Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Kane's Wrath

I really liked Command and Conquer 3: Tiberium Wars. So, I was really excited that an expansion, Kane's Wrath, was coming out. Unfortunately, it's fairly disappointing. I wouldn't say it's bad, but it's kind of sitting at the lowest bar of expectations from a C&C expansion pack, especially since the last one, Command and Conquer Generals: Zero Hour was absolutely phenomenal.

First the good parts: There are some really awesome new units in the expansion. They round out the different sides while keeping in character. Each of the three sides has a "hero" unit now that you're only allowed to build one of, requiring a special structure to be built before you can even start to construct it. While expensive (the same price as a superweapon, without taking the structure into account), they're absurdly powerful. GDI gets the MARV, a tank that's as big as any of GDI's structures and has just about every type of gun imaginable mounted on it, and can be garrisoned with four infantry squadrons. But that's not all—it's also a mobile refinery. Simply driving it over tiberium increases your finances—you can literally recover your initial investment in a few seconds after you trek it very slowly to a tiberium patch. It fills me with absolute glee. The Brotherhood of Nod has the Redeemer, a towering, colossal robot that is essentially the same thing as a MARV without the mobile refinery capabilities. It's a sight to behold. The Scrin get a huge mechanical spider that absorbs tiberium from destroyed units. All three are very awesome.

There are other interesting toys to play with: Nod gets a stealthed artillery that, with the aid of a shadow team spotting the target, can bombard any location on the map, just like GDI can with the juggernaut and a sniper team. The Scrin get what is probably the coolest-looking unit I've seen in an RTS, the Mechapede, which starts out as a small little bead of a unit, but then you can build eight additions onto it depending on what you want it to be good at. You can make it a jack-of-all-trades by mixing and matching, or a harbinger of death for infantry by giving it eight add-on sections that all spew toxic chemicals.

Each of the three factions now has two additional subfactions that you can choose. For example, GDI players can now also play as a Zone Command squadron, and get access to expensive, high-tech weapons while losing some of the more well-rounded units. Or, they can play as the Steel Talons, dropping almost all of the regular infantry types for mechanized walkers, and missing out on all of GDI's sonic technology. (Steel Talons also get the Combat Engineer, which can defend itself somewhat versus enemy soldiers, and says "uh, they gave me a gun?" when you click him.)

There's also a new play mode, Global Conquest, which makes the game play out a bit more like X-COM or Heroes of Might and Magic—there's a turn-based world map where you build your bases and recruit troops, and then conflicts on the world map are fought out in short RTS battles, capped at a few minutes each.

But unfortunately it doesn't all really add up. There's only one campaign, for Nod; there are no GDI or Scrin missions, so to play with those units you have to do skirmishes, which just aren't the same. The storyline is really weak, and even nonsensical in some spots. The new global conquest mode is interesting for a while, but doesn't hold my attention like a normal RTS campaign would have. And while the subfactions open up new gameplay possibilities, they're not done nearly as well as they were in Zero Hour, where the subfactions were very clear and distinct—there was the guy who loved nukes, the guy who put frickin' laser beams on all of his units, and the woman who barely had ground units at all, choosing instead to focus on base defenses and superweapons. All of those personae are well-defined, and you got to fight versus all of them in a silly, campy Mortal Kombat-style tournament bracket. It didn't take itself nearly so seriously, and that made it a lot more amusing than Kane's Wrath ended up being.

Command and Conquer 3 is a great game, and Kane's Wrath improves on the core gameplay in interesting ways. Just not enough—it doesn't really seem like an essential expansion. Play the base game if you like RTS games and haven't picked up C&C3 yet, but I don't see a good reason to get Kane's Wrath too. I think I might have preferred to just dig out Zero Hour again.

Currently listening: Hooverphonic—My Child

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