Gorgeous graphics, cross-platform multiplayer support, terrific production value with pro actors
Performance bogs at high quality settings, even on Mac Pros
Not optimized for multicore/multiprocessor Macs
Few games have helped define the real-time strategy genre more than Command & Conquer. Notwithstanding Blizzard’s efforts with Warcraft and Starcraft, Command & Conquer has, for years, set the standard for this type of game, and Electronic Arts has brought the latest major installment to the Mac—Command & Conquer 3: Tiberium Wars.
For the uninitiated, the Command & Conquer series pits the Global Defense Initiative, a U.N.-like collection of countries, against the Brotherhood of Nod, an organization bent on taking over the world. Both sides are fighting not just for territory but control of a mysterious substance of extraterrestrial origin called Tiberium, a green mineral that is, essentially, the coin of the realm. The more Tiberium you have, the more structures you can build, the more troops you can control, and the better off you are.
But Tiberium itself has a cost. Many parts of Command & Conquer’s world have been polluted by Tiberium and are virtually uninhabitable wastelands. In other parts of the world, society has all but collapsed as people fend for basic survival. This is the setting of the game, and you play as either a member of the GDI or the Brotherhood. The GDI is focused on containing the Tiberium threat and restoring Earth to healthier conditions. The Brotherhood thinks that Tiberium is a catalyst for the next step in human evolution.
Initially, in the single player campaign mode, you play as a GDI commander sent on a variety of missions to push back a Brotherhood assault on the Eastern Seaboard of the United States. Eventually, you’ll find yourself in spots all over the world as you vie for control.
While the basic mechanics of the game are fairly simple—many missions focus on setting up a base and taking back control of territory from an enemy—there are a surprisingly varied number of different activities. Most missions possess several primary and secondary mission objectives, and your superior officers in the game offer decorations that depend on well you complete the tasks.
If you’re into complex technology development “trees” like the ones you find in Civilization (), you’re going to be a bit disappointed. Command & Conquer 3 employs a flat production and development system that only takes about 15 or 20 minutes to understand and master. But that’s good, because there’s tons of action, and Command & Conquer gets you right into the midst of it after a very brief (albeit complete) tutorial mode.
Command & Conquer 3 does have one big surprise: a new faction, an alien race called the Scrin. It’s quite a change to play as the Scrin, especially once you’re familiar with Brotherhood and GDI forces, which are really two sides of the same coin. All three factions are fairly well balanced, but the Scrin employ different technology and a different method of production and resource management than you’ll have become accustomed to.
Production quality in Command & Conquer 3 is fantastic. Ample cinematic cut-scenes are employed throughout, featuring actors who any science fiction fan worth their salt will recognize immediately, such as Michael Ironside, Tricia Helfer, Grace Park, Billy Dee Williams, and Josh Holloway all make appearances. Joe Kucan, who may not be familiar to Command & Conquer fans, reprises his role as Kane, the megalomaniacal leader of the Brotherhood. The soundtrack sounds like it’s from a movie, and the sound effects are equally cinematic.
Graphics quality is gorgeous. Each scene and unit is rendered in full 3-D, which you can rotate or zoom using your mouse (I’d strongly recommend having a multi-button mouse other than a Mighty Mouse () if you don’t already).
Performance is decent, too, as long as you don’t set your picture quality to Ultra-High—even my new Mac Pro with GeForce 8800GT card had a hard time handling the graphics. Bear in mind that this game was built using TransGaming’s Cider technology, which means Command & Conquer 3 only works on Intel Macs that have discrete graphics chips (Mac that use integrated graphics such as MacBooks, Mac minis, and some iMacs need not apply). Also, like the other Cider games I’ve tried, the game isn’t optimized for multiple processors or cores, so regardless of whether you have a Mac with a single Core 2 Duo processor or an eight-core Mac Pro, you’re going to see similar frame rates. That’s a disappointment, but it’s not TransGaming’s fault. Command & Conquer 3 would have to be rewritten from scratch with mulitprocessor support in order for the Mac version to see any benefit.
EA has updated Command & Conquer 3 a few times since its initial release for Mac and PC alike, so you’d be well advised to download the latest patch from EA’s Web site (which you’ll be prompted to do when you first launch the game) especially if you’re working with Leopard.
If you’re not up for the lengthy single-player campaign, Skirmish mode will let you play a quick pick-up game against the computer. You can apply a variety of different settings to make the game as challenging or as easy as you wish. There’s also multiplayer support and you’re able to play online using the same method as PC users, so you’re right there with them—no sandboxing of Mac gamers here. You will need to create an account on EA’s servers to play, but it’s free.
The bottom line
Command & Conquer 3 is an awesome addition to EA’s franchise and a solid Mac offering. It’s just a shame that PowerPC-based Mac users can’t play it too.
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