Blog 728: If I Wrote… C&C4: Tiberian Twilight

I was interested in C&C4: Tiberian Twilight, despite all the rumours of its horror. The core concept — trading standard base building and assault for a mobile super-vehicle — seemed quite interesting to me. For a man that favours the ultra-versatile solo operatives of RPGs and FPSes, the conceit had legs.

The game did not deliver anything of what I imagined; it is exactly as bad as everyone says. So instead of delving into that den of iniquity, let’s indulge instead in what it could have been, had somebody with dreams more like mine been at the helm…

Command & Conquer: Tiberian Twilight

C&C3, for all its flaws, follows a solid narrative arc. The Scrin — hinted at by their crashed ship in Tiberian Sun, hinted at with a “that’s not a Nod vehicle” near the end of Renegade, hinted at in Kane’s mysterious origins and the nature of the inhuman databank the Tacitus — finally arrive. They arrive, but not entirely by their own volition: Kane triggered a massive liquid tiberium bomb, emitting radiation that shouldn’t have been emitted until the planet was pretty much 100% converted into Tiberium. They came expecting an empty world ripe for the harvesting and… it wasn’t.

I want to give credit where it’s due — this is a really good premise for an alien invasion. Most alien invasion stories end up painting mankind as somehow special, uniquely able to fight off the invaders when no other species could because we’re Sonic Heroes. Here, that’s not the case: we only win because Kane got here first with all his alien knowledge. Forewarned is forearmed, after all.

The Support crawler is clearly designed for AoS-style hero tag-teaming rather than cohesive narrative-driven solo play.

The Scrin campaign of C&C3 was surprisingly charismatic. When the shit hits the fan, the Overseer commands everyone to attack the humans and cites the expedition as expendable — to which the tactical computer cuts them off and proceeds to direct you (as the expedition Foreman) to escape through the Threshold tower and back to the Scrin hub.

Once the Foreman escapes, though, the Overseer vows bloody revenge. When the Threshold tower is powered up for return journeys, the Scrin will not field an ill-equipped harvesting expedition — they will send their army.

This is the ultimate plot hook for a sequel, but they didn’t even look at going there! That just won’t do, so let’s dial this back and start again…

C&C4 didn’t even actually give a reason why Crawlers had replaced bases.

Command & Conquer: Tiberian Twilight (Mk. II)

Imagine the world another ten or twenty years after C&C3. There’s that impenetrable alien Threshold tower at the heel of Italy, deep in territory so infested with Tiberium that it’s uninhabitable. Let’s say Nod control the tower, with quasi-religious research bases fortified around its root, hemmed in by giant Tiberium crystals. GDI simply cannot get clean access to attack, but maybe they don’t want to; the aliens will come out there, after all, and GDI would rather Nod took the brunt of it.

C&C3 does suggest that Kane manages to get through the Threshold in the end, but I’ll support C&C4‘s attitude that he didn’t make it. Let’s say the Foreman locked the door behind them, because of course they would; the Scrin were caught with their trousers down, but they weren’t dumb.

What with your spawn zones, enemy spawn zones, objective zones and more, the terrain is often a noisy mess of glowing lines.

The red zones are so toxic that GDI cannot maintain bases and can barely field infantry there. This is where the Crawler comes in — that huge, armoured, mobile base. Destruction of your Crawler is the end of the game, but like the ACU of Supreme Commander, it’s heavily armed and armoured. Communications into the red zones are patchy due to the basically constant ion storms, so field commanders have to be able to operate on their own — they have to be self sufficient.

So there you are, some commander, on patrol in some red zone, with your lovely little Crawler. It can be upgraded in the manner of a real base, by harvesting Tiberium and refining it back into raw materials. How can I make that work in the red zones, where Tiberium is basically infinite? Let’s say you only have the equipment to harvest smaller crystal growths like those from the earlier games — whereas most of the area is monstrous pillars that you can’t even chip blocks off.

Much as you customised your base with walls and gates and turrets in Tiberian Sun, then, you customise your Crawler here — and the choices are lasting. Initially you should get to choose some fundamental characteristics, like whether it’s got legs or wheels or treads, which adjust its speed and armour and whatnot to your preferred play style. After that, your commander and their crew live and work here, like MacNeill and co in the Kodiak in TibSun or Raynor’s Raiders in the Hyperion of Starcraft II. When there’s a break in the weather, missions come through from on high, but otherwise — you’re on your own. Character drama ensues.

Levelling-up by completing missions only gives you the ability to research stuff during play time, there are no persistent upgrades. Missions also have experience caps to stop you from grinding — but the fact that you even _could_ grind like that is pretty damning. Crawler respawning is probably the biggest design flaw in C&C4.

It begins in a red zone on another continent than Italy, with Nod forces up to something. There’s a lot of stuff buried in the red zones, because they’ve encroached so far — and the remnants of the Scrin towers that were destroyed, and their initial harvesting forces, are all here.

Missions would involve a mix of nomadic wandering and bunkering up to harvest things. Your Crawler is equally able to produce units as it is able to deploy structures — you will always have to move on, but in the mean time, cheap walls, pavements and turrets will help you achieve your current objective. Tech centres, Scrin wrecks, you’ve got to follow the trail of what Nod are searching for with their own Crawlers. Is it a way to stop the Scrin from returning for good… or a way to bring them back sooner?

