Here's the final chapter in the Kane saga. It's do or die, depending on which faction you side with. It's also been a long haul, both for real time strategy games and those that dared include full motion video since the time of the first C&C. For the last of the series, they could have just rolled on with the same old gameplay, but instead the developers looked over at what their rivals at Relic were doing with Dawn of War II, and decided to up the tempo by making the base as something that always travels with you. So C&C4 the most accessible game to RTS newcomers yet, though veterans may chafe at the lack of serious base building or strategic depth.
You start with one of three command crawlers. These mobile bases make units on the move, though need to park to spit them out. This means you're never far from replenishing your forces. They come in three flavors. Attack builds mostly vehicles and is full on aggression with no extra bells and whistles. Defense builds less armored troops, but can also produce all manner of secondary structures like bunkers and canons for hunkering down and holding a spot. Support is mostly air units, even your 'crawler' flies here, carrying with it special support powers that can rally, repair, or otherwise boost your units. These all play very differently, which is a good thing since the difference between GDI and Nod doesn't end up mattering much.
You don't see FMV in games much anymore, and with good reason. Even sci-fi shows with a decent budget can turn out as pure cheese. The Red Alert series was well aware of this, playing things up for camp humor of it all, though three took this too far to end up a series of cringe-worthy performances. C&C4 is dead serious, and sadly lacking in even an ironic sense of humor. Kane's drive punches through the bland moments, but the other characters are either boring or chewing on the scenery. Do yourself a favor and skip most of the GDI FMV, though you won't play for long either way.
This game is short. The two campaigns combined won't last you more than six to eight hours, though they can be played at higher difficulties with the option of co-op. They're also fun while they last, allowing you plenty of havoc, if not much in the way of high level tactics. The strengths and weaknesses of individual units don't matter a whole lot in this game, since by the time you see what the enemy has, they're already breathing down your neck. No time for counter builds. For the most part, I just made one of every unit type I had access to, and mauled everything in my path, while taking over high level enemy units with aid of my engineers. Go Attack or Support either way. You won't get much use out of Defense crawlers here, but they shine in multiplayer.
Distinctly different from the campaign, whose missions mainly break down into one long swathe of destruction, multiplayer has up to ten commanders all attempting to secure various control points scattered over the map. The longer you hold them, the more points for your team, with the first side to reach the point goal wins. Coordinating tactics and crawler types with your teammates is vital when there's a relatively low unit cap to worry about. Thankfully, it's not too hard to find a game with EA's always connected feature, though that does have a downside or two.
Much like Ubisoft's new copy protection initiative, you need a constant connection to the internet to have your playing count in C&C4, even if you're just going through single player. This is due to a persistent leveling system that carries through all modes, where experience will gain you access to better units and other perks. This leveling system is annoying and out of place though, since you'll need to max it out anyway before braving online if you don't want to get creamed. I personally didn't lose any progress when my connection broke in single player, though I'm guessing multi would be a wash.
It's a fantastic looking game, where the copious amount of detail on the individual units and environments doesn't ever interfere with clarity. While it's a blast, the campaigns are half the length they should be, and the general shallowness of the gameplay means you won't be getting too much out of multiplayer. This could have been a sweet expansion pack or a lower-priced side project, but as the conclusion to C&C it feels more like a whimper than the screen-shaking explosion I was expecting.