewski says:

      I guess it’s always difficult to distinguish between “bad” and “deliberately bad” so people give Westwood the benefit of the doubt in hindsight. At the time, especially with C&C, I felt that Westwood were at least semi-serious.

      Red Alert…not so much.

      But I think the reason fans find the C&C universe so memorable is in no small part due to the campy cutscenes, whether they were deliberate or not. There was one game, possible the Generals spin off (?) that had no cutscenes until they were added to the expansion, and the expansion was much better received than the original because of it.

    • Serenegoose says:

      Nope. I thought that RA1 was pretty dark. I was quite young when I played it, so I forgave the bad acting/didn’t really notice it. Given the first mission in RA1 has you mopping up after a toxic gas attack, and a cutscene later had an officer signing death sentences for his presumably loyal comrades under stalins orders, it didn’t feel like a nice game. Then they went ZIS IS MY TURRTLE, OONKLE SAM. DOOCK AND COOVER OONCLE SAM! and yeah. never was too fond of RA2.

    • localcoder says:

      I think they were trying to be serious. If it didn’t come across that way, it’s because computer geeks are not super-great at filmmaking.

      In fact, I think every single cut scene was trying to be as cool as possible. Like the video (in Red Alert) where a spy runs into a room to rescue Tanya, gets shot, and manages to throw his gun to her as he dies – that’s just so cool!

      I was 12.

  19. jconnop says:

    Sounds terrible -.-

  20. bill says:

    the multiplayer actually sounds like it might be an RTS i could enjoy… more instant, more like a mix of Ground Control and an FPS (with respawns).

    But the DRM and the unlocks make it a no-no.

  21. Sarlix says:

    I’ve played every C&C game to date, and despite the bad review and massive change in format I was still going to get this, until I saw these two words ‘always-online’. *waves good bye to kane*

  22. Devan says:

    @bill

    My thoughts exactly. I wouldn’t mind playing a support role in cooperative games, since I’m pretty bad at regular multiplayer RTS gameplay. But that DRM is something I can not support.
    -1 sale

  23. Magic H8 Ball says:

    I wonder if all the devs who go for “baseless” RTSes even realize just what is the role of a base in the RTS.

  24. Darren says:

    I was all pumped to get this….the first C&C game I was going to have on my computer since number 1 came out alllll those many moons ago.

    As soon as I saw net connection needed to play, I gave up. I do not see the point. Oh well. I just got Stalker SOC today for a good price. So I am going to go and play that along with the community mods for it.

  25. Carra says:

    This review speaks bad of Belgium.

    We demand an apology! Or else we’ll send our entire army consisting of two soldiers and one labrador retriver.

    • Michael says:

      Didn’t you get the memo for Operation Fatass? Proliferating our waffles, french fries, and chocolate around the world until our enemies are too rotund to defend themselves?

  26. Zwebbie says:

    It´s a bit sad, maybe, but I think it´s fitting. I think most people will agree that C&C reached its zenith with RA/TS/RA2/Gen. The last few games have just made it painfully more obvious that C&C is a thing of the 90’s. They managed to last into the 00’s, but can’t make it into the 10’s.

    Personally, I think the series has been far too complacent in its abstractness. You’ve got a war in which there’s no flanking, cover fire, morale, stamina, or any other of the million things that drive real life strategy. Which wasn’t at all odd back in the day, resources being limited, but nobody seemed to have any intention to go back to the starting point and see how much strategy you can port over to a computer game. All the designers, over the years, have been happy with their guys who stand still in the middle of the street to fire at each other, while introducing new things that, for me at least, barely matter on the grand scale.

    Simply said, I don’t care much about bases or no bases, or about the story, if these games still cling to archaic abstractness where pincer movements or flanking maneuvers are out of the question.
    Here’s hoping developers will go back to the starting point and use some creativity, rather than making ‘x-but-with-a-twist’ (like: C&C-but-without-bases).

    • LionsPhil says:

      @Zwebbie: Thing is, they’ve successively made those things matter *less*. C&C1 is a much, much slower game than its successors, especially in terms of income. That means combined arms have some use as you can get more bang for your buck if you mix infantry and tanks than if you just try to spam the latter.

