Pew! Pew! Preview: Command and Conquer 3: Kane’s Wrath

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A couple of weeks ago, I attended EA’s official Kane’s Wrath community summit, wherein the attendees were given roughly 16 hours of playtime with the new Command and Conquer expansion.

Taking place in the background of the previous Tiberium games, Kane’s Wrath tells the story of the titular fascist’s rise to power following the Second Tiberium War, his planning during the Third, and his actions immediately following it. It seeks to implement a new global conquest mode, along with — multiplayer fans, take notice — no fewer than six new subfactions for skirmish and online play.

So, does it look like EA’s got another solid C&C expansion pack on their hands? Hit the jump to find out.

First off, EA wasn’t able to show us their new global conquest mode, which was a bummer — from what they told us, it sounded pretty damned ambitious. Like the “War of the Ring” mode in Battle for Middle Earth or the campaign in Star Wars: Empire At War, Kane’s Wrath‘s global conquest singleplayer campaign will attempt to marry typical RTS gameplay and missions with a larger, Risk-style global management system.

Replacing the typically linear mission-cutscene-mission-cutscene format of previous C&C games, the player will now be able to freely choose which missions he plays, not to mention when and where. Any surviving troops at the end of a global conquest skirmish will remain under the player’s control, essentially meaning that the player will have to constantly maintain his persistent army. Unlike Middle Earth or Empire at War, however, Kane’s Wrath seeks to integrate the nonlinear conquest mode with the linear, FMV-driven plots the C&C franchise is known for.

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After seeing roughly a third of the cut scenes in the game, I can confidently say that little of the presentation has changed: the FMVs are still cheesy as hell and delivered directly to the player (just how I like it), and the EA team enlisted the help of two recognizable-but-not-that-recognizable celebrities in the form of Carl Lumbly and Natasha Henstridge. Unsurprisingly, I’m not allowed to divulge specifics concerning the story, but I will say that for a C&C storyline, there was one rather cool and surprising twist I didn’t really expect. Not a big thing, granted, but pretty impressive considering the series’ history.

But who cares about any of that? I was there for the gameplay, and it was gameplay I got. 

First things first: one you read a phrase like “six new subfactions” in reference to this game, it probably doesn’t mean what you’d think it means. The word “faction” brings to mind images of Yuri’s army from Red Alert 2‘s expansion — one expects to see entirely new armies with entirely new units. That’s not at all what we have with Kane’s Wrath, though that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Rather than making a metric asston of new units and putting them into one entirely separate faction (as was the case with Yuri’s Revenge), the developers instead decided to create just as many new units, but then spread them throughout different sub-groups within each of the three established Command and Conquer 3 factions (Nod, GDI, and Scrin). So, within GDI you’ll find the Steel Talons, an experimental technology subfaction armed with behemoths and combat engineers, within Nod you’ll find the Marked of Kane armed with cyborg infantry, and in Scrin you’ll meet the Reaper-17 tiberium cult. Collectively, each of the six new subfactions include about as many new units as you’d find if the developers had created an entirely new faction from scratch — they’re just sprinkled around these half-dozen new subfactions for balance reasons.

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Each subfaction has one or two new units of its own, at the expense of one or two classic units; if you’ve chosen the Nod Black Hand, for instance, you might have access to Purifiers and Confessor Cabals but not flame tanks or attack bikes. I say this as an approximation — as we weren’t necessarily seeing the final versions of each subfaction, I’m not sure exactly which subfactions have exactly which units. As it currently stands, however, it can be awfully confusing trying to figure out which subfactions include which classic units. I’d frequently find myself using a new GDI subfaction, confident that it would include what I assumed to be the “essentials” of the GDI army, only to find out halfway through a skirmish that the subfaction didn’t include mammoth tanks or something. Hopefully, EA will include some sort of fold-out tech tree with the final product.

