X3F hands on: Command and Conquer 3
You may have heard that we had a tough time getting our hands on the Command & Conquer 3 demo last week. Saints be praised, we finally managed to grab the demo this morning. We spent a few hours playing the game and coming to grips with the controls. We also spent about 20 minutes getting owned on Xbox Live. So, is it any good? The short answer is yes. The long answer is after the break.
Command and Conquer 3 uses essentially the same control scheme as Electronic Arts' previous console RTS effort, Battle for Middle Earth II. The A button is the universal "do stuff" button, equivalent of the left button on a mouse. The left stick pans the screen while the selection reticle remains locked in the center of the screen. The left trigger and bumpers serve as selection modifiers. The right trigger opens the task menu. The task menu serves as the central hub of gameplay. Contained in the menu are tabs that give you quick access to construction queues, training queues, powers, and groups. The D-pad quickly cycles through different unit types, groups, and powers.
One of the best changes to the game is a much more identifiable grouping system. Any selection of units (or even buildings) can be organized into a group, which can later be selected simply by pulling up the group menu. In BFMEII, these groups were labeled by drarven runes, which aren't exactly easy to remember. Thankfully, C&C3 uses good old fashioned numbers.
Construction queues are a godsend for console RTS games. Instead of clicking on a particular building to train a specific unit, you can just pull up the appropriate construction queue -- these are divided into infantry, vehicles, buildings, etc -- and set up how many units you want to build. Once the units are done, they pop out of the appropriate building. In short, less clicking equals more playing.
Of course, not everything is perfect, and PC die-hards will want to stick with their trusty mice and keyboards. Selecting specific units, especially single infantry units like commandos and engineers, can be pretty damned difficult. The reticle moves very quickly, so it's easy to overshoot the intended unit. There are shortcuts that allow you to select every unit of the same type or every unit on screen, but that takes away a good deal of the strategy. Surgical strikes can turn into giant mobs very easily.
Still, if you've got the patience and can learn the multitudes of shortcuts and navigate the menus quickly, it's certainly possible to organize a detailed and powerful force in a short amount of time. Of course, learning the ins and outs of every unit and the technology trees will help as well.
All of this brings us to our shameful defeat on Xbox Live. We learned very quickly that building up a respectable force quickly is going to take practice. In the middle of what we thought was a grunt rush, we discovered that our opponent had already constructed Mammoth tanks -- Mammoth ... tanks -- before we had even managed to pump out our first vehicle. It wasn't long before he was toying with us and pulling his forces out just so he could finish off our few remaining structures with an ion cannon. Never ones to take defeat gracefully, we quickly sold our remaining buildings before the ion cannon was charged.
All in all, we got out ass handed to us. The funny thing is, we can't wait to try again. What do you think? Is Command & Conquer 3 the answer to the console RTS dilemma?