Game Over Online ~ Command & Conquer: Tiberian Sun

GameOver Game Reviews - Command & Conquer: Tiberian Sun (c) Westwood, Reviewed by - DToxR / Pseudo Nim / Wolf

Game & Publisher Command & Conquer: Tiberian Sun (c) Westwood
System Requirements Pentium 200, 32MB Ram, 200MB HDD, 4x CD-ROM
Overall Rating 84%
Date Published Wednesday, September 1st, 1999 at 07:49 PM

Divider Left By: DToxR Divider Right

What does it take to be considered a true Command and Conquer zealot? Is there a list of specific criteria that must be met? Of course there is! The un-official C&C commanders guide lists the following requirements for the title designation "Hardcore C&C Addict":

  • 1. The candidate in question must have dedicated a minimum of 5 years towards the mastery of Dune 2, Command & Conquer, and Command & Conquer: Red Alert and the mission packs implied therein (Let the records show that training in Dune 2000 and Command & Conquer: Sole Survivor will not count for any credit).

  • 2. The candidate must be fluent in all forms of treachery including but not limited to sandbagging and harvester ambushing.

  • 3. The candidate must have both the Westwood and C&C logo's branded on their ass (one per cheek).

    Well I can safely say that I qualify as a Hardcore C&C Addict (about the ass-branding - I was drunk and she was cute) so I was more than a little bit excited to get my hands on Westwoods lastest entry in the C&C universe - Command and Conquer: Tiberian Sun.

    To say that C&C:TS has been a while in the making would have to be the understatement of the century. Owners of the original C&C will recall that tantalizing sneak peek/trailer that was included on the game CD. While Red Alert came out two years later, many fans were less than enthused about the direction Westwood had chosen to take the series. To make matters worse, Cavedog and Blizzard took advantage of Westwood's delays by releasing their own extremely solid RTS games. Followers of "the one true RTS" were left in a bewildered state - not sure who to turn to.

    Well Westwood has finally answered the call. Command & Conquer: Tiberian Sun is a return to C&C's roots. Forget the delays, forget the competitors, Kane is back in town and boy is he pissed! Set in the year 2030, the so-called "wonder mineral" tiberium has spread across the world at an alarming pace. GDI troops are forced to take refuge in the arctic region while NOD followers head underground (literally) in order to avoid the nasty side-effects of tiberium exposure. In addition to the two familiar sides, Westwood decided to spice things up by adding a wildcard to the mix: A group of mutated humans who call themselves "The Forgotten". So who will come out on top - the moles, the freaks, or the snowmen? I guess that's up to you...

    A well known game developer once said "expect an evolution, not a revolution" and that certainly seems to be the case with Tiberian Sun. If you have played any RTS game in the last six years you will be instantly at home with the screen layout and unit control that Westwood pioneered with Dune 2. In keeping with the times, players can now choose from a number of different resolutions up to 800x600 (higher if you poke around in the sun.ini file). The maps have that same old C&C look and feel to them except now they are "3D" which leads me to my first complaint: I find it very difficult to gauge the range of the units in this pseudo-3D environment. It has something to do with the voxel engine Westwood chose to go with which doesn't seem to be complimentary to showing changes in elevation. One feature which could have fixed this problem would be a "range button" you could press which would then show a light green circle around your unit so you would know exactly how far their line of sight extended. This minor issue aside, the maps are large and varied and there is even a random map generator included (one of my favourite features from Age of Empires) which is a great counter when you are facing map memorizing plonkers in multiplayer.

    Consistancy is the prevailing theme in Tiberian Sun. Graphics are more or less the same thing we have become used to with the C&C series. Units are sharp and colourful (maybe even too colourful... some of the infantry look like they just popped out of a Saturday morning cartoon) and as always with C&C games, you will have no problem distinguishing between the different types of units. I found the buildings to be particularly well drawn and you can certainly tell some time and effort was put into the artwork. I really liked the city landscapes and it would have been nice to see more urban combat. Imagine battling through narrow streets, ducking behind buildings for cover, snipers on the rooftops... something to keep in mind for the sequel. Some other special effects like the ion storm and meteor showers add to the overall game package and if you pay close attention you will notice it actually gets darker at night. Cutscenes have been given a significant upgrade. As usual you are treated to short movies between levels that keep the story moving along. You should recognize a few familiar hollywood faces in the mix although luckily for old C&C fans the script is still campy as hell and everyone talks like they have a pickle up their ass. Ahhh home sweet home...

