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Hands-On With Command & Conquer 4

Right-click on bad guys to make them blow up!

Here's a look at the battlefield. 
I feel kind of crazy, writing articles about games that aren't going to be out until 2010 when we're in the middle of the holiday release season, but in case you didn't realize it, there are some promising games coming out next year. EA brought by one of them--Command & Conquer 4: Tiberian Twilight--by the office last week and let me play it. It actually wasn't a huge revelation, as I essentially played the same mission that I watched someone on the development team play back in August. But getting my hands on the controls confirms that, yes, this still controls like a real-time strategy game, and the concepts behind its design still seem pretty interesting.

I'll spare you the details about how I right-clicked on stuff to watch my units blow it apart. Not that it's not interesting, but look, if you've played a real-time strategy game on the PC before, you already have a pretty good idea about how it controls. The cool stuff about C&C4 is in the way its experience system and leveling will work. While we've previously heard that the experience you'll gain--which is earned both in the campaign and multiplayer matches--I got to see how that translates into units and powers. As you level, you'll gain the ability to purchase additional units and upgrades with points that you'll also earn as you play. The catch is that you won't have enough points to immediately buy every unit as soon as it's available, so you'll have to be smart about it. Furthermore, you can only bring a set number (the final figure is still being determined) of these things into a match. 
 
So if you want to build engineers, which can take over dead husks of defeated vehicles and bring them back into the fight, you'll need to devote a slot to that unit. If you want access to tier III upgrades, you'll need to devote a slot to that, too. On top of that, once you're in-game, you'll need to activate those upgrades to tech up. Experience points and levels are divided by faction, so it's certainly possible to be a high-level GDI player with access to all sorts of crazy stuff without unlocking any of the top-end Nod units, or vice-versa. If you're looking for some sort of comparison point for the C&C4 loadout configuration and upgrade system, it's sort of like they took the persistence and perks concepts from Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare and applied it to a real-time strategy game. But rather than simply unlocking most things via general experience points, you'll have to use your in-game currency and be a little choosey with it.

On the battlefield, you'll be able to churn out units using your crawler, but you'll have a population cap to deal with. This system involves command points, and each different unit will increase the number of command points currently in use. Heavier units require more of your points, so a tank, for example, may require five points. When those units meet their maker on the battlefield (or are dismantled), the points are freed up so that you can create some more death-dealing dudes of... death.

But perhaps the most important thing I took away from EA's visit is that the new direction for the game is that the whole thing seems pretty cool. It's making meaningful changes to the stock C&C gameplay, yet it still manages to feel like it belongs in the same universe. It'll have plenty of FMV, and it sounds like most of that has been shot already, though EA's not ready to let anyone actually watch it yet. Since it's supposedly got a more realistically gritty look to its cutscenes, I'm interested in seeing how those come off in the final product. Oh, hey, here are some new screens of the game, too. 
 

Jeff Gerstmann on Google+
31 Comments
Posted by Jeff
Here's a look at the battlefield. 
I feel kind of crazy, writing articles about games that aren't going to be out until 2010 when we're in the middle of the holiday release season, but in case you didn't realize it, there are some promising games coming out next year. EA brought by one of them--Command & Conquer 4: Tiberian Twilight--by the office last week and let me play it. It actually wasn't a huge revelation, as I essentially played the same mission that I watched someone on the development team play back in August. But getting my hands on the controls confirms that, yes, this still controls like a real-time strategy game, and the concepts behind its design still seem pretty interesting.

I'll spare you the details about how I right-clicked on stuff to watch my units blow it apart. Not that it's not interesting, but look, if you've played a real-time strategy game on the PC before, you already have a pretty good idea about how it controls. The cool stuff about C&C4 is in the way its experience system and leveling will work. While we've previously heard that the experience you'll gain--which is earned both in the campaign and multiplayer matches--I got to see how that translates into units and powers. As you level, you'll gain the ability to purchase additional units and upgrades with points that you'll also earn as you play. The catch is that you won't have enough points to immediately buy every unit as soon as it's available, so you'll have to be smart about it. Furthermore, you can only bring a set number (the final figure is still being determined) of these things into a match. 
 
