Command & Conquer 4: Tiberian Twilight will bring an end to the infamous "Tiberium" saga, which began with the dawning of real-time strategy games way back in 1996. The new game will rejoin the struggle between the Global Defense Initiative and the Brotherhood of Nod, who have come together in an uneasy truce to fight off the continuing pollution of the planet by Tiberium, the highly toxic but energy-rich crystals that have been a primary resource in Command & Conquer since the beginning of the series. However, throughout the course of the game, the treaty becomes strained and conflict breaks out between the two factions. We had a chance to try out a single-player mission midway through the GDI campaign and have much to report.
As we've mentioned in our previous coverage of the game, Command & Conquer 4 is taking a very different approach to its single-player and multiplayer modes by incorporating role-playing elements throughout the entire game. You can choose to play as one of three different "classes." There is offense, which focuses primarily on powerful ground units, such as tanks; defense, which focuses on defensive structures and emplacements, such as turrets; and support, which focuses on cooperative support measures and air superiority.
Every single enemy unit you destroy on the battlefield grants experience points to your user profile, which can be spent at a command center-like interface (the version we saw was not final) that lets you purchase new units. You can also purchase unlockable upgrades for the units you already own, such as the crawler, which is the game's new mobile base that can be outfitted with powerful weapons once you unlock higher-tier upgrades for it. The current, working version of this upgrade interface currently works off of a point-buying system that assigns a certain number of points to each unit--with more-powerful, higher-tier units costing more points, as you might expect. These command points also count toward your "population cap," which is the maximum number of units you can have active in play. And the current, working version of the game has no other restrictions on your unit loadout other than the point system. So, if you prefer, you can load up on the most heavy-duty units in your arsenal, but if you do, you'll be stuck with a necessarily smaller army that costs more and takes longer to produce.
After suiting up with a preset loadout for the offense class and a fistful of upgrades, we started our campaign session in the "Junktown" area. This was the same level we saw in our earlier preview, in which a GDI dropship had crash-landed in a desert and our mission was to get it back up and running. We started the mission equipped with a single crawler base near the crash site, but we were quickly able to deploy mixed forces consisting of wolf and hunter tanks with a few engineers to scavenge any wreckage we found.
Our first order of business was to capture three different bases under the control of the "Forgotten," a neutral mutant faction (which made its first appearance in Command & Conquer: Tiberian Sun). By rolling forward and methodically churning out light and medium units, as well as closing the gap by continuously uprooting our crawler base to follow in lockstep behind our troops, we were able to grind through the disorganized mutants without too much of a struggle. The crawler, while deployed as a stationary base, radiates a power bonus that continuously repairs any damaged vehicles and heals any damaged infantry on your side. However, once it gets upgraded to tier 2, the crawler can also be equipped with increasingly powerful mounted weapons, both in stationary mode and on the move. This marks a pretty big shift from traditional real-time strategy gameplay where your primary command center/town hall structure is often nothing more than a big, fat, sitting duck. C&C4's upgraded, armed crawler turns bases into last-ditch defensive perimeters when stationary and mobile artillery are on the go.
One of the reasons we were able to get the upper hand easily on the Forgotten was that (with guidance from producer Jim Vesella) we were quickly able to focus in on building counterunits to the Forgotten's mostly medium-level ground vehicles (which currently consist of lumbering melee-based armor suits and a machine-gun mounted bus driven by a maniac). While there will absolutely be a counter system in C&C4, it'll be based less on having certain weaponry types work against certain unit classes (such as rockets being effective antiair weapons as in previous games) and will instead focus more on weapon types versus armor types. Most units of a certain size and level (light, medium, heavy) will have comparable armor types and will be vulnerable to similar weapon types. This will make fending off an assault a much more-accessible, easy-to-remember process because you'll be able to identify an enemy's vulnerabilities by its unit's approximate size on sight, rather than having to remember what specific type of weapon counters an individual enemy. In addition, C&C4 will also have brightly color-coded weapon contrails that will clearly indicate whether you're using the "right" or "wrong" counterunit to attack a certain enemy.
Once we picked up on this nuance, we were able to roll over the defenses at the first Forgotten base much more easily, and after killing them off, we moved our forces in close to switch the control point's alignment to ours. Once we did, we were able to commission Forgotten units of our own and run roughshod over the remaining two control points. We then gained experience for our kills in the process and picked up several glowing bonus items. Currently, the game has two sorts of bonus items that can be dropped: a glowing blue box, which provides an immediate veterancy upgrade to the unit that picks it up (as well as makes the unit much tougher in battle); and a glowing green box exclusive to the offense class, which gives an attack boost to any unit that nabs it. Throughout the course of our sojourn, we discovered the husk of a gigantic mastodon walker, which was a huge armored unit with heavy-duty weapons that we were able to repair with help from one of our own engineer units. Later on, we encountered Forgotten troops that had commandeered a few mammoth tanks, which, when defeated, also left salvage that could be repaired under our control.
After capturing all three Forgotten bases, a working mastodon, and a handful of mammoth tanks, we figured we were in the clear and ready to start repairs on the dropship. Unfortunately, our activity had given away our position to Nod, which, as it turns out, had key locations of its own on the map. We scrambled back to the carrier to peel off the Nod forces that were hammering the ship, including light attack bikes, raiders, and the infamous scorpion tank. Nod still seems to be a tricky faction on the battlefield, and its scorpion tanks are not only as agile as ever, but they can also burrow underground and reappear elsewhere. However, thanks to our heavy artillery and our continuous supply of Forgotten troops, we were able to pound them into the ground as well, leaving the dropship to finally repair itself and take off. With the mission completed, we were free to head back to the command center interface to spend our experience points buying new upgrades and move on to the next mission.
C&C4 already seems like it will have lots to offer--plenty of new and returning units for both the GDI and Nod factions, different character classes to explore, and a persistent unlock system that constantly challenges you to earn enough new experience points and levels to get access to new units and new upgrades. Having had a chance to play the game, we're already intrigued and looking forward to seeing more of the game. The game is scheduled to ship in 2010.