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Archive for April, 2010

But is it fun?: Command and Conquer 4

Monday, April 26th, 2010

Okay this is a attempt at condensing a game review into a shorter bit focusing on the important question “But is it fun?”  After all we play video games to have fun, they are a source of entertainment, so at the end of the day that’s the most important question.  If you don’t have the time to read this whole thing but still want to know if you should get the game, skip on down to the “but is it fun” item on the bottom.

What is it? Command and Conquer 4 is the forth and “final” installment in the “Tiberium” universe of C&C games.  The C&C franchise is nearly as old as Real Time Strategy itself, and has had a loyal fan base for its over 15 year history. With the fourth game they are finally wrapping up the ongoing struggle between the Global Defense Initiative (GDI) and the Brotherhood of Nod (NOD).  C&C4 is an RTS, like it’s predecessors, but it takes great liberties with the RTS formula, doing away with classic base construction and any form of resource management and replacing it a game that is a funny hybrid between classic C&C and Dawn of WarII with a dash of Supreme Commander mixed in.

What’s done right? As much as it terrified me when I first read about it, the crawler mechanic is actually pretty fun.  the C&C games have always had these conceptual units called “MCVs” that can unpack into bases.  From there the MCV became a “construction yard” which built buildings which built your units.  As a result, even though the MCV itself wasn’t a weapon (well except in RA3 when it starts running things over) it was the heart of your base.  However, once deployed, MCVs are typically immobile, giving the “It’s a base” feeling.

This feeling is gone in C&C4.  Now the MCV, called a “Crawler” is your entire base.  It builds everything and is itself a unit you move around the battlefield.  How this feels is “there is a place on the map that needs attack/defending” so you move your crawler to that location, building units and/or turrets while you walk and then, when you get there, you unpack into the ground and it deploys all the stuff it’s built along the way.  The result is a very aggressive game that is fueled entirely by unit countering instead of at all by the macro game of resource and base management.

The other thing that’s really cool with the game is the music (at least with NOD anyway, haven’t played a bunch of GDI yet).  NOD music has this wonderful ebb and flow it goes with between creepy and powerful based on how the battle is progressing and it helps to capture the energy of the game very well.

Some of the unit designs are also really cool.  The NOD Defense crawler has an infantry unit that look like a big black-painted robot that has a cannon for one arm and a glowing red energy tower-shield for the other.  Totally awesome.

What’s done wrong?: While the crawler mechanic is great in some ways there are other ways in which it totally sucks.  Each side has 3 types of Crawler: Offense, Defense, and Support.  Offense crawlers build all of the game’s tank units, but can only build units.  Defense crawlers can only build infantry, but in addition to infantry can build defensive towers, which are pretty powerful.  Finally, Support crawlers can fly and can build air units and can also wield support powers, things like air strikes or cloaking fields for some of your units.   While this sounds okay on paper, in practice those of us who have been playing C&C for a long time should be able to tell that the guy who gets to build tanks wins in 1v1s, and you know what?  That’s true here. While the offense crawler gets to build units of light, medium, and heavy armor giving you a variety of unit types the enemy has to counter, air units and infantry tend to more or less fall into the same family and are easily counter-able.   At the end of the day, I can see how defense and support crawlers would be great in multiplayer, but going solo, you pretty much need to rock offense every time.

Of course, part of the problem here is also C&C4’s weak attempt at using persistence to goat you into continuing to play the game.  In order to play C&C4 you have to make a profile, which must be connected to the internet at all times to play.  While playing any game mode, you are doing things that earn experience for your profile, leveling you up either in GDI or NOD.  Leveling up is how you unlock new unit types, upgrades, and powers.  Thankfully you level up all 3 crawler types regardless of which one you’re playing, but the campaign is so short that you’ll beat it before you unlock every unit, hell even make it to teir3.  This is a serious issue since the campaign will start throwing teir3 enemies at you long before you get to build them.  Were it not for the ability to steal back mammoth tank husks, some of the missions I did would have been very hard.

Which leads well into another problem.  Because there are no resources, you are instead capped by how many units you can command at any given time.  Aside from this being incredibly not C&C, this limit applies not just to units, but also to the defensive crawler’s buildings.  While the defense crawler can sell buildings as you move around, the offense crawler has to wait for units to die to replace them.  This creates a real problem if your enemy kills your engineers when you’re not looking and you had a tank queued up as soon as the supply became necessary, because now you have another tank and no way to repair your crawler that is getting the crap kicked out of it.  The result is what I like to call “the Dawn of War II problem” in which you just can’t be everywhere you need to be at once to win and the game is like a big juggling act of taking your way too small army back and forth between multiple locations, sometimes forcing you to always be playing defense and never really getting to annihilate your enemies.