So if you want to build engineers, which can take over dead husks of defeated vehicles and bring them back into the fight, you'll need to devote a slot to that unit. If you want access to tier III upgrades, you'll need to devote a slot to that, too. On top of that, once you're in-game, you'll need to activate those upgrades to tech up. Experience points and levels are divided by faction, so it's certainly possible to be a high-level GDI player with access to all sorts of crazy stuff without unlocking any of the top-end Nod units, or vice-versa. If you're looking for some sort of comparison point for the C&C4 loadout configuration and upgrade system, it's sort of like they took the persistence and perks concepts from Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare and applied it to a real-time strategy game. But rather than simply unlocking most things via general experience points, you'll have to use your in-game currency and be a little choosey with it.

On the battlefield, you'll be able to churn out units using your crawler, but you'll have a population cap to deal with. This system involves command points, and each different unit will increase the number of command points currently in use. Heavier units require more of your points, so a tank, for example, may require five points. When those units meet their maker on the battlefield (or are dismantled), the points are freed up so that you can create some more death-dealing dudes of... death.

But perhaps the most important thing I took away from EA's visit is that the new direction for the game is that the whole thing seems pretty cool. It's making meaningful changes to the stock C&C gameplay, yet it still manages to feel like it belongs in the same universe. It'll have plenty of FMV, and it sounds like most of that has been shot already, though EA's not ready to let anyone actually watch it yet. Since it's supposedly got a more realistically gritty look to its cutscenes, I'm interested in seeing how those come off in the final product. Oh, hey, here are some new screens of the game, too. 
 

Posted by NeoGecko

looks cool

Posted by AjayRaz

oh god explosions 
this looks pretty good 

Edited by Hitchenson

Looking good.  
 
Also, if this article was uploaded, does that mean the power's being okay now?

Posted by Sweep

pew pew. Einstein?

Moderator
Posted by Spacemuffin

Well I do love me some right clicking, especially when it makes things blow up.

Posted by Bucketdeth

Looks pretty cool, is Greg K working on this one also?

Posted by MrMiyagi

Looks like Command & Conquer...
Yeah, I'll buy it.

Posted by W0lfbl1tzers

Can't wait!

Posted by NoXious

Some of those pictures show static turrets, so how does one build those then with the new walker Command Centers? 
And how is income done, do you still build a central refinery and it sends out a cart?

I hope they all adress those issues and make it very challenging - I loved Red Alert 3 and the tons of different approaches you'd see AND use.

Posted by lucas_kelly

I'm not sure I like this new direction, but hopefully I will be pleasantly surprised when I play it myself.  

Posted by Waffles13

It seems alright, but I sort of wish that they had finished off this dozen-year long franchise with some traditional C&C action, and then branch off and do something crazy in a new universe. Even so, I'll probably be picking this up next year.
 
Also, how in the HELL are they putting out a fourth full C&C game with the same engine? It just seems ridiculous that since Generals they've been running on a heavily modified version of the same code.

Posted by Kinarion
@Bucketdeth: Nope.  Greg K. moved to 2K games. 
Posted by Myrmidon

Tiberium Twilight? Seriously?
 
DAT SHITS WHACK, SON

Posted by Mooshu

A Tiberium universe game without tiberium on the ground? That's fucking stupid.

Posted by FuzzYLemoN

Awesome, I love C&C, can't wait for this, etc.

Posted by Shadow

Somehow, everything about this game sounds like something I don't want to play.  Then again, I do still have that copy of Red Alert 3 from that Best Buy sale I never opened.

Posted by shades846

Is it still set in a future Manchester, England? as the trailer was

Online
Posted by Bucketdeth
@Kinarion said:
" @Bucketdeth: Nope.  Greg K. moved to 2K games.  "
Oh really? I must have missed that news somewhere, awesome none the less.
Posted by Lazyaza

This game is sounding pretty sweet so far. I really like the idea of the mobile base style of gameplay.

