There’s a good chance that Command & Conquer 4: Tiberian Twilight is not what you were expecting. This real-time tactical game shares some attributes with the Tiberium-fueled strategy games that came before it–flashy graphical effects, GDI and Nod forces pummeling each other, and a scowling antihero with a stare so intense his eyes pierce your soul. But Tiberian Twilight stands out not for its use of age-old series standbys, but for reinvented mechanics that have little in common with those of its predecessors. Base-building and broad strategizing have been supplanted by small-scale micromanagement; standard battles have given way to capture-point conquest. It’s a bold shift for the apparently final chapter of the saga, though not always a positive one. The disappointing campaign ends in a conclusion unworthy of Kane’s melodramatic legacy, and the moment-to-moment gameplay is too limited to be consistently engaging. And yet the multiplayer action and single-player skirmishes are good fun, if not remarkably so, and a system of persistent unlocks provides nice rewards across every mode. This may not be the exhilarating finale to Kane’s exploits you had hoped for, but Tiberian Twilight is a pleasant diversion good for occasional grins, though not for riotous thrills.
Those persistent unlocks are central to the experience–one that takes place in an always-online environment. Even if you plan on playing only the single-player campaign and skirmishes against the artificial intelligence, you must always sign into an online portal first. This always-online approach to PC games is part of an unwelcome but growing trend, but at least the game provides some sensible context for it. Like most strategy games, Command & Conquer 4 offers a single-player campaign, offline skirmishes, and online battles; but unlike most strategy games, it rewards you with experience based on your activity in every mode. No matter which mode you play, finishing a match inches you closer to your next level. Gaining levels means new units, new powers, and new upgrades–goodies that you can then take with you into any of the modes. This persistency, along with the way you automatically join online chat and can create player parties from the main interface, contributes to a pseudo-massively-multiplayer environment. This isn’t a massively multiplayer game, of course, so it’s still a disappointment that you can’t practice your skills or get reacquainted with Kane if a windstorm knocks out your Internet connection. Nevertheless, this focus on community and advancement makes the online-only requirement bearable, if not wholly reasonable.