In the realm of real-time strategy games there are a few sacred cows that everyone knows. Command & Conquer has always been one of these prestigious titles and even when EA decided to take over the reigns the series continue it’s tradition of excellence as seen in last year’s Tiberium Wars. Kane’s Wrath is EA’s latest attempt at porting the popular genre onto a console and it comes in the form of an expansion pack, which should be familiar to any PC gamer, but on consoles it becomes a trickier demon. Console gamers are not used to having to buy new features for their games, especially in the age of digital downloads, but Kane’s Wrath comes with enough new features to justify it’s lower-than-regular price point all while adding yet another solid attempt at expanding the genre to a new audience of gamers.
Fans of the series will likely recognize the character this expansion focuses on as the self-style prophet from the series. His legions are massive and loyal and his demeanor downright evil. The events in Kane’s Wrath take place over a span of twenty years and fall between the end of the Second Tiberium War and throughout the third. You will also learn about the rebirth of the Brotherhood of Nod as well as a plethora of other plot points to fill in some gaps in the game’s timeline. While not imperative the story is presented fairly well with FMV cut scenes featuring such luminary actors as Natasha Henstridge and a host of others.
The biggest obstacle to creating a great RTS on a console though is not the addition of decently acted cut scenes, but instead an assortment of great controls. EA has been on the frontlines of this revolution since the beginning trying to bring the genre from mouse and keyboard – to analog sticks and face buttons. For the most part their games have been successful, but not as user-friendly as most would like. Kane’s Wrath takes a new approach to the genre which is both a good and bad thing. Good for the fact that new design is a bit more user-friendly than the last outing and bad for veterans who will be forced to learn a new control scheme.
Much like Sega’s recently released Universe at War, Kane’s Wrath adopts the wheel interface which offers faster access to buildings, units and special moves. Previous outings from the company employed the left-trigger dial menu that while sufficient for slower paced battles, became cumbersome in the heat of some more intense confrontations. This is an important change to the C&C series on console because of the game’s fast-paced nature and focus on quick construction. Granted it is still not comparable to a mouse and keyboard setup, but it does get the job done.
The camera can also be an issue for a couple of reasons. Navigating the mini-map with the analog sticks feels clumsy and for some players the default distance is simply not close enough for certain functions. Keeping tabs on the action with analog rotation is also a sore spot. Turning up the sensitivity helps, but there will be plenty of times where you simply miss the precision and flexibility of using a keyboard and mouse for this type of game. If you have a PC that can run Kane’s Wrath I suggest taking that route, although watching your mayhem unfold on a giant HDTV is an experience not to be missed, plus we get Achievements.
There are three core modes found in Kane’s Wrath – Campaign, Skirmish and Kane’s Challenge. Skirmish is self-explanatory to anyone who has played these types of games before. Basically this is a deathmatch mode where players are pitted against each other or the computer. Campaign mode is a bit more focused forcing you to accomplish specific tasks and perform various chores such as stealth, escort and traditional battles across a series of 13 missions. Kane’s Challenge is a series of skirmishes that replaces the PC versions more interesting Global Conquest mode. None of the modes are going to set the world ablaze, but for the price there is a ton of content here to keep fans playing for a long time.
Most gamers will appreciate the single-player, but the majority of C&C players will hop directly online to find a challenge. The online we experienced was smooth with very few hints of lag. There are five different game types to play online, but most of them are expected such as Skirmish, Capture and Hold, Capture the Flag and of course King of the Hill. The final mode is called Siege and is basically a challenge mode that protects against rushing players. Here you are encompassed in a giant force field for a set period of time to grow your army. Once the timer expires the shield raises and it is every man for himself. This mode, while not unique, is a nice addition to players who enjoy the strategy of the game and not simply racing to see who can amass the most drones the fastest.
As far as presentation is concerned Kane’s Wrath feels very familiar to the previous title Tiberium Wars. The on-screen detail is impressive, especially when there is a ton of action going on and the frame rate manages to hold its own. The story is driven by live action cut scenes as I mentioned before and somehow manages to be one of the few games able to pull it off. Sounds are also familiar with the same chatter and effects found in the aforementioned title. The writing of the cut scenes is good enough and the acting is surprisingly good. Overall the game looks and sounds much like you would expect, which is far from a bad thing.
Command and Conquer: Kane’s Wrath is a solid expansion pack that could have easily sold on the merits of the name alone. The fact that the team took the time to improve the interface and make some subtle changes really shows their devotion to making this genre work on the consoles. The exclusion of Global Conquest mode from the PC does not help the idea of choosing this version over its Windows counterpart, but if you enjoyed Tiberium Wars on 360 than you will likely find the same satisfaction here. With ten hours of single-player to dive into, a hefty amount of new units and factions and an all around impressive package for $40, it is hard not to recommend Kane’s Wrath to anyone with an interest in the genre. It easily stands tall as one of the best in the genre on a console.