    I was somewhat disappointed to see wchat as the only available way to play TCP/IP (other than kali). Am I the only one that hates this crappy piece of software? Oh well, it's just a game launching util anyhow. The multiplayer options are standard fare. As usual with C&C games you can control the tech level, number of starting units and cash. As I mentioned before, there is a random map generator included with variables you can set to tailor the map to your needs. I playtested over kali and I found the games to be smooth and lag free. Westwood has done a great job with unit balance in order to ensure there won't be a war of attrition - there are just too many long range threats now. On the downside there is no option to save during multi-play so you'll have to bail out on the game if real life should come calling. Fans will be happy to hear that all the familiar chess-like C&C unit matchups are present in Tiberian Sun. You will have to carefully choose which units to build and keep a close eye on them during combat because certain units have a very clear advantage over others. As far as I'm concerned, this is the main difference between the C&C series and other RTS games like Total Annihilation where you choose between "mech with little gun, mech with medium gun, mech with big gun" and the unit to unit matchups are much more vague. In addition to this, both GDI and NOD have kept true to their strategical roots with GDI preferring brute force over NODs hit and run tactics.

    Some specifics units and buildings that stand out in my mind:

    Mammoth Mark 2 - way too small guys, this thing looks more miniature than menacing!
    Firestorm Defense - yeah it takes a while to set up but it's still damn cool
    Titans - hmmm, something about these things just screams "wussy"
    Subterranean APC - nasty backdoor ambushes that would make Kane proud
    Advanced Attack Bikes and Hover Tanks - I love the way those rockets fire now
    Amphibious APC - woohoo it floats!
    Modular Gun Towers - what a fantastic idea, I love these things...
    Ghost Stalker - use the force Luke!

    Music and sound effects are vintage C&C. In fact if you threw in the C&C 1 game disc when I wasn't looking, I would never notice the difference. Strictly utilitarian stuff here. I guess all you can ask for is non-annoying sound effects in an RTS game and in that respect this game delivers.

    One of the main goals for Tiberian Sun was to beef up the AI. I definitely noticed a difference in the unit pathfinding ability. Actually pathfinding has been improved to the point where the units are TOO smart and the direction they run into the black void reveals details about the unseen territory that you would never really know in real life. For example, if there is an unpassable cliff a half screen ahead that you havent uncovered yet, your men will somehow already "know" this without seeing it and run down around it. On the subject of pathfinding, one of my favourite features of Tiberian Sun is how when you hilight one of your units, a bright green line appears to show exactly where the little fella is headed; a handy tool when you are ordering around hordes of infantry. Computer controlled units have been blessed with the gift of cowardice and if they are badly outnumbered they will run away to get reinforcements. Unit control is perhaps the most sophisticated system we have seen yet on any RTS game. Now you can visually place or delete waypoint markers and order your units to follow them at any time and even cycle repeatedly in guard mode - how brilliant. There are a few places where Tiberian Sun does fall short in control: Compared to the superior unit selection of Starcraft and building queue management of Total Annihilation, C&C:TS doesn't even come close. It's little features like these that separate the men from the boys and more time should have been spent on these areas.

    On the topic of development time, you can't help but notice some of the things that didn't make it into the game. The hunter seeker droid was originally billed as a parasitic sort of device that would lock onto an enemy unit just like the queen's parasite in Starcraft. The idea was, once you saw whatever you needed to see and the unit had outlived its usefulness, you could self destruct the droid and take the enemy unit with you. Well somehow in the mad four year rush to make Tiberian Sun, the hunter seeker droid turned into a lame crap shoot weapon that you destroy random targets with. This can throw an awful monkeywrench into a multiplayer gave when this UNDEFENDABLE droid comes floating into your well designed base and blows up your construction yard in one shot. Bad call Westwood.

