Sunday, 17 February 2013

Review: C&C Tiberium Alliances (PC)

Tiberium Alliances is a Command & Conquer game in name only. Familiar units and structures dot the landscape but whatever frenetic fumbling and clicking you might expect has been replaced by upgrades that take literally hours and days to access. No longer a matter of seconds, Tiberium Alliances is Command & Conquer as seen in one of those quantum physics problems about the vagaries of space-time. Or something. Pondering that miasma would be better for your brain that Tiberium Alliances.

Think of a typical C&C game as a regular rubber band. It can be stretched; it can be used to hold a deck of cards together. The action is compact and neatly ties together.

Tiberium Alliances is a rubber band 9 miles long. And it’s not ever stretched out yet and when that happens you can’t even glimpse the other end of it. It might as well be a million miles away. The short of it, is that it takes a long, long time to do anything in Tiberium Alliances.

The player’s impatience is exactly why this free-to-play game exists. Everything happens with such painstaking slowness that the game quickly became one those things I would drop into for 15 minutes every few days to click on some resources and maybe raid an enemy settlement then bail.

Even then, it felt like I was playing for hours only because I was so bored.

Upgrading a structure or unit can be a function of earning enough resources to do so, but the game also slaps a timer on upgrades. The player can have enough Tiberium, electricity and cash to upgrade, but there may be 9 hours remaining on the countdown timer before the greyed-out upgrade button becomes available.

This protracted resource management and upgrade path is agonizing most of the time and, unfortunately, the combat doesn’t do anything to liven the mood and pacing of the game.

When the player enters attack mode there’s a grid at the bottom of the screen to arrange the attacking units. This feels almost cosmetic because I haven’t been able to figure out if there's any tactical advantage to spending time mixing the unit placement depending on the defenses and the placement of the enemy structures because of the time lapse involved.

One other thing: each unit runs in a straight line, attacking the first thing that enters their attack radius, getting to the end of the run then leaving the attack screen. There's no nuance at all, which isn't something the C&C series is known for -- lassoing every unit and flinging them at the opposition is hardly nuance -- but there's no chance to redirect an attack once it's on the way. Pressing a single button and letting them go... Forget nuance. That's not even fun.

Free-to-play is also a bit misleading because if you're serious about Tiberium Alliances, being able to sidestep the insufferable waiting for things to happen and timers to count down is possible if you're ready to plunk down some real world money.

For $40 you can grab 60,000 Play4Free funds or $5 you can grab 4,800 points and many other price options in between. At least the first time I checked. This seems variable because I just checked, and those P4F funds are 50,000 for $40, and 4,000 for $5. Is there some kind of weird economy happening? Not as far as I can tell; it's just a sale. But as far as I'm concerned it's spending money to have no fun faster.

I appreciate that I can drop into and out of the game at a leisurely pace. That's it. Otherwise, Tiberium Alliances is a horrible use of the C&C universe. Any strategy that might be present is completely obliterated by timers and restrictions that mean waiting for something, anything to happen. It's free, sure, but that doesn't mean it's good.

- Aaron Simmer

The Good:
- Play from pretty much anywhere since it runs in a browser

The Bad:
- Restrictive use of timers on everything make this a slog to "play" without spending real money
- Zippo fun
- No nuance for the strategy combat, no ability to tweak attack plans

Score: 2.0 / 10