Command & Conquer 4: Tiberian Twilight Hands On: A Less Cheesy Three-way Dip

There will be no celebrity cameos, no professional wrestlers tackling men in bear costumes anywhere in Command & Conquer 4: Tiberian Twilight, the planned final chapter in EA's real-time strategy Tiberium saga. But there will be plenty of Kane.

While thousands of gamers were playing the long-anticipated StarCraft II beta earlier this week, we were getting our first hands-on time with 2010's other big RTS, a chance to experience the futuristic and grittier than ever before Tiberian Twilight. While the direction has taken a turn for the "grittier and darker," it may be better interpreted as less cheesy, as the game's initial live action cinematics, a series trademark, quickly set the mood.

Seen from the eyes—or, rather, ocular implants—of a Global Defense Initiative soldier, Command & Conquer 4: Tiberian Twilight sets the stage for a tense alliance between the game's long-opposed factions, the GDI and the Brotherhood of Nod. The mistrust for Kane and his plans for a Tiberium Control Network that could save the world are quickly laid out, as the game leads into its first real-time strategy battles.

Command & Conquer 4: Tiberian Twilight Hands On: A Less Cheesy Three-way Dip

Perhaps the most obvious change in Command & Conquer 4's gameplay mechanic are the class-based tactics players will choose at the beginning of a map. Players can opt for Offense, Defense or Support class units and the Crawlers that act as your mobile base, the unit that will let you produce buildings, vehicles and troops that also changes its capabilities based on your class.

We started out with Offense, at the game's suggestion, making our Crawler a walking four-legged beast. The Crawler will have to plant itself—or "unpack"—to spit out units, but players can queue up and build tanks, aircraft and foot soldiers while on the go. The Crawler is quite a tank, so alarms from the game's all-knowing voice warning us that it was under attack during battles wasn't much cause for concern.

In later missions, we were introduced to the Defense and Support versions of the crawler, which move on wheels and hover over units respectively. The Support version acted much like a mechanical medic, generating class-specific repair units and issuing an area effect unit heal that should open the door to some interesting class-based tactics.

Of course, there are plenty of playable units to build, some 90 or so classic and updated series staples. The uninitiated Command & Conquer player may be turned off or unclear about the capabilities of some of these units, like the difference between a Juggernaut, Titan and Mammoth—something the initial tutorial levels didn't seem to explain too well—but the lack of traditional resource gathering and a gentle initial learning curve makes experimentation with the game's dozens of units easy to forgive its sometimes intimidating line-up.

The mentioned lack of focus on gathering materials is welcome. The only crystals we gathered, optionally, were the colored upgrade materials scattered around each map. Gathering these upgrades helped us fly through the tech tree, a quick and simple process, that, like the deviation from resource gathering, turn the focus to unit management and instant action.

Command & Conquer 4: Tiberian Twilight Hands On: A Less Cheesy Three-way Dip

After burning through the first few levels, largely tutorials that included setting up bases, capturing buildings and quelling a suburban uprising, the game's story started to kick in. The player is asked early to align himself with one of the factions, Brotherhood of Nod or GDI. I chose the latter, limiting my exposure to some of the game's variety in units and unfortunately putting me into an escort style mission, protecting a motorcade of civilians. Not my particular idea of fun, escort missions.

But Command & Conquer 4: Tiberian Twilight, from my hands-on time with its trio of classes and more engaging live actions storytelling was fun on the whole. The game's biggest competitor doesn't appear to deviate from its traditions as much as C&C4 does, giving the long-time RTS fan something fresh to experience.

Perhaps the most interesting prospect of Tiberian Twilight is something I didn't get a chance to test out, the objective based multiplayer. Instead of simply focusing on total building or unit destruction or other traditional RTS win conditions, Command & Conquer 4 rewards allied team members for accomplishing smaller goals. That's something that the new real-time strategy game player (or the one new to C&C's mechanics) is likely to appreciate.

The one snag that caught me up during my hands-on time was some very questionable pathfinding, leading to a bizarre dance of tanks and a much longer level while playing as the Support class. But Tiberian Twilight's technical capabilities are sound, with sharp graphics, beautifully smooth animation and cool warped fog of war effects.

The switch up in gameplay mechanics, offering effectively six "races" to play with, and the change in tone for the game's storyline are promising design decisions, something that anyone fond of the Command & Conquer franchise or the thinning real-time strategy genre should test drive.

Command & Conquer 4: Tiberian Twilight is just around the corner, planned for a release on the PC on March 16.