Generally, the new units work well. We were shown:

GDI: the classic faction

-Slingshot: a solely anti-air hovering unit  

-Hammerhead: a garrisonable air unit without the need to reload

-Shatterer: a sonic emitter tank (particularly nasty against groups of enemiesif they stand in a line)

GDI STEEL TALONS: a transition in the GDI military force between the Second and Third Tiberium Wars using experimental technology

– Behemoth: a garrisonable, GDI juggernaut

– Combat Engineer: an engineer with a (really weak) gun

– Garrison Harvester: exactly what it sounds lke 

– Repair APC: a mobile, garrisonable APC complete with friendly repair drones

GDI ZOCOM: an anti-Tiberium subfaction

– Zone Raider: infantry armed with sonic grenade weapons and anti-aircraft weaponry

– Rocket Harvester: a harvester which can shoot (really weak) rockets

NOD: the dependable guerilla faction from previous Tiberium games

– Reckoner: an APC that, once destroyed in its vehicle form, transforms into a pretty damned tough infantry bunker  (players can execute some very fun base rushes with these bad boys)

– Specter: stealth artillery 

BLACK HAND: Tiberian Sun-era Nod splinter group

– Purifier: early version of the Nod Avatar seen in C&C3

– Confessor Cabal

MARKED OF KANE: Nod cyborg group

– Awakened: infantry with EMP attack

– Enlightened: elite cyborgs — the Nod equivalent of GDI Zone Troopers

– Tiberium Trooper: badass infantry with a Tiberium shard launcher

SCRIN: Original C&C3 alien faction

– Ravager: elite assault infantry

– Mechapede: a vehicle-esque unit which starts as only a head — after producing it, the player can buy new and varied body segments for the unit, making it progressively more powerful 

REAPER-17: Scrin Tiberium cult

– Shard Walker: shoots Tiberium at enemies

TRAVELER-59: Scrin subfaction

– Cultist: mind control infantry unit

– Prodigy: infantry unit with area of effect mind control attack

 

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Additionally, we got to see the MARV units for each of the three main factions — units which, while very different for each faction, were always primarily described by the dev team with the same two words: “big” and “friggin’.” The GDI MARV is a big friggin’ tank, the Nod Redeemer is a big friggin’ robot, and the Scrin Eradicator is a big friggin’ spider. Apart from being absolutely devastating on the battlefield, these garrisonable meta-units will evidently have a global effect on the map in the singleplayer conquest mode. I can’t speak to their usefulness in the campaign, of course, but in skirmish mode the damned things are awesome. They’re powerful and imposing — you never want to see an enemy MARV headed toward your base. They aren’t invincible, of course, and can be destroyed with the right mix of tactics and brute force, but they add some pretty nice variety to the combat.

Even ignoring the MARVs, the new units were pretty enjoyable. The Mechapede was the only truly overpowered unit at the time of preview, and its faults (mainly, that its individual body segments cost next to nothing) can be easily fixed before launch. EA seems to be taking a much more careful approach to unit balancing, having ostensibly learned from their mistakes with the original C&C3 launch; granted, they could very well trip over their feet again and release a severely imbalanced retail proudct, but the general vibe seemed to be that the team was focusing much more intensely on balance issues than they had with Tiberium Wars.

Thanks to the new units, our skirmish matches went by quicker than ever. Of course, C&C3 matches were pretty damned quick in their own right — most missions didn’t last beyond twenty minutes — but Kane’s Wrath skirmishes seemed even faster, often clocking it at under fifteen. The new units necessitate a much faster pace to the gameplay, and our matches were much more intense and nerve-wracking as a result. On the whole, the new units definitely improved the quality of multiplayer matches. The addition of these new units will be felt most significantly by multiplayer gamers, who will now have a whole hell of a lot more strategies and unit combinations to come to terms with. If you’re a predominately singleplayer gamer — like I am — the new units might very well serve as an interesting and fun, if quickly forgettable, diversion. 

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EA is also revamping the entire control system for the 360 release of Wrath. Rather than (poorly) attempting to emulate the mouse and keyboard control scheme as they did with Tiberium Wars, EA has included a new radial analog system. Essentially, the player holds the right trigger to raise the build menu, and then uses the analog stick to maneuver amongst the different build queues from anywhere on the map. The radial interface wasn’t quite perfect from what we saw (the X button does a bit too much on its own), but it nonetheless represents a massive leap forward in console RTS controls: it’s quicker, more intuitive, and more fun than any other console scheme we’ve yet seen.

In conclusion, I can see very little reason to pass up Kane’s Wrath if you own and/or enjoyed Command and Conquer 3: it’s got more story and a new campaign mode for the singleplayer gamer, and more new units than you can shake a goddamned stick at for the competitive RTS junkie. Potential balancing and global conquest issues aside, Kane’s Wrath looks to be a pretty solid expansion pack.

Kane’s Wrath

will be released as a standalone title for the 360 (the first of its kind for a console), a regular expansion for the PC, and will likely budgeted well below $60. Kane’s Wrath will not be backwards compatibile with original C&C3 single or multiplayer. Look for it in early 2008.

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Anthony Burch
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