For a series that, almost from the start, has traded in various currencies of kitsch and nostalgia--be it the corny B-movie vibe of C&C's trademark FMV cutscenes or the relatively strict adherence to RTS traditionalism-- Command & Conquer 4: Tiberian Twilight potentially represents the most significant departure the series has seen since Command & Conquer: Generals. The gameplay virtually abandons the entrenched base-building that all but defined the early days of the RTS genre, aiming for an experience that sacrifices scale and complex economic sub-systems for something faster and more focused, though without cribbing directly from Relic's progressive take on the genre. Jeff detailed the gameplay systems of C&C4 pretty well in our last look at the game, so I'll skip the nuts and bolts this time and focus on the part that, quite honestly, interests me the most: the fiction.
So, just what's going on in the world of Command & Conquer these days? Well, as per usual, the Global Defense Initiative and the Brotherhood of Nod are still at each other's throats, though the most significant threat to the world now comes from tiberium, that jade crystalline element of extraterrestrial element that has proven ever so useful to the various military-industrial complexes of the C&C universe. While control of the world's tiberium supply led to the initial conflict in the first C&C, it now spreads at such a speed that it's threatening the consume the whole planet. Unsurprisingly, Nod's unkillable, enigmatic leader Kane has developed technology to control and harvest the energy from the tiberium, making him an unlikely savior of the human race. Of course, there's a twist (there always is) and this time Kane will need to team up with GDI in order to realize his plan. It's obviously an uneasy alliance, and as a GDI commander, you're given great reason to believe that Kane's not being entirely forthcoming about his motivations early on. Of course, just because Kane is all buddy-buddy with GDI now doesn't mean there's no Nod forces to worry about. There's now a hardline Nod splinter group led by a character named Gideon that feels Kane has gone soft, and is picking up the slack on the whole global terrorism front.
Tonally, C&C has been all over the map over the past 15 years. It can be hard to identify through the gossamer haze of a decade-and-a-half of warm nostalgia, but there was a certain black-and-white action-movie self-seriousness to the early games that eventually gave way to high camp with the Red Alert games, and there was plenty of nudging and winking in C&C3 as well. That all ends with C&C4, which seems to take itself even more seriously than the original, giving the game's end-of-days setup a little extra weight by making it personal. Rather than just playing as some abstract commander, you'll play as a character with meaningful ties to the world--ties that are violently severed early on, presumably to give the player a little extra stake in how the story plays out.
This humanizing of C&C4 extends to cutscenes, which no longer just play from a static perspective, instead moving around the environment. It's a subtle touch, but more significant is the decision to cast the game largely with unknowns, an about-face from the goofy geek-friendly celebrities that populated the past few C&C games. Aside from Joe Kucan reprising his role as Kane, I didn't recognize any of the other faces that popped up, though a cursory IMDb search confirmed that they were, by and large, professional actors.
Whether C&C4 will actually achieve the tone its looking for remains to be seen. What I saw seemed fairly restrained, at least as restrained as you can be when evil alien minerals are key to your plot. Then again, failing to achieve a serious tone might just be the best thing for C&C4--after all, C&C was arguably at its best when it didn't even know it was funny. Either way, I'll be incredibly curious to see how people will respond to the sweeping changes being made to C&C4 when it hits next month.