E3 06: Command & Conquer 3 Tiberium Wars Impressions

We take an up-close look at the next game in one of the most well-loved real-time strategy series in history.


LOS ANGELES--Electronic Arts is on hand at E3 2006 with private demonstrations of Command & Conquer 3 Tiberium Wars. We sat in to watch a few new game trailers, as well as a gameplay demonstration.

The first trailer we watched explained the story behind the upcoming game. According to executive producer Mike Verdu, the development team is looking to make the game "a landmark in terms of story." To that end, EA LA is bringing back the classic live-action full-motion video (FMV) cinematic sequences from the previous games. The first trailer we watched leaned heavily on FMV and told the story presumably from the perspective of the game's main character, a biochemist-turned-GDI operative who witnessed the transformation of planet Earth after the mysterious substance known as tiberium, which "isn't of this world" (suggesting that Tiberium is an alien substance from somewhere in outer space) made its mysterious appearance. According to the trailer, tiberium acts like an ecological cancer, turning everything it touches into more tiberium. The series' classic "good guy" faction, the Global Defense Initiative (or "GDI"), was apparently founded in secret to keep the existence of the threat under wraps until the true nature of tiberium could be determined.

According to the trailer, the cover-up didn't quite work out, thanks to the meddling of C&C's classic "bad guy" faction, the Brotherhood of Nod. Led by the evil mastermind Kane, Nod discovered tiberium's other potential as a powerful energy alternative and attempted to discredit the GDI by exposing the cover-up in the year 1995 (the year in which the original Command & Conquer game was released). This sequence of events polarized the world so that the world's inhabitants aligned themselves with either GDI or Nod--a standoff that was a threat to global stability until, as the narrator of the trailer explained against a wide shot of Earth from outer space, "they came."

We then watched a gameplay demonstration that showed off, among other things, the return of the classic Orca scout fliers and Mammoth tanks. Verdu suggests that fans of the series can expect to see more references to classic C&C canon, as well as many, many references to the game's ongoing story buried in all layers of the game, from cinematic cutscenes to mission briefings to battle chatter you'll overhear between units. However, the demonstration we saw looked like nothing we've ever seen from C&C--a zoomed-in view of highly detailed units being deployed from the battle-worn confines of a forward desert base, complete with specular lighting effects intended to mimic the "whitewashed" sun-blindness resulting from sunlight reflecting from desert sands that was featured prominently in the George Clooney motion picture Three Kings.

The demonstration showed a few Mammoths deployed up the north road, while a pair of Orcas were dispatched to explore the desert to the southwest, passing a harvester vehicle collecting tiberium in the field and a GDI naval destroyer en route to a deserted village at which heat signatures were detected. When the Orcas pulled into view of the village, they were fired on by Nod infantry entrenched in the buildings and managed to tear down one flimsy house with machine-gun fire but needed the aid of the Mammoth tanks and eventually a called-in air strike to level the rest of the village. Verdu explains that particle effects will play a big role in the game's visual presentation--not just in the form of the swirling dust clouds that cling to ground vehicles as they roll out, but also in the form of impressive explosions that involve thick clouds of shattered glass that tumble realistically out of demolished office buildings when fired on by ground cannons and gigantic smoke clouds that flare up in the wake of aerial bombings. Verdu suggests that not all levels will take place in the desert; the game will feature three types of "zones" classified by tiberium encroachment. Blue zones will be pristine areas free of the alien substance's corrupting influence; yellow zones will be areas where tiberium has begun to corrupt the land; and red zones will be infested completely by tiberium, which apparently also has adverse effects on local weather (and can conjure up fierce ion storms in addition to killing off the local flora and fauna).

Although Verdu suggests that the story will play a crucial role in the game, Tiberium Wars will also offer "fast, fluid, and fun gameplay" in both single- and multiplayer modes. Verdu suggests that although the game has been in development for several months, the technical team is still performing "plumbing" on the game's powerful graphics engine to ensure that there are no lag or frame-rate problems that get in the way of enjoying the game's fast-paced action. And the team is also apparently hard at work on devising adaptive artificial intelligence to cater to players who favor either an aggressive "rush" playing style (that is, when players prefer to quickly build an army and try to take out their enemies early) or a defensive "turtling" style (when players prefer to hang back and build up their defenses until they can research devastating superweapons). Said Verdu, "If you turtle, the AI will turtle; if you rush, hey, the AI will rush you too." Though we've seen precious little of the game, what we have seen looks absolutely fantastic and should easily pull in both C&C veterans and beginners who just want to see tanks, choppers, and gunboats blow stuff up real good. The game is scheduled for release in 2007.

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