Is the 3rd in Westwood's (now Electronic Arts') Command & Conquer "Tiberian" or main series and was released in 2007 for PC and also for Playstation 3 and Xbox 360. This writeup, incidentally, is referring to the PC version as that's what I have.
Firstly, I should mention that when it was announced I, as a fan of the series, was rather worried it was going to be a total mess given EA's reputation in the mid-2000s of buying up other companies for their game serieses and then completely wrecking them. To be fair this wasn't undeserved; they completely ratfucked Richard Garriott and Origin Systems and caused Ultima IX to be released in a state of incompleteness just to please their marketing folks. They also had an entirely EA-built C&C game under their belt in the form of Command & Conquer: Generals which was, well, a bit limp really, let's be honest.
I was happy to be proven wrong. As a result, Tiberium Wars, or TW as I shall henceforth call it, is pretty much as good as the classic 1990s C&C games in both fluff and crunch, even if it seems more of a sequel to the first game than to Tiberian Sun which it seems to ignore somewhat, more's the pity.
The Story So Far
It's 2047 and planet Earth is a ticking timebomb ready to explode. On one side, the beige-and-gold uniformed soldiers of the Global Defence Initiative, which has gone from being a loose coalition of industrialised nations under the umbrella of the United Nations determined to act as proactive peacekeepers to a world government. They control the "Blue Zones" which are the few areas of the world free from significant Tiberium infestation and which coincidentally are Northern and Western Europe, the east coast of the US, California, bits of Africa, and Japan.
On the other side, the sinister black-leather-clad Brotherhood of Nod. They have gone from being terrorists, through a cult, to a full on theocratic superstate with armies of tough and loyal soldiers and advanced Tiberium-derived technologies leading countless hordes of guerillas, militias, terrorists, and suicide bombers all of whom are willing to lay down their lives in the name of the disappeared messiah Kane. (KANE LIVES IN DEATH). They control the Yellow Zones, for the most part, which covers most of the Deep South, Eastern Europe, most of Africa, Australia, South America, and the Russian Far East, and are the parts of Earth with significant Tiberium presence but still habitable, barely. They operate in a cellular format, with elite factions within the Brotherhood training local militias and insurgents across the world.
(Incidentally, this is actually nicer than the setting of Tiberian Sun. Oh god Tiberian Sun was really fjoerking grimdark.)
If you're thinking this has parallels to The War On Terrorism, you're quite right. But then again, the first C&C had parallels to real life global politics in the aftermath of the Soviet Union's collapse, and according to the developers, influences included the Bosnian War, the genocide in Rwanda, warlordism in Africa, and watching the Gulf War on television. In TW, it is therefore no coincidence that the GDI administrators have a threat scale for Nod attacks based on the US homeland security threat scale. Furthermore, there are references to "shock and awe," and "weapons of mass destruction" in the in-game cutscenes.
That's right. Full motion cutscenes are back. And the fandom rejoiced.
Anyhow. It all kicks off when unexpectedly, Nod manages to nuke the GDI orbital command space station due to GDI deciding to turn from defending against Nod to clearing up the environmental mess that is Tiberium. In a scene that has no parallels to 9/11, this happens, and after initial Nod attacks it's time to send in the troops. After a number of battles culminating in the siege of the main Temple of Nod in Sarajevo, it seems Nod is finally destroyed. Unfortunately the destruction of Temple Prime with the GDI Ion Cannon (which is no longer a single orbital laser beam but a full-on Death Star like ginormous blast) sets off a huge Liquid Tiberium Bomb that was being assembled in the basement and which subsequently demolishes most of Eastern Europe.
It's also the signal to an alien race named the Scrin that the Tiberium on the planet is ripe for them to harvest. Cue alien invasion.
And Nod's still out there as well. So you've got a nice three-way battle on your hands. Isn't life great?
First up, unlike previous C&C games, this one is three-sided. In terms of balance, this means that rather than having "attackers versus defenders" like the first game, "more versus better" like in Red Alert, or "stompy versus sneaky" like in Tiberian Sun, they split the battlefield into infantry, tanks, and planes, and had each side strong in one, mediocre in another, and weak in a third. It stacks up something like this:
- GDI. They don't have big mecha any more but instead have tanks. Lots of tanks. And APCs with firing ports for your men to fire out of. And so forth. Including the Mammoth Tank which can now be upgraded with railguns. The Predator medium tank is also very strong for something that's available in the opening and is capable of dealing with middle-game units one on one from both other sides. They also have a walking artillery cannon, the Juggernaut, that can hit stuff from off the screen. Their strength is, naturally, tanks. In planes they are middling, with Orca helicopter gunships and expensive but powerful Firehawk fighter-bombers which you can load up with bombs to hit ground targets or missiles to fire at enemy planes. However in infantry they're rather weak and only the rocket men, zone troopers (which are kinda like SPESS MEHREENS) and the commando (who still has a present for you, and it will be left handed) are of great note.
