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Command & Conquer 3: Kane's Wrath

Review: More 'Kane's mild irritation', really

Stupid can be fun. And stupid C&C3 certainly was, a necessary alternative to the smarter but exhausting micro-management of Company of Heroes and unblinking grand tactics of Supreme Commander.

It was impossible to not to feel goodwill towards this long-absent pantomime dame, with all its lowest-rent sci-fi and agreeably languid approach to strategy.

Now, though, we've had the welcome-back hug. "Hey, remember that time when you built a load of tanks and killed all those other tanks? High five!" So, Kane: show us what you've got.

Would you believe it, he's got an RTS expansion featuring new units and cutscenes. As with last month's Dawn of War: Soulstorm though, the main driving force seems to be craven fan service, with actual quality of game a secondary concern.

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No attempts are made to explain the decade of elaborate backstory to new players. And the puffed-up fun of yore is replaced by unsettlingly strait-laced exposition - it can, as before, be giggled at, but you'll need to force it a little. I suspect that even the C&C devout will feel a little short-changed by KW's story-work.

The relative flamboyance of C&C3 is mostly replaced by just one set - a red room with a few twinkly lights - and a cast of three.

Foremost among these is Joe Kucan's ever-fervent portrayal of Kane, but he gets far too much screentime here, robbing him of mystique and sometimes getting a little irritating. The story ostensibly fills in the gap between the second and third games, then provides a coda to C&C3, but don't expect reasonable answers to your burning questions.

Unfortunately, these cutscenes are about the only driving force behind the campaign. While the missions are a convenient way to introduce the new sub-factions and their place in C&C's fiction, they're fairly turgid pieces of RTS design in their own right. The exception is the first appearance of the new super-units - you're spoiling the surprise if you go peek at them in skirmish mode beforehand.

There's not been anything of this size and toughness in C&C before, and seeing GDI's gigantic MARV tank steamrollering your base offers a particularly thrilling breed of panic. Other than that, you'll only play to find out what happens, not because trashing another pre-generated AI GDI base is a joy.

It's also a little too heavy on unfair scripting - save regularly and often. Kane's Wrath has no hesitation in suddenly teleporting in new foes in the twilight minutes of a half-hour-long mission - usually right on top of the NPC you need to protect.

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What the campaign will do is familiarise you with the slightly revised values of the game, necessary for any hope of online survival. The happy dumbness and ease is replaced with significantly more consideration of tactics. While simply chucking whatever you've got to hand at the enemy power stations often did the trick in C&C3, here the infantry/vehicles/aircraft rock, paper, scissors mechanic is far more critical, and it's trickier to raise a gigantic cashpot.

Each unit matters a little more than before. While this is a bit of a headache for anyone who just liked making stuff explode, there's a more palpable sense of balance to the game now. C&C3 hasn't been taken entirely seriously by some RTS fan-camps, and Kane's Wrath tries to fix that.

Which is where the new sub-factions come in. The GDI, Nod and Scrin each gain two new playable sides, alongside their existing rosters. They're broadly the same as their parent faction, but with a few new units each (at the expense of some standard ones) and some fun tweaks - the Steel Talons' engineer has a gun, for instance (it remains unclear why the rest of the factions don't think to train their greasemonkeys in basic firearms), while the ZOCOM harvester sports a fruity rocket launcher.

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