Command & Conquer Renegade Updated Preview

We've got a beta build of this shooter. Read our impressions of the vaunted C&C mode.

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We recently received another beta build of Westwood's Command & Conquer Renegade, so naturally we were anxious to take it out for a spin. At last, the game is in the final stages of development, and the closed beta that is taking place right now is actually to test the multiplayer component of Renegade. It often seems that fans of the genre require a first-person shooter to have a multiplayer mode, and yet the inclusion of a multiplayer mode doesn't mean players will play the game, because the majority of the online matches going on at any given time are all based on a handful of games. That's certainly not because there's a lack of games with a multiplayer component, but rather that there's a lack of multiplayer components that aren't plain stale. Up until recently almost every game relied on deathmatch and capture-the-flag modes as their multiplayer component. It's no wonder that popular mods like Team Fortress and Counter-Strike began to dominate the online gaming scene--they offered unique gameplay modes that weren't widely available in previous retail games. Companies seized the opportunity to fill this gap, and games like the Tribes series and Return to Castle Wolfenstein have since emerged. Now Westwood is looking to capture its own foothold in this new breed of online gaming with Command & Conquer Renegade, which, aside from featuring a healthy single-player campaign of its own, offers a fresh alternative to standard multiplayer shooters.

This hand of Nod has seen better days.
This hand of Nod has seen better days.

Renegade uses a proprietary engine to bring the world of Command & Conquer down to the first-person perspective. The single-player campaign focuses on the GDI commando Havoc and has him running around vast outdoor locales as well as cramped indoor quarters, without any loading times in between. That technology is acceptable for a single-player campaign, but we feared that it would bog down to a crawl once other players were involved. After all, large environments with lots of vehicles and players can really slow a system down if the engine isn't optimized. Thankfully, from what we've seen so far, large matches with 32 players are quite playable on average systems (ours is a Pentium III 700MHz, 192 RAM, and GeForce2 MX). Additionally, there have been a number of updates to the beta since it was first released, many of which have resulted in dramatic increases in frame rate and a reduction in lag.

The current beta of Command & Conquer Renegade seems to have at least six multiplayer modes. There is the obligatory deathmatch mode, of course. We've also seen the typical free-for-all and team deathmatch modes, as well as king of the hill, where every player has a set number of lives to use up before being ousted from the game. The Renegade beta also has a capture-the-flag mode, where you have to bring the flag back to your base. However, Westwood points out that all these modes will be available as updates after the game ships. Renegade will ship with a particular multiplayer mode of note, however. Westwood calls it the Command & Conquer mode, and it's the focus of this preview.

Arrows prompt you to enter vehicles, such as this mobile artillery.
Arrows prompt you to enter vehicles, such as this mobile artillery.

As you may have guessed, the Command & Conquer mode plays like the popular real-time strategy game. There are two teams, the GDI and the Nod, each with a base complete with buildings and defensive structures. Like the original RTS game, you have a barracks, a vehicle factory, a tiberium refinery, a power plant, and a guard tower to defend, and you have a number of soldier classes to choose from. You can repair damaged buildings with an engineer, but once a building is destroyed it's gone for good. Tiberium fields are located in various locations on the map for harvesters to collect. Your harvester will autonomously collect the toxic resource and bring it back to the refinery, where it's converted into your primary source of income. If your harvester is destroyed, a new one will be constructed at the refinery automatically. You can also collect credits by fragging members of the opposing team, and you can use these credits to purchase different characters, vehicles, and beacons. Your team's objective is to completely destroy the enemy base by any means possible. You can completely reduce the buildings to rubble by attacking them with rockets and tank shells. Alternatively, you can sneak into a building and plant C4 charges to take it down from the inside. There is also a server option to have a third victory condition: placing a beacon. The GDI and Nod forces can place an ion cannon or nuclear strike beacon, respectively, on a platform inside the opponent's base to win. The good thing is that you can still use these beacons to cause massive damage even if that victory condition isn't enabled. If neither base is destroyed when the time limit expires, the team with the most points wins the game. You get these points by damaging enemy players and repairing structures, so even the lowly engineer who remains on defense contributes to the team.

Infantry and Vehicles

An escaping GDI engineer gets shot in the back.
An escaping GDI engineer gets shot in the back.

Destroying an enemy base takes serious firepower. You start off as a basic soldier with an automatic rifle, so you're going to want to spend your hard-earned credits on something that packs a bigger punch. It takes a short while to accumulate enough credits to buy anything, but you can spend that time defending your base or hiking over to the enemy base and scoring a couple of frags. Once the cash starts rolling in, you're going to find different things to purchase, depending on the role you want to fill. You purchase items at purchase terminals, or PTs, that are found in any of the base's buildings.

If you want to fight like a true soldier, you'll want to try all of the many character classes. There are four character levels, each more powerful (and expensive) than the previous one. The first level is basic infantry, which consists of four types of troopers that you can freely switch between. These four consist of is the standard soldier, the shotgun trooper, the grenadier (who's actually a chem trooper on the Nod side), and the engineer. The engineer is used to repair buildings and vehicles and to heal other teammates. The rest of the infantry are specialized characters, and you need a barracks before you can purchase them.

An obelisk of light prepares to fire.
An obelisk of light prepares to fire.

