Few games hold as many fond memories as the Command & Conquer series but if you're a console gamer C&C is probably nothing more than mild interest. Why then should you be excited about EA's latest PC RTS to Xbox 360 port? Well, it's damn good fun, that's why.
Important issues first. The control system in C&C3 on the Xbox 360 isn't nearly as intuitive or fast as a keyboard and mouse on a PC, but it's a big improvement over Battle for Middle-earth II on Xbox 360 and more importantly doesn't feel like something hacked together to make RTS work on a console. The key to everything is the right trigger on the 360 pad, which brings up a context sensitive menu if you've selected a building or a tab-based menu in all other situations.
This system gives you quick access to all your units, build commands, special powers and the rest, but it's still not as usable as a mouse-based system. Your cursor snaps to units to make selection easier and groups can be assigned to make tactical strikes easier to manage, but at times you will feel a little overworked. It's hard to see just how the controls could be improved, but that doesn't make them perfect.
What's great about C&C3 is how it effortlessly appeals to console gamers, despite being a genre that hasn't had much luck doing so in the past. There's the incredibly cheesy FMV that outlines the plot and Kane's return, and the action packed gameplay is a perfect fit for a console. With a full campaign from the Global Defence Initiative (GDI) and the Brotherhood of Nod to play through, each showing the battle for Tiberium from their own point of view, plus a brand new alien race to contend with, C&C3 offers in excess of 20 hours worth of RTS brilliance.
'It's hard to see just how the controls could be improved, but that doesn't make them perfect.'
While games like Supreme Commander appeal almost exclusively to the hardcore with their endless tech trees and a focus on technology upgrades, C&C3 places the emphasis on building armies and then going in for the kill. Sure, there are elements of upgrading, but for the most part you can get by with some sly tactics and plenty of big tanks. Resource management plays a part too, but it's pretty simple stuff and shouldn't be off-putting to wary RTS novices. It's ideal for a console RTS.
It's not all fun and games though. Pretty early on in the GDI campaign you'll come up against an almost unfairly hard mission that ramps the difficulty up without warning. It's by no means impossible, but it'll test your patience just when you were settling into the action. Things even out again after this point, perhaps due to your newly learnt RTS skills, but there's no way EA should have allowed such a tough mission to crop up so early on in the game.
Missions are nicely varied, never asking you to simply destroy an enemy base over and over again. You'll take control of a single commando and take him on a daring solo mission, escort a stranded APC to your base while fending off a large hostile force and more. Each mission also contains numerous secondary objectives that earn you various awards should you manage to complete them. This not only adds an extra level of difficulty for veterans but also a reason to come back to missions once you're done.
The two-pronged campaign is great fun (as is the secret third campaign), but C&C has always been about multiplayer gaming. C&C3 delivers the goods here too, with a ton of maps for up to four players online. LIVE Vision camera support is a great touch, enabling players to see the faces of their enemies as they're crushed under the force of a mighty Ion Cannon blast. The broadcast mode seen in the PC game is sadly missing here, but 360 gamers shouldn't be too disgruntled by its absence.
C&C3 looked superb on the PC when running on a high-spec machine and for the most part the 360 release looks just as good. Some of the locations look a little drab, but once the action heats up the screen is filled with explosions, vehicles and heroic soldiers. The one area the 360 release suffers is in the frame rate. It's certainly an improvement over Battle for Middle-earth II, but it still bogs down from time to time and it's fair enough to expect better on a next-gen console.
I've already touched on the cheesy FMV, but it's worth another mention. The C&C series is known for delivering hammy performances and C&C3 pulls no punches. Despite a cast list that spans some of the biggest shows on TV, there's plenty of brilliant overacting and cheap sets that wouldn't look out of place in Dr Who. It works though, pulling you into the story and giving you a reason for the war that's going on. Achievements round of the Xbox 360 package, although most are handed out for fairly mundane tasks like completing each of the campaigns on various difficulty settings.
Command & Conquer 3 brings back one of gaming's most beloved franchises and lets a brand new audience experience it. It delivers on every front, with great action, deceptive strategic depth, stunning visuals and incredible multiplayer support. If you loved EA's effort with Battle for Middle-earth II or if this RTS genre sounds like something you'd like to take a look at, Command & Conquer 3 should be in your collection. Just don't expect the Xbox 360 version to compete with the PC release.