    Well it's been a long time coming, so was it worth it? Tough call... Tiberian Sun is a very solid well rounded product with most of the features we expected. On the other hand I think deep down we were all hoping for a pant-shitting WOW type experience and that just didn't happen. So here's what it comes down to: If you are a die hard C&C or general RTS fan, don't miss this game - it's just too good. However if you are getting tired of the whole RTS thing and are looking for a fresh spark to rekindle the strategist in you then keep looking cause baby this ain't it.

    Anyone know a good place to get an ass-brand removed?

    The good: great C&C chess-like unit to unit matchups, good pathfinding, the most advanced waypoint system yet.

    The bad: cartoony infantry, parts of the game appear to be cut out at the last minute, pseudo-3D elevation changes and unit ranges are very hard to eyeball.


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    Divider Left By: Pseudo Nim Divider Right

    Four years is a long time. A very long time. Especially in the computing world, where four years saw a huge development of the Internet, a move from 486 DX4s to Pentium IIIs, a humongous growth of 3D acceleration (with it approaching the fourth generation now) and many, many, many other things. What happens when you plan a game, then develop it throughout all that time? Incidentally, I do realise Red Alert came out in ’97, which technically makes it two years since the last C&C - but then again, you must admit RA was essentially an add-on pack for the original (rather, the original Gold version, with the 640x480 resolution), due to its lack of “new” things to make it differ significantly from the original. So what does Tiberium Sun bring us? Let’s look at it in more detail, shall we.

    First of all, the engine was improved. That being a good thing, it wasn’t done properly - the max resolution is still a mere 800x600, at which your graphics quality doesn’t necessarily increase - it just makes everything much smaller. Since that didn’t require too much work on the part of their graphics crew, I believe Westwood should’ve included higher-res options, for those with powerful PCs that can handle it. Moreover, units still seem to have about four frames of animation each, which results in somewhat jerky motion. The terrain, however, does look good, since voxel technology is used. Voxels also help in producing explosions, terrain deformations and weather effects, such as ion storms and meteor showers.

    One thing that somewhat impressed me was the AI. While it doesn’t do a good job of properly swarming you, it does act its part out quite well - for example, if you have a base surrounded by turrets with a single gap somewhere for whatever reason, the PC will try to attack that side as much as possible. What I found unrealistic, though, is that it knew exactly where that side was, and attacked accordingly (then again, maybe that was realistic - after all, it does know what my base is like). Pathfinding was nearly flawless, as well - in fact, I don’t recall the last time I sent a hundred units somewhere and actually found them where I wanted, with few or no strays stuck in rocks somewhere. Mad props to Westwood for that, for sure, they deserve it. On the other hand, strange things happened to me during missions: for example, in GDI mission 4 where your objective is to rescue a mutant tribe leader (yes, after the ever-so-popular commando missions in C&C they’re back - and there are way more of them), the leader sort of disappeared after I escorted him. I put him into an attack buggy, delivered him (or what I thought was him) to the transport, and absolutely nothing happened. In theory, I would assume that he couldn’t have died, since the mission would have ended otherwise; yet, neither was he the right person to put in the transport, since the mission would have ended at that point, as well (or at least given me indication that one of the main objectives was completed). Similar things happened on other missions, like the one where you have to protect the alien crash site - I finished everyone off, timer ended, and absolutely nothing happened.

    The audio score in the game isn’t anything to rave about, in my opinion. The music is nothing like the original - in fact, I didn’t like it at all, since somehow, it didn’t feel like music at all - just like a beat of some sort. The unit sounds are just what you would expect them to be - screams, acknowledgements, squishing sounds, et cetera. Been there, heard that.

    The gameplay is nothing extravagant, just what you’d expect from a C&C game. A few new units, though mostly reused old ones with a new look (strangely enough, in the German version, they seem to have used the proper units - like Heavy Tank instead of Titan, judging by the screenshots that I’ve seen, and Rocket Infantry instead of Discthrower). Whatever the case may be, the only people they might fool are those for whom TS will be the first C&C experience. Anyone who played RA or the original will immediately draw parallels between the heavy tank and the Titan, the Hum-vee and the Wolverine, and, best of all, the Rocket Infantry and the Discthrowers. I’ve yet to figure out what kind of logic lies behind that; what exactly is a disc thrower? Is that an advanced case of a defective CD burner? Or is that a Walmart, EB, or any other big store clerk that had enough of bargain-bin titles? Anyway, those “Discthrowers” are nothing but rocket infantry. And, what’s up with raising prices? If I’m not mistaken, infantry used to cost $120 to train in C&C, but it’s up to $150 - inflation? But even if the inflation were 3% per year, which is quite a lot, it still shouldn’t have risen to such a high value in a measly four years. Anyway, enough of that. it still shouldn’t have risen to such a high value in a measly four years. Anyway, enough of that.

