Carving out a successful acting career in the games industry is a bit like trying to build a fortress out of soggy cornflakes. Sure, you get the odd big-name actor doing voice work such as Patrick Stewart’s brief appearance as the doomed Emperor in Oblivion, or Lance Henriksen, whose gravely tones can be heard in Aliens vs Predator and Modern Warfare 2. But both were well-known actors well before they made forays into videogames.
Joe Kucan is different. In 1995 he took the dripping leftovers of his breakfast and constructed something really quite impressive, gaining a similar sort of cult status as Leonard Nimoy and that bloke who played Boba Fett in Star Wars. In fact, such is Kucan’s popularity he has become the main selling-point of the Command and Conquer series.
For the uninitiated, Joe Kucan plays Kane, the shiny-headed megalomaniac infamous for his unceasing strive for world domination and well and truly hamming-it-up in C&C’s now legendary cutscenes. Fifteen years on from the original game and the Tiberium saga is coming to an end. EALA promised an epic conclusion to the saga that would leave fans feeling satisfied. Sadly, what they have delivered is something of a damp squib that will probably enrage the majority of C&C fans.
This isn’t to say that C&C4 is a terrible game. It’s quite enjoyable once you’ve worked out what the hell is going on. The main problem is that C&C4 isn’t really a Command and Conquer game, and it’s not entirely sure what it is instead.
The Command and Conquer strategy template is simple, you build a base, create an army of units, and then destroy the enemy’s base before he can do the same to you. After three games which all play this way, the mechanic has become rather tired. It’s therefore understandable that EALA would want to make some changes. So what they have done is taken every innovative strategy game over the past five years, put them in a pile, and then repeatedly stamped on them until everything has compressed into a vaguely workable strategic mush.
Aside from the live-action cutscenes and a few recognisable units, absolutely everything has been changed. Gone is the base-building, replaced with three slightly different “crawler” units which act as command centres, unit creators, and useless tanks on legs. Enemy bases are also a thing of the past; victory now requiring you to capture control points around the map. Tiberium – the crystalline fuel-source which is gradually consuming the Earth – is now collected for upgrade-points rather than harvested to build more units. Underpinning all this is a system of experience accumulation, unlockables and upgrades.
Strangely, all of these changes don’t seems to make the game anymore interesting. The best “strategy” is still to build as many units as possible and charge directly at the enemy – the only difference being that your base follows you around. Although, these changes don’t have anything to do with rebooting the franchise. The real reason behind these alterations is mind-bogglingly weird. Simply put, the game is built around its DRM.
Interestingly, EA claim the game has no DRM at all, but let me explain how this not-DRM works. Basically, C&C4 requires you to have a persistent Internet connection to play. If your connection drops, then you can no longer progress through the campaign. Rather than play Ubisoft’s card and simply ignore any protestation to this anti-piracy measure, EALA have tried to justify the constant-connection requirement by basing the game around online cooperative play. This is why you have three different types of crawler, why it takes you far longer to unlock all the units than it does to complete the main storyline, and why (when playing alone) the odds seem overwhelmingly stacked against you.
In a way, EALA have been very clever, because when you do play cooperatively, the game is considerably more entertaining. Yet paradoxically they have also been very stupid, because playing cooperatively also means you pay far less attention to the storyline, the conclusion to which was the original premise for the game.
Not that the storyline is particularly fantastic. Kane is as wonderfully malevolent as ever, and Joe Kucan clearly revels in bringing a little gravitas to his usually rather pantomime performance, but it also contains an embarrasingly weak plot twist. I won’t spoil it for you, but the main character’s incredibly irritating wife gets killed approximately four missions into the game. Trust me, this isn’t spoiling it for you.
C&C4 is a very bizarre game. EA’s desperation to protect their profits had led them to compromise almost everything that made C&C what it was, replacing it with a mishmash of recent strategy innovations which in combination only work inconsistently. When everything comes together, it can be quite exhilirating. Frankly though, Kane deserved a much better send off.