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Command & Conquer 4 GamesCom 2009 Preview

The Command & Conquer series helped to build and shape the RTS genre becoming synonymous with the base building and resource management template that countless others followed. However, increased competition and a change to the fundamental gameplay of many titles in the genre has left recent C&C games feeling a little old fashioned. With the announcement of Command & Conquer 4 developers EA Los Angeles are attempting to bring the series up-to-date while providing the classic C&C experience.

Command & Conquer 4 Screenshot 1

Choosing to move away from the exaggerated and, at times, camp nature of the cut-scenes and overall tone, C&C4 possesses a much darker tone. Continuing the story arc of the Tiberium saga, this instalment will be the final chapter and aims to tie up the various loose ends surrounding Kane and The Brotherhood of Nod. The story centres on the evolution of Tiberium threatening to make the entire world uninhabitable which drives Kane to bargain with the Global Defence Initiative. Both sides agree that it would be best to work together to try and control the spread of Tiberium so a temporary alliance is created between the sides. However, eventually the history between the two factions proves too great and conflict breaks out.

Not only has the tone of the title become more serious but the gameplay has developed significantly since the previous instalment. At the start of each game you have the option to choose between one of three classes: Offense, Defence and Support. Each of them looks very different and possesses a large number of its own unique units. Offense is suited to the standard aggressive player with plenty of frontline vehicles that can deal, and take, large amounts of damage. Defence is a more traditional C&C template; you can create a base, build defensive structures and gain access to powerful infantry. Finally the Support class is a little different with a focus on providing buffs to units and healing yourself and allies, making it arguably the most tactical choice.

Command & Conquer 4 Screenshot 2

Removing the fundamental base building element of the series is a brave and controversial decision. In its place is the inclusion of a unit known as the "Crawler" which acts as a centre for production, upgrades and even as an offensive tool. The Crawler can be moved around the map to bring new units directly to where they are needed and is as durable as a construction yard from previous titles. During games the unit can be upgraded to have offensive capabilities such as turrets and machine guns.

If the crawler is destroyed you are given a second chance and can choose to drop another onto the battlefield. The number of respawns you are awarded differs according to the difficulty setting you choose and before you select your location you can opt to try a new tactic by changing class. The ability to respawn in a C&C game, or even an RTS in general seems a little strange so it will be interesting to see how this is balanced. Already steps have been made to avoid spawn camping, as when a Crawler arrives it decimates the surrounding environment to allow players time to get back into the action. There are other significant benefits to the Crawler; any unit in close proximity is automatically repaired allowing a defence to be set up around it.

Command & Conquer 4 Screenshot 3

C&C4's interface has been altered from the traditional sidebar with the mini-map and is now spread along the bottom of the screen. During missions the traditional talking heads pop-up in a smooth outline on the right hand side which is more welcome than temporarily obscuring the map at crucial moments. The interface appears easy to navigate with upgrade and unit tabs appearing fairly different from other C&C games. In an RTS communicating information quickly and efficiently is very important and C&C4 looks determined to do this as effectively as possible.

Perhaps the biggest change is the decision to focus on experience, not only with individual units but with players themselves. Units can still level up to Veteran and Elite levels making them more powerful but for the first time in the series you will earn experience in both single and multiplayer modes. Advancing in levels will allow you to invest in special abilities, upgrades and units across the three different classes. Experience is persistent so if you play hours of multiplayer and then tackle the campaign you will have a slightly easier time. The game will acknowledge your level and tailor the experience to still provide a challenge but it was emphasised that this would never be unfair.

Command & Conquer 4 Screenshot 4

Gameplay looked largely true to the origins of the series during one of the GDI missions. Here the player was tasked with repairing a large transport ship before Brotherhood troops arrived to destroy the damaged craft. GDI units were impressive with Sandstorm hovercrafts, Titan tanks and the Mastodon heavy weapon platform proving imposing. Tiberium harvesters are no longer used; instead resources are collected by capturing Tiberium Control Networks which provide you with the finances to build units. In a new move there is now a unit-cap reminiscent of Dawn of War, which has never been seen in a PC C&C title until now.

The Brotherhood of Nod has several classic C&C staples returning including the Nod Flame Tank which now does damage over time, with each flame attack inflicting 5 seconds of damage. The Engineer is also back and is the only common unit for all classes and sides; in the mission he was able to repair a damaged Mastodon providing a great deal of extra firepower. When combat occurs, units now showcase damage effects with side panels being blown off revealing the working machinery inside. Nod stealth and burrowing units are also present and proved problematic for the GDI during the mission.

Command & Conquer 4 Screenshot 5

Multiplayer will be where the majority of C&C4 will be played and it is being geared towards a 5v5 scenario which is designed to make the most of the different class systems. Having a mixture of Offense, Defence and Support should add a new tactical depth and allow players to build on their teams strengths and defend against their weaknesses. The campaign story will be playable in co-operative mode, but there won't be an AI general to help you if you don't have a second player.

Without an in-depth hands-on session with the game it is difficult to get a feel and the gameplay we saw came from an early, but polished, pre-alpha build of the title. The radical overhaul of the formula looks interesting and seems more than a knee-jerk reaction in the wake of titles such as Company of Heroes and Dawn of War II. At this early stage, C&C4 retains the classic feel of the series but already looks different. Whether this will be popular with fans remains to be seen and a large amount will depend on the careful balance between classes and units. Yet, EA Los Angeles has tried something different and it will be interesting to see what other new developments C&C4 will have in store early next year.

Command & Conquer 4 Screenshot 6

evilgiraffeman | 23rd August, 2009
GuNsLiNgEr's picture
Can't say I'm too happy about the changes they seem to have made. Unit cap is a pile of crap.
well add more skill as u have a limit on wot u build n use i guess
Originally Posted by GuNsLiNgEr View Post
Can't say I'm too happy about the changes they seem to have made. Unit cap is a pile of crap.
It will make a nice change from a tank rush.
Rasher's picture
i have always enjoyed the C&C range of games
hope i can adjust to this new type

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