That and me, personally, enjoy the macro-management aspects of Starcraft or Supreme Commander, and how if done right it allows you to attack your enemy from every where with overwhelming force.  Anytime I play an RTS that lacks that, I miss it.

The biggest problem has to be, without a doubt, the campaign.  These mechanics issues with the crawlers could probably be worked around with more time with the game and getting some team mates to help me in skirmishes or co-op campaign games.  Unfortunately the story ending to C&C4 is so lame that it steals my desire to ever play the single player again (I haven’t done the GDI campaign yet, and I don’t really want to).  The game ends on such a lack luster note that it makes it feel like the entire four game series was in the end for nothing.   There are even a few earth shattering revelations that remain unsolved as Kane walks off screen for the last time.  To make matters worse, this is one of the shortest campaigns I’ve ever played, 1 faction’s campaign being beatable in 6 hours or less.  The missions themselves are pretty fun and somewhat challenging, especially with only one crawler, but the plot still made my brain hurt, and I’m the kind of person who loves normal C&C plots.

There also all kinds of parts where the game just feels rushed.  Some of the unit designs are lame, not really resembling anything and making it difficult to tell one type of unit from another until they start shooting you.  Some of the unit vocals are dumb, a lot of the supporting actors give lack luster performances (two of the game’s key antagonists to me come off as very, very meh).

But is it fun?: At the end of the day C&C4, taken just for it’s game play, is a fun game and something that any fan of the RTS genre could probably enjoy.  Unfortunately you can’t just buy the skirmish and multi-player and play that to your hearts’ content on the cheap.  No instead you have to spend $50 on a lackluster campaign, needing to always be online to earn ever anything through a very meh level up system, put up with the DRM, etc.  In the end, it’s the stuff around the game of C&C4 that makes it difficult, if not impossible, to recommend to anyone.  I can’t even say “If you’re a die hard C&C fan get it” because you’ll probably be just as disappointed by the story as I am, and newcomers are just going to be lost as to what a “Scrin Tower” is because they’ve never played C&C3 and it’s not explained in C&C4. What a disappointing way for what was an epic RTS series to draw to a close.

Goodbye C&C BCPT

Thursday, April 22nd, 2010

As you may have heard, the Command and Conquer (C&C) team is being (perhaps even has been) destroyed by EA now that C&C4 is out the door. To go with it, apparently, is the team that made their monthly netshow, C&C Battlecast Primetime, which was both a giant promotion for upcoming patches and games, community feedback and, my favorite part, commentated replays of bad-ass C&C3 and Red Alert 3 matches.

To this end, C&C BCPT is gone, apparently unable to complete a full final episode, being forced instead to just release their monthly bad-ass replays, aka “The battlecast ten.” This time they took what they felt were the best matches of C&C Generals through Red Alert 3, and personally I feel watching this video represents the end of an era. Not just the end of BCPT, but the end of C&C at EA. As a fan of franchise (I was gonna write “Stalwart” but we all know whose RTS’s units adorn this website and it ain’t Kane’s) I am sad to see this go. Ending BCPT is just one of the many bad calls EA has made with the C&C games since they gained the license. I guess now we can hope that someday they will sell the license to someone who will do it right, or find a team that can, and not ruin it in the long run.

Anywho, here’s the video, since they posted it on YouTube, I figured better to share it this way.

Long time no update

Friday, April 2nd, 2010

Few quick things.

First, fourth Starcraft 2 video.  This is several weeks old at this point, but still enjoy:

Learn more at the StarCraft 2 Wiki

Second, I’ll post it again just be sure you got it, but I’m really focusing any not-used-for-work webdev time on the GameKnights site right now, so things are probably going to be dead round here for a bit.  I’m seriously considering killing this blog, or finding someway to phase it in with GameKnights, but I haven’t figured out the best way to do that yet.

Third, I decided to join Twitter.  I have no idea how much I’ll tweet myself, but apparently having an account makes it easier to follow multiple people, and there are people out there I want to follow now.  If you have twitter and want to you, I am adamclegg on the service.

Fourth, we launched the new Michigan State University home page today.  If you’re a friend, student, alumni, former student, college, whatever, and haven’t checked it out yet, please do and leave your feed back for the team using the survey on the bottom of the home page.

Fifth, I beat Mass Effect PC again and am finally starting Mass Effect 2.  There’s a ton to love here, but at the moment there’s also a lot that doesn’t make the game feel like Mass Effect, so we’ll see how things turn out in the final verdict.