Few games hold as many fond memories as the Command & Conquer series but the PC RTS market has changed a lot in the last ten years. Gamers now have plenty of big franchises to choose from, including Company of Heroes, Warhammer 40,000 and Supreme Commander. Given this abundance of quality, why should anyone be too excited about EA's latest C&C? Well, it's damn good fun, that's why.
What's great about C&C3 is how it effortlessly appeals to hardcore RTS fans and newcomers to the genre/series. For the fans there's the incredibly cheesy FMV that outlines the plot and Kane's return, while newcomers can enjoy what has to be one of the most action packed RTS experiences going. 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.
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 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 eight players, online or over LAN - there's even support for clans. Nothing beats a well thought out attack on a group of friends and the built in voice communication support makes battle even more enjoyable.
What's more, EA's Battlecast feature allows you to broadcast your games to the world, with non-C&C3 owners even able to watch if they download the free Battlecast software. If you've ever fancied yourself as an RTS pundit, now is your chance as C&C3 allows for commentary and on-screen drawing. With this and built in leaderboards, it's hard to see how C&C3 won't become one of the leading online RTS games.
Seven paragraphs in and there's been no mention of the awesome visuals. We've been spoilt recently with some great looking PC games, but C&C3 stands shoulder to shoulder with the best the platform has to offer. Some of the settings look a little drab, but once the action heats up the screen is filled with explosions, vehicles and heroic soldiers. It runs great too, even on hardware that isn't on the bleeding edge of current technology. Set to the maximum visual quality, it's a joy to behold, with lighting effects that wow over and over again.
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. As a side note, C&C3 also works flawlessly on Windows Vista, which makes a change.
Command & Conquer 3 brings back one of gaming's most beloved franchises and places the series right back where it should be. It delivers on every front, with great action, deceptive strategic depth, stunning visuals and incredible multiplayer support. Whether you're an obsessive fan or a newcomer making your first tentative steps into the RTS genre, Command & Conquer 3 should be in your collection.