    Multiplayer is one area where TS shines. But it doesn’t shine because of any specific inventions - rather, it’s because it’s the sort of game you play multiplayer, similar to Quake, much more than you play single-player. In our tests, we’ve experienced no lag (using a cable modem/DSL, and playing against adversaries on Westwood Online, whose connection speed was unknown), and in general, it was fast-paced, fun and enjoyable.

    So what makes me sound so skeptical about TS? Mainly the fact that, considering all the hype, the waiting time, the development time and so forth, this should’ve been a much better game than it turned out to be. This doesn’t mean there won’t be a huge following of fans - but, as an example, look at Starcraft. It was in development for 3-some years, and what was the result? One of the best RTSs I’ve played in a very long time. As well, I realise a number of people didn’t like it, and I respect that - but you mustn’t forget, that this is but one person’s opinion. Starcraft’s races felt so different, looked so different, played so differently that one had to try really hard to duplicate it. Note the FMV sequences - they were far and few in between, but rendered with impeccable accuracy and were entertaining to watch. In TS, however, every mission is preceded and followed by an FMV; some pre-rendered, and some with live actors. As many people mentioned, however, the acting is incredibly cheesy, and only Kane plays his role well - but he’s the evil overlord, so he’s expected to. Other than that, the acting is bad. Really bad. It’s not as bad as in Crusader: No Remorse and No Regret, though, but those were such incredible games in all other respects that comparisons just can’t be drawn.

    In all respects, TS is not a bad game. I’ve seen much worse games, but I’ve seen much better games, as well. This is a reiteration of a classic, and, similar as to how photocopies always come out inferior to the original, so does TS as compared to C&C. Was it worth the wait, you might ask? Not in my view, it wasn’t.


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    Divider Left By: Wolf Divider Right

    It was after the success of Dune 2 (the grandaddy of RTS’) that Westwood released Command and Conquer. The game was an instant smash hit and is still one of the most popular and revolutionnary games ever made. The whole package was just near perfection for its time for sound, movies, and gameplay. Westwood could have never suspected the huge impact the title would make on the gaming industry. Almost immediately, also due to Warcraft 2’s success, a veritable landslide of clones were churned out by the big gaming machine in a desperate bid to capture the same audience and separate them from their money. This went on for a while, with a select few hits emerging from the slew of titles, then all was quiet for a while on the RTS front. For the last two years not much has emerged for the RTS genre, save for a few titles. Finally, after many delays, lost promises and threats of nuclear mail bombs, Westwood has released the sequel to one of the best selling games of all time.

    The story isn’t overly complicated. The Global Defense Initiative (GDI) is trying to uphold peace and order in the world, while the Brotherhood of NOD (NOD) is attempting to take control of the world to launch a new age: the Tiberian age. Of course there is more to it than that, which the single player campaigns will show you, but its nothing special.

    The graphics in CnC2 are a rather touchy subject. Many people are of the opinion that after spending so much time in development, the graphics should be 3D polygonal units with 3DFX support and other zif bang flair effects. After first seeing the voxel terrain and units, some people recoil in horror, shocked at the simplicity of the graphics engine. I assure you that the graphics engine is perfectly fit to handle the situation, but some must get past the initial disappointment and discover its finer points. The main feature of the graphics engine is that it utilizes voxels. This makes explosions of vehicles very detailed, with wheels and little odd bits of debris flying about the place, planes going into a wild spins crashing into buildings causing even greater explosions and neat Ion Storm and Meteor Shower effects. The game also boasts it has alterable terrain, which is true in that the ice cracks and sometimes gives way a bit, but apart from that its really quite useless. For the uninititaed, voxels cannot be accelarated with the current slew of 3D graphics cards. Voxels require only CPU brawn to keep them going, though there shoulnd’t be many speed problems, with the only real exception being the slow loading times on older machines, and slow scrolling when things heat up a bit.

