Command & Conquer 3: Kane's Wrath
When it comes to game development putting together an expansion pack must be one of the less stressful gigs going. There's little need to trouble one's self with what to include in an expansion pack as there's a simple and effective formula to follow - more of the same. More levels, more units, more multiplayer, more, more, more. However, from time to time a publisher will decree that something extra - more than more - is wanted. And this is the case with Kane's Wrath, the first expansion to the third iteration (via three 'true' spin-off titles), of the spiritual successor to the game that is generally regarded as kicking-off the whole RTS genre, Dune 2. And while I enjoyed the new elements inserted into Kane's Wrath I just couldn't escape the feeling that I was essentially just playing more Dune 2, albeit it with more 'pretty'.
Kane's Wrath picks up where C&C3 finished. NOD is toast, GDI is 'teh win' and the aliens are nowhere to be seen. However, Kane's only down, not out and through the 13 campaign missions the player is entrusted by the bald bastard of the Brotherhood to re-assert NOD's dominance over the Earth and knock those GDI and Scrin scum into the trash can. The campaign is split into three acts which jump around the C&C timeline and of course there's the obligatory surprise in store for those who don't skip through the cut-scenes in their bloodlust. Naturally the hammy FMVs make a return and while they all seem to have been filmed in the same basement decked out in flashing lights they provide for an amusing break from the fighting. I did notice a synching problem with the video and sound which oddly sorted itself out after a few missions, but this is most notable as the only technical issue I experienced. The engine runs smoothly on all but the most clapped-out computers and is colorful and detailed enough to hold its own with more advanced offerings. The campaign will take around fifteen or so hours to complete and as such offers a decent value in entertainment all on its own.
It goes without saying that Kane's Wrath is also well catered for in the Multiplayer and Skirmish departments; these are the bread and butter elements of the franchise since time immemorial. There are dozens of maps to fight your way across and the game keeps a record of your progress, awarding medals for those who just love to play game after game after game. EA are to be commended for adding a new game mode to the mix, Global Conquest. This is actually a fairly substantial new way of playing C&C; there's a map of the world which you must conquer with your chosen faction. Bases must be built in territories, the loyalty of cities struggled for and of course ground battles to be fought out in the typical fashion. Global Conquest is essentially a series of linked skirmish games and while the strategy map is light on detail (and certainly not delve deep enough to make you want to auto-resolve each battle so you can get back to its offerings, unlike, say, Rome: Total War) it adds a decent amount of value to an already generous expansion pack.
During the NOD-only campaign the player will find himself up against a slew of new units including the mightily impressive MARV - a gargantuan cross-breeding of the Mammoth tank with a harvester - to the Scrin's fast Stalker infantry which cause special damage to Tiberium-based units and structures. In addition to the MARV, the other two factions each have an elite unit, only one of which can be on the battlefield at a time. NOD's Redeemer is a garrisonable mech while the Scrin's Eradicator Hexapod looks like it has stomped its way over from Supreme Commander. A lot of these units are engaging to fight against so it's a shame that they only way you can use them yourself, (without having to resort to employing an entire division of engineers) is in the multiplayer and skirmish game modes. Each faction also has two sub-factions which can be used in these modes. These sub-factions specialize in particular tactics and so offer a gentle increase in the breadth of options available to commanders. However the new units on offer are essentially modified versions of the basic units. While some are fun, they actually wind up being both bland enough to fail to cause much excitement and varied enough to potentially confuse the player enough as to their purpose so as to become dispiriting.
The key to some of the most entertaining levels in the C&C games has been an excellent map. So it's a pity that the campaign in Kane's Wrath features only one or two missions where the map doesn't either fill one with a sense of déjà vu or ennui. There's very little sense that the map designers felt particularly inspired to create something beyond the standard wasteland or cityscape. A number of missions also instantly put the player on the defensive with wave after wave of piecemeal attacks forcing a number of restarts to get the initial strategy correct. It's also a shame that the AI still hasn't learned that saving units up for a sizable strike force may lead to better results than sending them in as soon as they are built. On a number of occasions I found myself engaged in a lengthy game of ping-pong, rebuilding defenses and units while at the same time trying to gather up enough of a force to spread out and conquer new territory. The battles themselves veer between thrilling skirmishes and duller massive battles with victory yet again being decided by little more than who can lasso the most number of units together. C&C's tried and tested gameplay is just too retro these days and while you won't purchase this expansion if you had already grown tired of its dynamic over the last decade and a half, it is a shame there has been no attempt to develop tactics beyond each units' competing weapons.
Yet here's the thing. People like C&C because of its familiarity. As the rest of the world rushes along in a desperate search for the next innovation, C&C will always be there offering clean and simple gameplay. Gameplay that isn't too taxing and is embellished with enough character to give the player a decent chance to overlook the repetition of yet another mission to build up bases and then crush the enemy with overwhelming force. There's nothing inherently wrong with Kane's Wrath - it is a very slick, stable and polished package - and as long as you feel the allure of the C&C universe is strong enough to warrant yet another visit then this purchase will not disappoint.