The next level has more-specialized characters: officers, rocket troopers, and specialized troops with tiberium autorifles. They are effective in taking out infantry and can do moderate damage against vehicles. The third tier includes a sniper and a couple of characters who use advanced weaponry, such as laser rifles. Snipers are brutal in Renegade because the bullets are instant hit. This means you don't have to "lead" opponents to hit them, which makes the sniper class much easier for even novice players to play as. A head shot means instant death, while body shots do quite a bit of damage. Basically this means you want to avoid open areas if you don't have sniper cover of your own.

The highest level of characters obviously consists of the strongest, and they cost just as much as a nuke beacon to produce. They are basically a stronger version of the previous tier. One of these highest-level characters is Havoc, who has more health and has a more powerful sniper rifle than Dead Eye, the cheaper GDI sniper. There is also an upgraded engineer who is well suited for defending a base. This character class gets proximity C4 charges that detonate when an opponent gets too close. There is a limit to how many charges your team can place before old charges disappear, however. Overall there is a healthy selection of infantry to choose from, and they aren't exactly limited to specific roles. You definitely want engineers in your base to repair buildings, yet you also want them on the battlefield to heal your teammates. Not everyone is going to want to walk all the way to the other base or camp in the shadows as a sniper, so you can opt to purchase a vehicle.

To produce vehicles, you must have the GDI weapons factory or the Nod airstrip. Anyone familiar with the Command & Conquer universe will immediately recognize the vehicles in the game. Just like with the infantry, you have a choice of roles in the vehicle. You can drive the vehicle and control its gun at the same time, or you can have a teammate hop in and take over the gunner role. During the beta, we found a lot of selfish players who insisted that we get out of "their" vehicle, though. They didn't realize that it's more effective to have a separate gunner because you can't rotate the vehicle's gun 360 degrees if you're the driver. The other important thing to note with vehicles is that a vehicle doesn't belong to you just because you purchase it. So when it rolls out of the vehicle factory, anyone on your team can hop in and take off in it before you can even get to it. GDI can also occupy empty Nod vehicles, and vice versa.

The GDI side has five vehicles to purchase: the Hummer, the APC, the mobile rocket launcher, the medium tank, and, of course, the massive mammoth tank. Facing this force are six Nod vehicles: the buggy, the APC, the light tank, mobile artillery, the flame tank, and the stealth tank. You'll find that the vehicles are fun to have in the game, even if you don't enjoy piloting them yourself. Seeing all the Command & Conquer vehicles rumble beside you is quite an experience, not to mention seeing half a dozen tanks firing at each other on an open battlefield while you run for cover. Of course, the maps themselves have to be designed well to make walking feasible and to include large spaces for vehicles to duke it out.

Maps

There were four maps included in the beta, which gave us a good idea of what the environments will be like in the final product. Some will be tailored for small teams, while others will need lots of players on the server to be enjoyable. The four maps we saw share one thing in common: the need for teamwork. There really aren't any choke points, so defending your base from attack will be difficult without coordination. Let's take a closer look at the beta maps.

Destroying harvesters will temporarily halt income.
Destroying harvesters will temporarily halt income.

Walls: This is the smallest map in the beta, so it's well designed for less populated servers. The two bases are close together, yet they can't directly see each other because a massive rock formation in the center of the map blocks the view. Each base has a giant wall with a main entrance. There is also a straight tunnel from the outside courtyard to the inside of the base, but all you need is one or two people to defend this area from most attacks. You'll find that most of the fighting occurs in the area right outside the wall because vehicles and infantry can fire at the buildings through the main entranceway. The walls and central rock formation provide high elevations for snipers to shoot from or for other soldiers to fire rockets from to blow away vehicles down below, for instance.

City: As you can tell from its name, City puts you right in the center of a large metropolis. It's the largest map in the beta, so be prepared to do a lot of walking if you can't hitch a ride with your teammates, but be extra careful if you choose to walk. You can find fights anywhere on the map because there are so many ways to traverse to the other base. The landscape is kind of dark, so it's more difficult to spot players from far away. The overpass that leads directly between the two bases may be a good place from which to fire down on people, but there's nowhere to hide if you're caught by a superior force.

A light Nod tank takes fire from one of its own.
A light Nod tank takes fire from one of its own.

Under: This is a medium-sized map with an artic terrain. There is only one tiberium field, located in the center of the map, so both teams' harvesters are in the same spot. Naturally this is where the fiercest fighting takes place. There are a lot of bunkers and rocky terrain in this area, so it's not just a meat grinder. You have players and vehicles streaming across the landscape to find cover, while snipers hole up on the ridges. It's an intense map with lots of fighting. In our experience, battles in Under resulted in a stalemate more than in any other map.

Field: The last map consists of a lush landscape with a waterfall in the center area. It's another large map with lots of ways to get to the opponent's base. It's hard to stage a defense anywhere other than your own base because of the map's expansive outdoor area. It's the only map where infantry and vehicles don't usually fight side by side. Infantry will take the rocky pass to the other base or perhaps cut through the waterfall, while vehicles have to go the long way, through the tiberium fields.

The Command & Conquer mode promises to be a fun and unique gameplay feature of Command & Conquer Renegade. Once the game ships, you will be able to create your own maps, custom skins, and modifications using the bundled gmax software tools. This will add many more options for both Command & Conquer fans as well as shooter junkies. Renegade is scheduled to hit store shelves in February 2002.

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