    The sounds in CnC2 are done very professionally, sporting a multitude of different sounds, which sometimes confuses you as to what the heck is going on as a new wave of different sounds emits from the speakers in the midst of a battle. The disappointing elements here for me though were the music tracks. The original CnC had a real out and going music track with thumpy techno music to keep your adrenaline going, but CnC2 had opted for a more calmer approach with music blending into the background more, i.e. most are rather bland and boring. This is really rather sad, as the originals sound track was one of *the* best things about the game. The standard is lowered here in a bad trend. Games should have better quality music that’s not just there to “blend in” and dissipate, but something you would stick on your stereo, rip up the sound, and wait for the neighbors to complain. There is only one good track, “Nod Crush” which you can only hear when playing as NOD, and is not on the Tiberian Sun soundtrack (which you get with the Platinum edition).

    After loading up the game and choosing your side, you are initiated into your side of choice (GDI or NOD). Both of them start from scratch, building up to a grand finale after about 18 missions. At some points in time, you get multiple choices about which “path” to follow; For example, taking out the NOD supply base (which is a mission) will make it easier to complete the main mission, which is destroying a huge NOD headquarters. There are only a few of these choices in both campaigns but skipping some can shorten the amount of missions needed to complete the game. Its actually a really refreshing change to find out that only a few missions actually require you to simply build a base and destroy all opposition. The few missions that do require you do so are made easier by the handy speed slide and the puzzling lack of any AI harassment attempts on your base. In fact, the whole game seems to have gotten a lot easier. Completing the GDI and NOD campaigns was a matter of 48 hours for me personally, although it should keep some occupied for weeks. The whole of the campaigns are littered with movies. I must point out to Westwood they’re on another bad trend here since half of the movies focus on “plot development”, involving a 'Wing Commander Prophecy'-esque method of people talking a bit, looking like complete fools all the while. This is mainly so for the GDI side, with some rather poor and unconvincing acting. Luckily Westwood is saved by the inclusion of little battle movies of Orcas and tanks and stuff blowing each other up. Albeit these are less numerous than in the original, they are still just as good from a quality standpoint. The NOD movies are quite a bit better, with Frank Zagarino showing how it should really be done and the sidekick women also giving a pretty good performance.

    The sides in CnC2 are very distinctive, with there being no real counterparts for most of the units on both sides except the basic ones. NOD has Artillery, Subterranean units, missile structures and stealth generators while GDI has mechs, Orca bombers and Firestorm defense. There are plenty more distinctive units of course, and the slew of normal basic type grunts, but a noticeable lack of any basic “tank” type units. This is purposely done so as to remove all chances for players to “rush” with any single type of unit. All units need some kind of support from other types, or risk being completely annihilated by their archenemies, sort of like Stone, Paper and Scissors. Any type of infantry can get completely mowed down by bombers, whilst SAMs kick bombers, Titans cane the enemy vehicles, while being useless against infantry, and so on.

    These distinctive sides really help with the multiplayer aspect of the game, creating different strategies that only work for one side. The Westwood online tool, which is included with CnC2 and is free to play online is a wonderful creation. An automatic tournament ladder is included with rankings and starting games is just exceptionally easy. Never have I experienced a crash on here, and playing games online is as easy as clicking a few labeled buttons. The only problem right now is the server getting a bit bogged down with the slew of people going online, but Westwood is upgrading their servers as I speak to deal with the situation. Hopefully they will also find measures to counter the multiplayer cheating tool created, although I must point out that after playing about 20 odd multiplayer games, I have not noticed a single player using it, which is a good sign.

    Westwood has tried to change things in their sequel, which perhaps they saw as improvements over the original. The music and videos have both taken a small step backwards because of it and is rather disappointing. They just haven’t got the perfect touch to their sequel to make it shine like the original. The problem Westwood have created for themselves is that they hyped their title up far to much, creating a lot of anticipation due to an agonizing delay in the release. The fact is that the game is not as good as the hype makes it out to be, which will certainly disappoint many people, expecting another smash hit title. Even with some of the features downgraded, its still a good solid Real Time Strategy title which should keep you going at multiplayer for weeks to come.


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