It’s been only a few short weeks since Strategy Informer was invited to take a look at Command & Conquer 4’s single player campaign. Now we’re back, and this time we’re loaded with new impressions not only of single player, but also with a world exclusive look at the game’s multiplayer beta currently in the works.
Holding their first ever ‘CommandCom’ event within the larger GamesCom convention, EA invited a select 100 press and community figures for a two day romp totally devoted to this game. Those of you who followed our LiveBlog coverage will have read our impressions as it all unfolded, but for everyone else, here’s a more coherent report.
As you will remember, there are several key changes coming to the last instalment of the C&C Tiberian Saga. Base building has been removed, instead replaced by a mobile ‘crawler’ system that acts pretty much as an all in one hub for unit productions. Players must also choose between different ‘classes’ – offense, defence and support, each with their own unique abilities and unit roster. Also, resource management, and simply management in general, has been all but removed from the game to provide a more accessible and streamlined game. Other changes include a progressive ranking system for both yourself and your units, which will affect the rate of tech progression in each individual match. This brings in a very RPG-like element for the game, similar to what Dawn of War II tried to do. The interface has also been stream lined.
In single player, some of these work, some don’t. At CommandCom, we were shown and were able to play an updated version of the code. Like the Guilford preview, the level seemed a bit bland and uninspiring, and didn’t really bring out any of the game’s potential. To further compound this, only one class was playable, offensive, and so we had limited options with how to actually complete the level. Also, since you are only allowed to play as one class, with penalties imposed for switching classes mid level, the game can seem a little light, content wise. Samuel Bass, Campaign Designer for the project assures us that each map is designed around the classes, and can be completed with each class, so no worries there.
In multiplayer however, these changes seem more at home. The class system inspires co-operation and teamwork on a level that only the most dedicated clans can do in another game. Because some players develop an affinity for certain tactics, troop types, etc... And so use them almost exclusively. These players then seek out teammates whose differing preferences compliment their own. C&C 4’s new, yet simple class system is the official embodiment of that ideal. By specialising the factions, it forces players to truly work together to overcome their weaknesses with something other than sheer numbers. Or at least, it tries to.
Everyone knows what it can be like playing online, and unfortunately despite the ‘incentives’ to work together, it’s still probably only going to be those in the more dedicated clans that will actually try and unleash the system’s potential. Therefore the same problems that seem to arise in the single player mode once again come forth – when you only get access to a third of the content, the game seems a little... light.
Despite this initial misgivings however, the multiplayer Beta turned out to be a lot more fun to play then the single player. Another of the major developments going into the game is the support for 5 v 5 gameplay. Granted, 10 player matches are nothing compared to the 64 players you can get on shooter servers, but for a strategy game this is not very common. Also, the mobile nature of the command crawlers means that combat is extremely fluid. There are no fixed ‘bases’, no lines in the sand. You can move about the map and strike from anywhere.
This mobility can lend itself to very unpredictable and exciting games, thus adding more incentives to work together as a team. During our preview we were able to play as the support class as well as the offense class, so the contrast was easier to gauge. The map type was what the developers were calling ‘Domination’. Think Battlefield 1943 where you have to capture the majority of the flags to wear down the enemies bar, only this time you have to capture ALL of the control nodes before the enemy’s points get depleted.
This means that matches can drag on for a while, because whilst it’s easy to capture a majority of the control nodes, capturing all of them and holding on to them is a nightmare. Again, this is where the class system comes in. The defence class, for example, can build defensive structures to guard an area, and the support class’ air units can send reinforcements rapidly to danger zones. Still, one can’t help but get an uneasy feeling when talking about the class system. Whilst it’s different, and has the potential to be quite innovative, if it’s not done right, it might flop.
The player progression and ranking systems will feel right at home here, as like any form of competitive mechanic, it will get a good following because people can’t resist beating other people. You can’t help but feel this game is geared towards online in general, as most of its features fit in better in an online setting then they do in single player, but that could change.
Considering it’s still in a pre-alpha stage, there’s a lot of development left before its 2010 release. It is unclear what is already set in stone, and what is subject to change, but you can be sure there will be more in-depth previews as time goes on. It's possible EA may have made a mistake showing off code this early, as with many elements still unfinished, it might give people cold feet about the new format. Still, this IS Command & Conquer, and the developers seem to be on something good here, provided they get it right. All we can do for the moment is watch, and wait.