As a young boy I sat down in 1995 and marveled at game that let little pixilated men run around the screen and cause marvelous destruction to each other. Rockets and grenades caused untold chaos to various body parts as they splattered across the screen while columns of light rained down from the heavens turning buildings into mere ash. And the screams that those little pixel soldiers let out would make a grown man cringe. That game was the original Command and Conquer, a game that helped define the RTS genre. Twelve years later and the RTS scene has evolved tremendously, a fact that C&C3: Tiberium Wars doesn’t seem to care about. While hardly innovative, TW revels in its own glory, perfecting what it started so many years ago.Tiberium Wars takes place in the canonical series in 2047, approximately ten years after the conclusion Tiberian Sun: Firestorm. The Global Defense Initiative (GDI) is still a collection of wealthy nations with military toys and the Brotherhood of Nod remains a bunch of crazies out in no-man’s land playing with the green crystals their parents told them not to. So what has changed? Earth. Things aren’t going so well for the mother planet as Tiberium, a crystalline mineral that leeches nutrients out of the soil in order to propagate itself, has become a serious threat to the existence of humanity.Tripods take on MammothsIn this future, Earth has been broken up into three zones: blue, yellow and red. Blue zones are almost completely devoid of tiberium and are the strongholds of the GDI. Most of the Earth’s wealthy and affluent people live and work in these zones under the GDI military umbrella. Conversely, red zones are those that have had their ecosystems raped by the alien mineral. Tiberium is everywhere and prolonged exposure to these zones leads to almost certain death. Yellow zones are a hybrid of the two. There’s some tiberium growth and the landscapes have been decimated by two world wars, but humans can still populate these areas. It’s these yellow zones that form Nod’s base of power, or at the beginning of Tiberium Wars, the lack of it.Nod has been mysteriously quiet over the past few years and at the start of the game the GDI has been closing bases and reducing military spending. Well isn’t that just an invitation to attack? Kane thought so and thus the third Tiberium War begins. Making matters worse are an entire expeditionary alien fleet that decide to drop in for the party. Even with three factions, the plot is strung along coherently as to not confuse players. Plot holes that open up with one side of the story are quickly filled by experiencing the other two campaigns.But as much as things change with an extra faction, they also stay the same. It would seem that C&C is slow to alter the original formula that brought it success in 1995. Tiberium, the supposed bane of humanity, is still the only resource to gather cash. Commanders use the funds to construct buildings, research technology upgrades, build base defenses and create units. Bases are limited, just like they always have been, to being constructed around existing structures and outposts—more on that later. Losing power will slow production down to a snail’s pace. Even the units are the same as they were twelve years ago: grenadier, orca fighter, obelisk, stealth tank. It raises the question of whether TW is indeed a full-blown sequel or simply a re-imaging of the original.London under fireEven the combat doctrines for each faction haven’t really changed. The GDI still prefers a combination of conventional force and technology to pound opponents into submission. This means that their late game can be just as effective as their initial attacks. On the flip side is Nod, that uses stealth and subversion to hide their numbers. Hit and run tactics are used to soften up targets before the main attack hits. The curveball is the Scrin, which lack a potent early lineup but are absolutely devastating in the late game. If a player can survive, he or she can easily outgun anyone that leaves them alone for long enough.Players will quickly learn though that no matter what faction they play as there’s an uncanny resemblance to the other two. All three have similarly-tiered defensive structures, high-tech walker units and most of the buildings are just mirrors of each other. Sure there are the cosmetic changes that give each faction their unique look but players may come away with a feeling of déjà vu.Tiberium Wars did make attempts at making things seem fresh and the evidence is certainly there. The addition of a crane gives the game a well-needed early ability for a second production queue. The aforementioned outposts are small vehicles that can be deployed anywhere on the map to give commanders new areas to construct buildings. The result is a more flexible game where players can expand early. The sidebar has also made a return after being scrapped from the series’ previous release, Generals. Players can use either the sidebar or click on the structures themselves to control production—it’s the best of both worlds. Rounding out the changes is the return of the powers system from Generals. In a slight twist, powers in Tiberium Wars aren’t earned with experience but with the construction of specific buildings. In addition, powers must be paid for to be activated.These changes help to make the campaign fresh and fun. Stretching well-over 30 missions, it should take most players up to 15 hours to plow through all three factions on normal difficulty. Fortunately, objectives vary from the “kill everything” standard that plagued C&C games in the past. Some of the more interesting missions involve lengthy micromanagement. A particular GDI mission forces players to defend a base that only has