Enemy units drop upgrade cores on death, which is often quite sweet; for example, a Titan given a Blue Tiberium Core will upgrade to have a second cannon.

Along with enemy forces, you’ve got to contend with omnipresent mutants. A mix of humans overcome with Tiberium growths and the adapted flora and fauna that seem to thrive in these areas, they definitely don’t want GDI snooping around their patch. To take the Crawler where it needs to go to stop Nod, you’ll have to circumvent or defeat carpets of veinhole monsters, rampaging Tiberium fiends, visceroids and worse. C&C3 was missing mutants of all kinds, whereas TibSun expansion pack Firestorm tantalised us with sickly gleaming trees and shrubs adapted to the hostile environment.

Powering up old structures to recover their contents will inevitably bring the attention of the locals upon you, so building and repairing defences is still important. Maybe you can even persuade more civilised locals to help you by repairing and extending their infrastructure as you go — there would be different groups of mutants living in the wastelands, after all, some more hostile than others. Drama!

You finally catch up to the Nod forces in the heart of a Threshold tower that was destroyed before completion during the invasion. You have to fight them, to stop them from this insanity!

The grounded-command-ship-taking-off setpiece was massive and dramatic the first time, but then they recycled it a few missions later.

But upon winning this battle, Kane sends a transmission. Yes, he is indeed searching for understanding of the Threshold — but he (claims to) want to find out how to destroy it. The completed tower is indestructible, after all. He convinces you to help him, taking the place of whatever Nod commander you just nailed.

This is where the campaign would switch from GDI to Nod. Your Crawler was heavily damaged in the battle by exotic reverse-engineered weaponry and is beyond repair — you’ll need to transfer your forces to a Nod Crawler to continue your mission. There are a few inactive Nod crawlers conveniently parked up outside the battlefield, so you jump into the one that takes your fancy (i.e. choose legs or wheels again).

Your mission is now to reach the Threshold with your precious cargo of knowledge/loot/whatever. GDI see you as a betrayer, hounding you as you crawl across the land to get to Italy and that Threshold tower.

Except then the Scrin attack.

Kaaaaaaaaane!

This time around, the Scrin are less intent on harvesting Tiberium and more on obliterating humanity. They overrun the Nod facilities at the base of the Threshold tower and Kane goes offline for a few missions. Is it too late?

Luckily the Crawlers are ideally suited to this situation. Self-sufficient and highly mobile, they can move around the Scrin armies and avoid head-on conflict. Your mission remains the same: get your shit to the tower.

You arrive and make contact with Kane; he comes on board. He is glad you brought him this missing tech/loot/whatever, but it’s too late. The tower is fully operational and the gate cannot be closed.

Or at least, it cannot be closed from this side.

DESTROY THE INEFFECTIVE HUMAN METHOD OF GOVERNANCE CALLED ‘DEMOCRACY’, FOREMAN

I can’t lie — I love alien landscapes. Much as Pacific Rim taunted us with the weird space on the other side of the rift at the end, C&C3 introduced an interstellar portal and the only logical extrapolation is to explore what’s on the other side. But something of this magnitude does not deserve to be relegated to one final mission; no, it should take a good chunk of the campaign, the final third or quarter.

This would give us the time and space to genuinely explore the Scrin; their culture, their way of life, the same internal struggles as humans face. Maybe they’re not all bloodthirsty harvesters, maybe there are allies to be found here too.

So in a lull in the flow of Scrin forces, Kane installs some magic stealth device that will buy you enough time to make a run for it. It’s the only way to save the Earth, commander.

FUCK THIS IRRITATING LITTLE PLANET AND EVERYTHING ON IT, FOREMAN

On the other side is presumably some kind of Scrin logistical depot. Multiple Thresholds from different worlds link to huge industrial platforms, draining their respective worlds of Tiberium and piping it to the heart of the Scrin empire. For the purposes of drama, let’s say this is the only Scrin depot. It’s a depot moon near their home world, the entire place basically converted into a monstrous Tiberium refinery.

Which means it’s not ideal for staging an army; while ranks and ranks of Scrin vehicles are jostling to get through that one portal to Earth, you slip through and into the mad tangle of technology that makes up this industrial hellscape. You have to find the power station that sustains all these portals and shut it down, by any means necessary.

Achieving your mission leaves you stranded in the Scrin Hub, possibly with implosion of the depot moon imminent. The fate of our poor commander is left hanging in the balance for future games, but the Earth is saved and the Scrin have been dealt a hideous blow… A blow that will make them all the more hungry to come back for more (i.e. sequel doors genuinely left open for going back to GDI vs. Nod on Earth or more epic Scrin funtimes).

Kane, conveniently conveyed to a place full of high tech he can actually use, boosts off into the alien sunset to murder the people that exiled him or whatever. Ascension! Maybe he takes the commander with him?

The End?

Okay, so that’s a bit devoid of detail, but I think it provides a more compelling skeleton than the awkward non-plot that the actual Tiberium Twilight had. Reasons for things to happen, for a start, and then genuinely picking up where the last game left off rather than doing a sideways move.

It’s weird because, in mechanical terms at least, C&C4 had collossal balls — it changed everything from the standard formula, and though this didn’t work in the slightest, I can respect them for trying. But why did they lose that confidence on the narrative side? Why did they discard the beautifully dangling Scrin plot hook and do a hard reset back to “Tiberium isn’t really a problem anymore?” The mind boggles.

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