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Scene, Sunday, April 29, 2007

Aliens have a nasty way of shaking things up.

Sure, there were some disagreements over whether the crystal Tiberium is a dangerous poison or a catalyst for unleashing human potential. Sure, there were a couple of wars. Sure, whole regions were rendered uninhabitable. But that was all in the family — the human family — before the Scrin showed up to ruin the fun.

“Command & Conquer 3: Tiberium Wars” — a real-time strategy game by Electronic Arts — continues the saga of the Global Defense Initiative and the Brotherhood of Nod and their battles over the powerful mineral.

Apparently, things had settled down after the reported destruction of Nod’s leader Kane at the end of the last edition of “C&C.” However, things turn nasty again when Kane reappears and blasts the GDI leadership to atoms — leaving Billy Dee Williams in charge.

Gamers can play as the GDI — with its elite troops — or the cultish Brotherhood — with it’s maniacal suicide bombers. Both sides have an interesting catalog of high-tech weaponry to build and deploy.

And both sides boast some star power — at least in the intros, cut scenes and messages available in the campaign mode. For example, Williams plays the new chief of the GDI. His officers include Grace Park of “Battlestar Galactica” and Jennifer Morrison of “House.” Nod gets some help from Tricia Helfer, also of “Battlestar Galactica.” However, the pretty faces get upstaged in the Nod campaign by Josh Holloway’s ornery mug, as he drawls wisecracks that he could never deliver as Sawyer on “Lost.” The acting and dialog do a great job of developing the compelling storyline.

Gamers can play as either side in campaign mode, blasting away at the opponent until a rather unfortunate event brings a new menace on to the battlefield — the buglike Scrin. The aliens are addicted to Tiberium and don’t see any problem with exterminating anyone standing between them and the crystals. However, the scrappy humans prove to be suprisingly resilient foes. After completing the human campaigns, gamers can replay the Third Tiberium War from the aliens’ point of view.

Together, the three campaigns offer more than 30 levels. The introductory levels are relatively easy, but missions quickly grow more challenging. Gamers new to real-time strategy might want to start off with the GDI campaign because it offers more tutelage. However, hard-core fans might want to open with the Nod campaign since its story actually comes first chronologically.

In addition to the campaign mode, gamers can play skirmishes solo or online. All three of the sides are available from the beginning. A good selection of maps and styles of play are available.

The game interface is very intuitive, smooth and efficient.

Graphics are solid, but not eye-popping. Units and backgrounds are very detailed and the battlefield looks impressive when the smoke is rolling, tracers are zipping and blasted metal is flying. On the other hand, you can’t zoom down to eyeball level like in some RTS games — but, honestly, that’s never an advantage when you’re directing an entire army.

With the rich campaigns and the robust skirmish mode, there’s plenty to keep gamers entertained for a long time. And, with the new game options they bring, the Scrin don’t seem so bad, either.


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