Review by EDDY555

"Messy and underwhelming"

When the very first Command & Conquer game was released by developer Westwood, there was a sneak peek on the CD which showed gamers a hint of Tiberian Sun. We were drooling from there. The superb 1996 smash Command & Conuqer: Red Alert, universally considered to be among perhaps the best PC games ever made at the time, only increased the hype for this 1999 release. Famous Hollywood actors signed up to the project, early screenshots showed a lovely visual improvement and preview packages provoked raving comments from magazines and the Internet.

How could the final game not be unmissable?

We all went and bought Tiberian Sun as soon as we could, lapping up the striking installation sequence, yet at the same time clenching our fists with frustration as files were lethargically copied to our prehistoric hard drives. We wanted to play it NOW!

In the background, however, critics throughout the industry were busy constructing reviews that collectively roasted Tiberian Sun, proclaiming it a colossal disappointment and failure. The public were influenced, certainly, as what was meant to be the RTS of the season swiftly left the limelight. Even the devlopers acknowledged their dissatisfaction with the performance of Tiberian Sun later on. This isn't an entirely poor game at all.

It isn't the classic that the fanbase had hoped for either.

Tiberian Sun takes place several decades after the events of the original Command & Conquer, wherein the planet was hit with a Meteor containing Tiberium, a fatal but very valuable mineral that multiplied at alarming rates. The Brotherhood of Nod, a heavily-armed, vastly wealthy terrorist group with extreme philosophies, who were trying to take control of this potential “new age”, was overcome by the UN-funded Global Defence Initiative. Nod's leader, Kane, was apparently vaporised in an attack on his Sarajevo HQ. Remaining Nod forces were rounded up, tried and executed for war crimes, which included biological experiments on prisoners and village slaughters.

What GDI didn't notice were the plethora of tiny Nod splinter groups going into hiding, fanatically believing Kane to be Jesus, and that he would be resurrected in a “Second Coming” of sorts, to guide them to victory in an imminent generation. True, no evidence of Kane's demise was ever found, but he was presumed dead at the scene. If he could survive a blast from GDI's Ion Cannon, he must be a god...!

You know where this is going, don't you?

Aboard the GDI space station Philadelphia, General Solomon receives a video transmission from a distinct figure, dressed in black robes. It's Kane! He hasn't aged a day. Solomon thinks Kane is being ridiculous when he prophecises a Tiberium Age – ruled over by himself, who else? – but sure enough, the Brotherhood's underground factions reunite to become a vast army once again, and war is on the cards.

The story is one of the strongest points of the game, and at the same time the absolute weakest. It's quite well-plotted material with a few surprises, not least what Kane reveals his ultimate ideal to be. Then again, seeing as Kane's “invincibility” characteristic turns him from a believable bald boss with a silver handgun into a mystic Messiah, it starts a chain reaction throughout the rest of the script.

In short, the series takes a turn for the nonsensical in Tiberian Sun. The realistic yet tongue-in-cheek martial edge of Red Alert has been flushed down the toilet in favour of a humourless science fiction thriller, which is just not what C&C should be. I'd grown to love Westwood's seemingly inimitable style that they applied to the series, so the ordinary presentation here leaves me cold. Instead of the actors having enormous fun (the ones who play GDI characters look wholly unexcited, anyway), they're given lines which have no bitter, amusing or over-the-top emphasis to them at all.

General Solomon is portrayed by James Earl Jones, the freakin' voice of Darth Vader, which gave Westwood's writers as good an opportunity as they ever had to create a truly memorable character. However, Solomon is boring. He's just another black man with a deep voice. Equally straight-faced is a past-his-prime Michael Biehn as McNeil, a GDI commander. More successful are the Nod squad, with Kane (once again played brilliantly by the vintage Joseph D. Kucan), the artificial intelligence mechanism CABAL and the sexy officer Oxanna particularly entertaining.

Preposterous as the Tiberian Sun scenario could be viewed as, Westwood have at least come up with a half-decent selection of futuristic weapons to go with it. Nod remains very much a terrorist group, with plenty of sneaky strategies to employ. They have mastered stealth technology and can now cloak entire bases, while their subterranean transports ferry your men underground for a surprise attack in the middle of a GDI base. If Nod manages to get their special artillery deployed in a hidden region, even at tremendous range the shells can demolish anything. Most Nod units tend to get the upper hand doing hit-and-runs, as motorbikes and buggies cannot take much punishment but will last longer if kept on the move. Furthermore, seeing as Tiberium holds a large place in Kane's heart, the Nod production of chemical missiles and alien poisons is encouraged.

The GDI are all about brute force. Their bipedal tanks complement each other, in that the bulky Titan pierces heavy armour and the petite Wolverine backs it up by machine-gunning stray infantry. If you're lucky, you'll also have the Mammoth Mark II, an obese rip-off of the walking behemoths from the beginning of The Empire Strikes Back not far behind, packing a pretty tasty rail gun. Reinforcements may consist of Disruptors, which give off shrieking crystal beams designed to eradicate solid matter. The main GDI base defence is beastly also: it's simply a tower that lobs enormous green projectiles in the direction of Nod invaders. As ruthless as GDI can be, they will always be the “goodies” – if you're playing as GDI, no incineration of women and children for you. This status itself allows Westwood to play with the plotting – Nod is keen on impersonating GDI and pasting the local population to frame them for atrocities, which has a valid message to say about the power of media manipulation and propaganda in wartime.

A truly glaring problem with the game that may as well parade around in a shirt saying “I'M A TRULY GLARING PROBLEM” is Tiberian Sun's horrific pacing. Mildly modernised graphics cannot help Westwood here. The series has been oft-cited as brutally quick, yet Tiberian Sun again proves itself to be a black sheep, an odd one out among the rest – the growth of a base is snooze-inducing and very defensive, a far cry from the competitive and aggressive warzone atmospheres you'll find elsewhere.

By the time you've got a base in the bag, the money has been coming in so idly from your slothful harvesters (these are trucks that gather minerals to be refined into cash) that assembling a strike team while all your buildings were under construction and your base defence was going up was out of the question; you were too bloody poor to afford everything on the menu.

Therefore, it takes entirely separate chapters of a mission to build a base and then enough to destroy another base. This swallows up a chunk of the economic strategy – whereas other C&C games would require an intelligent balance of the unit and structure production allowing you to scrape past opponents early on, the linear engine (build a base, build your attackers) is devoid of suspense in comparison to the free engine (build a base while you're building your attackers).

The usually excellent composer Frank Klepacki has jumped on the bandwagon and taken his own nosedive here. Each side has its own soundtrack, and while you get a pair of awesome tunes on the Nod disc (“Nod Crush” and “Pharotek”), it's only a pair, and there are a dozen or so abysmal tunes to go with that pair. Musically, the GDI disc is hopeless, with fourteen original tunes but no good ones at all. I've never spoken that negatively about Klepacki's work, which says a lot – he let himself down this time, as well as everybody else.

It sadly seems that one of the recurring themes of Command & Conquer: Tiberian Sun is disappointment. The game could have been a sexual object to fans, but it ended up being more of an object lesson to the developer: never rest on your laurels after a string of successes, as you will fall short.


Reviewer's Score: 3/10 | Originally Posted: 10/17/04, Updated 10/22/04


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