    • Zwebbie says:

      @LionsPhil: I was eight years old when Red Alert came out, so my strategy consisted pretty much of building the heaviest tanks I could find and as many of them as I could in an hour, so I’m afraid I’ll have to take your word for it. That does sounds about right, though, since I’ve been amazed at the speed of recent C&Cs.
      Maybe I have the wrong priorities, though, but I think that, ideally, the game should allow for strategy even when you have just a single unit type. Company of Heroes allowed your infantry units to jump into cover and resist damage, Age of Empires allowed a lot of strategy with just the assigment of your villagers, Empire Total War consists 90% of Line Infantry that have to flank each other and decide when to go into melee. Neptune’s Pride, as you can read here on RPS, seems to consist just of ships and it still allow for plenty of things. Obviously, a game with only one unit *will* get boring pretty quickly, which is why you add diversity after you’ve gone and made that solid base, but I feel that the very *core* of C&C games (and Starcraft!) is very much outdated and only seems to last when there are a lot of gimmicks added to it to distract you, like special abilities and super powers.
      Time will tell… Sooner or later, time will tell.

  27. Vandelay says:

    Played the beta for this, so the review doesn’t come as much of a surprise. Although the core gameplay seems enjoyable, in a brainless mainstream fun kind of way, it is ruined by hiding everything behind the unlock system. I played about 3-4 games of it, but just couldn’t compete against those at higher levels (not helped by matchmaking.) The final straw came when I played a game where a 4v4 game quickly turned into a 4v2 game and we were still unable to win.

    I don’t have a problem with an unlock system, in fact, when done right, I think it is a great way to encourage people to keep playing and to open up different ways to play, but here it is done to such an extreme that it makes the game become almost unplayable at the early levels. As singleplayer does contribute to your experience, I imagine it isn’t anywhere near as bad as in the beta, but it seems like they have really failed with the unlock system.

    Well, there is still Starcraft 2.

  28. Heliocentric says:

    I played a baseless rts once, it was called ground control, welcome to the year 2000.

  29. LionsPhil says:

    I’m curious. Could you post the cut parts here, or is the copyright for them signed over to (or at least exclusively licensed to for some time) Eurogamer even unused? (I expect the latter, but reviewers oft surprise me by later reposting online things that once appeared in PCG or whatnot.)

  30. LionsPhil says:

    “While long-time Kane actor Joe Kucan clearly relishes the opportunity to at last lend some subtlety and moral greyness to the shiny-scalped megalomaniac”

    Erm. C&C1 played it pretty straight. Hell, C&C2 was painfully deadpan, just badly written enough to be “funny”. It wasn’t until EA got rid of Westwood that it became LOL CAMPY FUNTIMES.

    Hell, the same’s true of Red Alert 1, and even then Westwood’s RA2 was slightly more restrained that EA’s RA3.

    “In C&C4 the attempts at gravitas just make them sad and limp.”

    …like C&C2, then. Seriously, Alec, take EA up on their “have all the old C&Cs free” and just play the first couple of missions.

    • Alec Meer says:

      Seth’s panto death in C&C 1 + Kane’s crazy cyber-hat in Tib.Sun != constantly crying, doomed wife.

    • LionsPhil says:

      The key thing is that those weren’t trying to be silly, which is what C&C3/RA3 were and what you seem to imply the C&C series always did.

    • Gap Gen says:

      I did appreciate Stavros’ breakdown in Red Alert, though I grant you he didn’t cry continuously.

  31. jsutcliffe says:

    “Baseless RTS” is an excellently mean phrase Mr. Meer, even if you didn’t mean it that way. I’m not entirely sure what it could mean, but it’s certainly not positive.

  32. malkav11 says:

    I was all for a new direction and I don’t mind an exp/unlock system if well done (although it sounds like this wasn’t) so I was very interested in C&C4. And then I discovered it had Ubi-style always-on-internet DRM. Fuck that.

  33. Dean says:

    Sounds like I’ll hate this.

    Here’s the issue:

    Unlocks in single-player.

    I’ll only ever play the single-player. C&C games have a simple template. Start with a few units. Each mission, introduce one or two more. Those missions are designed to be solved with these new units, have certain elements which require you to get to grips with them. So you get to try out different strategies.

    If you just unlock units for single-player with points, then you lose those wonderful puzzle maps. The ones that needed you to use a certain unit in a certain way to win. Because the game can’t’ know that you’ll have that unit. And in that you kill all the fun of a C&C game. I don’t care about base-building, but not having missions designed around specific units really is missing the point.

  34. John Peat says:

    According to the Steam site for this, it requires a “persistent internet connection” to play – ala the recent Ubisoft nonsense – is this actually true?

    This being an EA title and recent EA titles (like BFBC2) not mentioning the need for a persistent connection!?!?

    • Vinraith says:

      @John Peat

      It’s been mentioned several times around here and yes, it’s true. It’s specific to C&C 4 at the moment, let’s hope it ends there. Here’s PC Gamer testing the system, and showing that it’s exactly as broken as it sounds:

      link to computerandvideogames.com