enough power to operate some, but not all, of the defensive turrets. Nod is tasked with capturing nuclear devices from GDI transports while also defending a small checkpoint from a vicious Scrin attack. These are the types of missions that put players on edge and really get the adrenaline pumping. And that’s something Tiberium Wars really does well.Predator Tank clashAnother pleasant change is EA’s development of the artificial intelligence. In the past, C&C AI has been a pushover. It was characterized by sending single attacks of varied units to determinable choke points that could be snuffed out by strategically-placed defensive towers. On the lowest difficulty setting, this is still the case but ratcheting it up to normal, hard or brutal will put even the most confident of C&C commanders in their place. Computer opponents strike multiple points with masses of units and are tricky in their methods. It’s not uncommon to find a stray engineer or two sneaking around the map to capture unguarded structures. Combine that with a voracious appetite for tiberium and the AI is something to be admired. It doesn’t hurt that in skirmish games they can be programmed with different playable personalities including: turtle, rusher, guerilla or steamroller. These personalities, with the right difficulty setting, can be used to train for online play. And while their patters may be recognized after a few rounds, their ability to put up a good fight are not be compromised.All these changes come to a head in Tiberium Wars’ multiplayer. Playable offline in skirmish mode or online, matches tend to be fought at a quick and furious pace. EA expects the average match to last 20 minutes and it’s easy to see why. Tiberium Wars is the antithesis of every strategy game that preaches slow, calculating, methodical play. Players will scramble to build units while simultaneously expanding their bases and defending either their expansions or main base from a*aults. Turtles beware as base defenses can be easily crushed and maps leave more than enough room to simply go around.That may be a turn-off to some players but it supplements EAs message of treating RTS as a sport with the new Battlecast system. Battlecast allows any game played online to be broadcast to the masses. Observers can watch the game in real time and announcers can use a digital pen to highlight specific areas of the match. It’s like a geekier version of football. But with a T rating it probably won’t be long before stick figures are having sex while dozens of 3D men duke it out in the background. But Battlecast does have one critical flaw: the fact that it’s really the only innovative thing on the C&C block. EA seems to be gambling on something that has yet to be time-tested. Especially since the standard versus game is the only online multiplayer option. They’re wrapped in sheets labeled “ranked” and “clan” but it’s all the same action. A capture-the-flag or strategic-points mode would have done wonders to the life of the game.Other complaints stem from the fact that Tiberium Wars is packed with so many units that many of them are often under-used. The predator tank, commando, raider buggy, shadow team, corruptor and disintegrators all fall victim to obsoleteness at some point in the game. Gameplay aside, the graphics also leave something to be desired against the genre’s heavyweights—here’s looking at you Supreme Commander. The 3D models look like they’re begging for just a little more detail and the explosions and wreckage seem a bit anti-climatic.Mammoth actionThat’s not to say the graphics aren’t superb in their own right. At the highest settings the world of Tiberium Wars is shown as a lush tiberium-infused environment, particularly in the red zones with vast tiberium canyons forming just below the surface. As for the rest of the game, it’s a virtual laser show of destruction since every round in Tiberium Wars is a tracer round. Bullets streak across the sky, lasers ignite soft targets and bodies fly everywhere in a virtual orgy of violence. And back again are the full motion videos, which make a return from their omission in Generals. Joe Kucan is back as Kane and he is as snarky as ever. A veteran science-fiction cast including Michael Ironside, Billy Dee Williams, Tricia Helfer and Grace Park are also there to deliver the story. For the most part the performances are on target but there are a few instances where everything falls flat. Some lines seem forced and the emotion is all but gone. Williams seems to have had the most fun with his performance by cheesing things up to the max while players could build houses with Park as she seemed as stiff as a board.Acting aside, the rest of the audio suited the game well and was on par with what fans expect from C&C games. Explosions are thunderously satisfying and each recoil, bullet, laser and falling piece of debris can be heard uniquely on a proper audio setup. Fans may also recognize a few screams of helpless infantry since many of them seem awfully close to some used in the 1995 original. So it seems that for everything that has changed there is room for nostalgia. The soundtrack is alright, an ambient variation on what Frank Klepacki did for Tiberian Sun but it lacks the substance or punch that previous games in the series had. Players won’t be surprised if, after they are finished with the game, they don’t remember a single track.Command and Conquer 3: Tiberium Wars is an excellent game. It takes a style of C&C-gameplay that was sorely missing from previous series installments and gives is a fresh twist. While hardly making waves of innovation in the RTS river, Tiberium Wars makes a big enough splash to keep the waters from turning into a green, crystal pile of stagnation.