- Nod. They have black leather and evil red glowing stuff that looks like insects. Their strength is infantry. Their basic militiamen are individually weak but ridiculously cheap and come in hordes. An early rush of militiamen and rocket men is quite fearsome. They also get suicide bombers, flamethrower-men in heavy armour, and a building called the Secret Shrine whose sole purpose is buying infantry upgrades including embedding flamethrower men with all rocket-man squads, Tiberium Infusion (boosts all your infantry's hit points), and attaching confessors (political officers with gas grenades) in all militia squads. Also the Nod commando is a woman with an eyepatch who is stealthed when stood still. Their vehicles aren't too bad and include a humongous mecha, the Avatar, with a laser gun, and the Stealth Tank, which is no longer a glorified scouting unit but a serious threat as it now fires volleys of about 20 missiles in one go. Their weakness is in the air, where they're limited to Venom helicopters of low armour and poor weaponry, and Vertigo stealth bombers that are expensive, slow, and lumbering and easy meat for enemy SAM sites especially since lots of things in this game can detect stealth.
- The Scrin. These alien beings are purple and resemble deep sea creatures. A nice touch is that rather than building barracks and factories to put things together at the base, they build teleporters of varying size to summon reinforcements as needed. Their strength is aircraft. Firstly, it should be noted that their Mobile Construction Vehicle is an air unit to begin with and given that all sides' airfields are cheaper and faster to build than their weapons factories, this means they can recover more easily after an Ion Cannon to the con-yard. They also get space-invader like fighters with huge speed and infinite plasma bolts, Devastators, which are hovering lobster-like things that fire glowing blue projectiles at a high rate and over significant distance, and an Airborne Aircraft Carrier (those things are horrendous to defend against because the AI on your SAM sites and suchlike chooses often to target the little fighters rather than the carrier and when each of those are destroyed the carrier grows another one after a few seconds.) They also get the Mothership, a slow and expensive UFO that blasts whatever is directly beneath it and can one-shot anything. Their infantry is passable to annoying, but their weakness is tanks. Other than the Annihilator, a blue triffid-like thing, which is equally powerful as the Mammoth Tank but more expensive, their ground vehicles suck. The Seeker light tank can fire at aircraft and ground targets but has weak armour. The Gun Walker is a light anti-infantry affair which is slower than the Nod Buggy and just as badly armoured. And the Corrupter, a cone-snail-like thingy that squirts Tiberium gas, is hopeless against vehicles, slow, and expensive.
Balance is pretty equal, I'd say, although some folks claim the Scrin are overpowered, and to be fair, once they start cranking out hordes of Devastators and Carriers you may well be a bit stuffed. But even then it's not like the Eldar in Dawn of War, they really were overpowered in that almost every single one of their units was strictly better in game terms than their equivalents for the other eight sides.
Graphically, the game is in full 3D. It uses a tweaked version of the "SAGE" engine used for Generals but goes back to the traditional sidebar (albeit the Red Alert 2 version with tabs for infantry, buildings, defences, vehicles, tanks, and planes). Being in full 3D means that the map is now no longer divided into squares, you can build anywhere within a radius measured in inches (on the screen) of an existing production building (so sandbagging or siloing out is no longer an option), you can zoom in and out, rotate the camera, and suchlike. It also means that the units, because they're no longer confined to fitting in their squares, can be actually to scale. So Mammoth Tanks really are mammoth. However, you don't get to pan right down to ground level to get a ground view of your base or the battlefield or suchlike.
The maps are also a lot more varied. No more are the designers limited to picking a tileset and then bolting something together with that. Now you have actual mountain ranges that don't look like ziggurats and hills that look like real hills.
I do like the missions as well, they are for the most part well built and run the gamut of difficulty and they seem to scale and provide suitable awesomeness moments. Besieging Temple Prime (GDI level 10) is a favourite of mine, as is the level where you have 20 minutes to stop Nod launching an all-out nuclear holocaust from his base in Egypt. (Hint: build loads of SPESS MEHREENS, sorry, Zone Troopers, and use their jetpack abilities to vault over the enemy's walls and just rush the missile silos). The final battles for all three sides are suitably epic three-way slogs with Ion Cannons and nukes and rift devices going off all over. There are some levels that are distinctly annoying though.
