The newest entry into the Command & Conquer franchise isn’t quite what you’d expect. C&C: Tiberium Alliances, being produced by Phenomic an EA studio, and using the Play4Free system is the latest title in the series; but the fact that it has become essentially a browser based empire builder definitely was a surprise.
The fans have been eagerly waiting a new release in the C&C line. C&C:TA definitely isn’t going to be filling the niche for the latest RTS epic, but in the mean time, it might just provide a new spin on an old classic to ease the wait. Whether this jump from one genre to another is a good thing, only time will tell.
The game plays out as a sort of resource management game. You place classic C&C buildings down, and slowly collect resources. These are then used to place more buildings, or upgrade existing ones, as well as to produce units. Unlike traditional C&C, where you would build your base, build up an army, and start fighting your way across the map, TA is more about spending your money wisely, so that you can keep your upgrades coming. Because it seems that upgrade management is the key to success, allowing you access to better units and more research for further upgrades. The old idea of quickly rushing up the tech tree to get an advantage is clear. Your opponent’s level 12 units of the same type will simply slaughter your level one infantry; and superior numbers doesn’t seem to help even the playing field. So instead of just moving up unit tiers as in the classic C&C games, going from infantry to tanks, you now have units that gain a huge level advantage, which completely changes the combat dynamic that fans have gotten used to.
Combat is now a matter of setting your troops up along one end of the field, and the opponent positioning their own. The attackers then move up the screen, being occasionally slowed by various terrains until they move up far enough to encounter the enemy. When they reach other units, they fight it out until one dies, if there is nothing blocking their path, they are now free to keep moving up and damage buildings. This very odd style of combat seems to be a strange mix of preparation and luck. If you have high-level units, they seem to be able to hold off endless waves of attackers. But you have to make sure you don’t leave gaps in your line, otherwise you’re leaving yourself open to disaster. I found this myself while trying out a few battles. I managed to inflict massive damage during one fight simply by piling all my troops into one column, which happened to not be defended by my opponent. So my army rushed through, and ran rampant in his base.
For someone who is looking for more of the classic C&C gameplay, this is definitely not the game they’re looking for. While the names and appearances are there, the game just comes across as something completely different. It definitely has that spin-off feel to it.
Now, with that said it’s not necessarily a bad game. If these sorts of browser builders are your thing, TA definitely seems to be working hard to bring out the quality in the genre. The game is currently in beta, and still in the design phase, with limited elements being present for testing. Their forums seem to be quite active on the developer side, with the devs seeking what balance and tweaks are needed to improve the game. So that’s always good to see.
One of the main issues with this game, as with others of its type, is just how accessible it will be to new players. Many such games have a limited cycle, where players can build up their empires for a certain amount of time, until a winner is decided or the server hits its reset period. At which point the game is wiped clean, and everyone starts up from the beginning again. This method does allow players who can join at the start of a run a fair chance to succeed, but also makes it hard for those who haven’t had the chance for an early start. Starting a game surrounded by giants isn’t fun for most. Some might not want to stick around until the server resets to try getting the same start as everyone else. During my play of the beta, I was unfortunately unable to get a real feel for the long term play of the game, as I managed to start surrounded by built up players who eemed eager to claim my newbie lands. Phenomic hasn’t confirmed yet just what system they will be using to maintain balance between new and experienced players. But this should hopefully be announced before beta is complete.
The team behind the project have some experience beneath their belts with this sort of game, and do have the vast history of Command & Conquer to draw from, so big things are expected of them. Only time will tell if they can live up to the expectations of those hoping to find a C&C game that they can play anywhere they have access to the internet. While it might not be the title that C&C fans have been waiting for, it might just suffice to keep them occupied until the next big production title comes to light.