Posted by Media_Master

Screen shots look nice.

Posted by Seedofpower

I die a little inside every time I see a new C&C game.

Posted by BeautifulSpaceCowboy

I really would like to say I was looking forward to this game, but C&C kind of lost me a long while back. The screen shots do look nice though.  Thanks for the write up, Jeff.

Posted by piropeople13

Um, Jeff.
 
You forgot to mention the elephant in the room.
 
This game is going to require you to be connected to the internet at all times while playing it, even in single-player.

  •  On a Laptop on the go? Can't play it.
  • Comcast did what Comcast always does to you and you can't access DNS?  Can't play it.
  • Dog piss on your router?  Can't play it.
Now they said that this is mainly for the experience point system being active at all times even in Campaign.  But if that was really the case then there would be an option to go into offline mode and turn off stat tracking.  I am afraid this is just like StarCraft 2's descision to not include LAN multiplayer, another misguided and tonedeaf anti-piracy technique that just cripples the product for legitimate customers.  I will bet you any amount of money you will be able to do LAN play with a mod and a pirated StarCraft 2, and you will be able to play offline on a pirated copy of CnC4.
 
Oh and I forgot to mention another thing.  What happens when EA decides that there is not a "significant" playerbase remaining playing CnC4 and they decide that those servers are no longer needed?  Your game will be bricked.  If is not possible to buy CnC4.  You rent it for the price that you would buy other games.  This game is defective by design and is nothing but a rental.
Posted by myghart
@piropeople13: That's@piropeople13 said:
" Um, Jeff.
 
You forgot to mention the elephant in the room.
 
This game is going to require you to be connected to the internet at all times while playing it, even in single-player.
  •  On a Laptop on the go? Can't play it.
  • Comcast did what Comcast always does to you and you can't access DNS?  Can't play it.
  • Dog piss on your router?  Can't play it.
Now they said that this is mainly for the experience point system being active at all times even in Campaign.  But if that was really the case then there would be an option to go into offline mode and turn off stat tracking.  I am afraid this is just like StarCraft 2's descision to not include LAN multiplayer, another misguided and tonedeaf anti-piracy technique that just cripples the product for legitimate customers.  I will bet you any amount of money you will be able to do LAN play with a mod and a pirated StarCraft 2, and you will be able to play offline on a pirated copy of CnC4.  Oh and I forgot to mention another thing.  What happens when EA decides that there is not a "significant" playerbase remaining playing CnC4 and they decide that those servers are no longer needed?  Your game will be bricked.  If is not possible to buy CnC4.  You rent it for the price that you would buy other games.  This game is defective by design and is nothing but a rental. "
That, indeed, is some precious bit of information. I don't mind that it hasn't been mentioned in this article since this is more of a hands-on and thus relates to the gameplay more than it is supposed to rant (albeit rightfully rant!) about today's so-called "anti-piracy" provisions. I can't say I'm sufficiently informed about that, though, since I'd still like to know how these arrangements affect console users. Will there be games that won't run unless you're connected to their respective online services? Or is it the PC gamers (yet again) that have to bend over and take it in the ... you get the point.
Posted by DCFGS3

While I loved C&C Generals, I did not feel the same love for Tiberium Wars, and I doubt I will for this one.

Posted by Celegus

Looks like someone finally took a hint from Relic on how to actually make an RTS - might be interesting, but I'll probably still be playing DoW 2 too much to care.

Posted by Kohe321

Looks really neat

Posted by Sinnix

You know what impresses me the most? That EA is actually successfully innovating with the C&C franchise and not just phoning it in. Nice work guys.

Posted by Eggn0g

Looks great, but the online-all-the-time thing worries me. What if you loose your connection for a couple of seconds during play?
 
I can se the logic behind it, but it's still a stupid idea.

Posted by White_Silhouette

I love the C & C series, and being a consumer whore will probably end up getting this anyway. But I'm really skeptical about how they do this leveling idea.