I mentioned FMV cutscenes here. Yep, they still rule. Yes, Kane is still alternating between being disturbingly messianic and chewing the scenery. ("How could I have possibly foreseen an attack BY MY OWN FORCES?!?!?!?!" - did somebody order a large ham?). The GDI Acting Director is none other than Lando Calrissian with a velvet suit, a pimp stick, and a penchant for George W. Bush like rhetoric. There's also quite a few perkily-uniformed female ensigns in the GDI HQ for the fanservice, natch (Nod women prefer black leather and New Rock boots and one of them is better known for being a Cylon in the remake of Battlestar Galactica.) The budget for said cutscenes is also way up.
There is an expansion called Kane's Wrath which is worthy of significant attention in and of itself. Like all previous C&C expansions it's really fucking hard (though not as ridiculously hard as Covert Operations was for the original game - I have been hacking away at that for over 14 years and still can't beat half the levels in it) in its campaign mode (which is a Nod only campaign set before, during, and after the events of the main game), but is more noteworthy because it gives all three sides three sub-factions each (which are kinda like character kits), each side a special Epic Unit, and also includes a new play mode called Global Conquest which to be fair justifies buying the expansion in and of itself. Here, you pick a side and are given a map of the world with cities and Tiberium deposits marked on it and four bases. Your job is to build armies and move them across the map and destroy all the enemy bases by playing games of standard C&C with them when your forces run into theirs. You also have to keep a full strategic economy afloat by ensuring that your bases are close enough to cities or Tiberium fields as this is where your money comes from. (Protip: he who controls Western Europe and the eastern US will be victorious.) Okay, so Dawn of War: Dark Crusade did it first, but in my estimation TW does it better as you aren't limited to territorial borders or having just one army moving round the map. (There also isn't the ballsache of having to defeat the ridiculously overpowered Eldar on their home turf which is specifically designed to play to their strengths. Fuck you Farseer Taldeer.)
There is a sequel hook at the end of the Scrin campaign (which is only 4 levels long and a bonus for people who've beaten both other campaigns) in that the Scrin Overlord orders to "prepare a full invasion force. Earth will fall." However, in 2010 EA released Command & Conquer 4: Tiberian Twilight which I refuse to play because they completely wrecked the entire franchise both in fluff and crunch terms with a plot that made no sense and no base building. Nice job wrecking it, heroes.
So do we like it then?
I do feel that although TW is a mighty fine game and on par with the 1990s C&C games, it is still lacking in certain areas. Firstly, the fluff is a bit inconsistent. In Tiberian Sun it was said that at one point the earth's atmosphere would soon be almost 100% toxic to humans due to Tiberian infestation. Furthermore, there was a lot more mention of an alien artifact called the Tacitus, which is only mentioned in passing in TW. The mutants are all but gone in TW whereas in TS they were an important plot point and gameplay point too. On top of that, Nod's emphasis on stealth was heavily reduced. No subterranean APCs now, or BIG BURROWING SHOEBOXES OF HORRIBLE BURNY DEATH. Furthermore, in the fluff, Tiberium is now said to be even more dangerous than before on account of it now assimilates things, organic or no, that it comes into contact with and if that is you, it will turn you into more Tiberium crystals and cause bits of you inside and out to break off. Yet in the game, you can roll anything through Tiberium without harmful effect and marching a column of infantry through a field of it just does them a fair whack of damage.
Also, the music is pants. It's dynamic now so it changes according to what happens. This is not a bad thing - Baldur's Gate II: Shadows of Amn had dynamic music, as did The Witcher. However both those games had good composers at the helm and came up with awesome themes that fit the mood. The TW music is not composed by Frank Klepacki and is pretty dull really. Anyone expecting, as I did, another "Act on Instinct" ("We are going to have to ACT... if we want to live in a different world,") another "No Mercy" ("NO! NO! NO! Mercy is for the WEAK!"), or even another "Hell March" ("Die Waffen - legt an!") will be disappointed. If there's anyone who can hack the C&C Original music into the game, please can they contact me urgently.
I don't like the ending very much either for either main side. It's a bit, well, abrupt, especially the Nod ending. Consider the endings for Tiberian Sun - if you were GDI, you got Michael Biehn spearing Kane with a big fuck-off iron spike and heroically rescuing the mutant girlie from a fate worse than death, and if you were Nod you got to terraform the Earth into a Tiberium-laden wasteland in the name of Kane. Here... it's a bit flat really. There's no sense in the last few levels that this is it and the fate of billions are hanging in the balance as there has been in earlier C&C games. Sorry, but I was a bit underwhelmed.
Still, C&C3 is definitively worthy of your attention. And, just for the icing on the cake, for the PC, its system requirements are pretty low. I'm told that you can even play it on a netbook (with bum detail settings) if you must. My lappy can run it at a nice resolution and at middling-to-high settings without any real stuttering or suchlike.
In short, I like.