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‘Command & Conquer 3' delves into star's history; ‘War' is now for Xbox 360

Justin Hoeger
McClatchy Newspapers (MCT)

COMMAND & CONQUER 3: KANE'S WRATH

3 ½ stars

PUBLISHER: Electronic Arts

SYSTEM: PC

PRICE: $29.99

AGE RATING: Teen

The star of "Command & Conquer" is, and always has been, Kane.

The scenery-chewing leader of the Brotherhood of Nod is responsible for a large part of the main series' campy appeal. "Command & Conquer 3: Tiberium Wars" tracked the execution of his plan to lure the alien Scrin to Earth with a massive explosion of liquid Tiberium; "Kane's Wrath" travels back many years before that cataclysmic event to show how the self-styled prophet came again to power after apparent death, and examines some events of "Tiberium Wars" from a different angle.

The plotline is entertaining enough while the series' fans wait for a full sequel, but an expansion pack like this cannot live on plot progression alone.

"Kane's Wrath," which requires an installed copy of "Tiberium Wars" to play, incorporates a solid concept from the "C&C Generals: Zero Hour" spinoff: sub-factions.

Each of the main three warring groups - the Global Defense Initiative, the Brotherhood and the Scrin - has gained new units and abilities, including monstrous superunits like the GDI's giant Tiberium-harvesting tank, the MARV; Nod's massive Redeemer walker; and the Scrin's Annihilator Hexapod.

But each faction now branches off into two sub-factions, each of which takes an aspect of the core force's strategy and expands on it. The GDI has the Steel Talons and ZOCOM; Nod has the Black Hand and the Marked of Kane; and the Scrin field Reaper-17 and Traveler-59.

Each sub-faction has access to unique units but gives up the ability to employ certain strengths of the core faction. The Steel Talons can bring in bipedal mechs in lieu of certain tanks, while ZOCOM fields special infantry and sonic weapons. The Black Hand specializes in anti-infantry flame weaponry while the Marked of Kane are a horrifying legion of cyborg thralls. Reaper-17 employs powerful Tiberium-mutated units, and Traveler-59 leans heavily on mind-controlling enemy troops. Each sub-faction also has unique special powers and variants on established units.

The solo campaign allows players to control Nod's new units and fight against the other factions; but to try out the other groups' new toys, one has to start up a skirmish, go online or start up a round of the new Global Conquest mode.

This is a tweaked and revised version of the Risk-style strategic maneuvering seen in EA's "Battle for Middle-earth II' and its expansion "Rise of the Witch King." However, this world map is not broken into discrete chunks for players to control, nor must a player micromanage the building of structures and units once a territory is taken.

Instead, players may establish bases anywhere, though there are advantages to doing so near cities. Bases are automatically outfitted with numerous buildings and can be upgraded through several tiers. Instead of selecting units one by one, players select from a group of pre-arranged strike teams and can tailor their own groups of units to meet whatever needs they may have.

Each faction has access to all its units and abilities in this mode, though strike teams cannot mix and match between sub-factions. Each faction can win by destroying the others or through special conditions unique to each group - GDI by controlling a large percentage of the map, Nod by inciting high levels of unrest in numerous cities and the Scrin by constructing several key tower structures.

UNIVERSE AT WAR: EARTH ASSAULT

2 stars

PUBLISHER: Sega

SYSTEM: Microsoft Xbox 360

PRICE: $59.99

AGE RATING: Teen

The game is only available for Windows PCs right now, but a console version is slated for release in a few months - similar to "Universe at War: Earth Assault," which was released a while back for the PC and has just arrived on the Xbox 360.

The game is about the same as it was then: Three warring alien races with strategic emphases as varied as their visual and fighting styles are using Earth as a battleground, with humanity sidelined at best, exterminated at worst.

The Xbox 360 controller's buttons, sticks and pads have been ably adapted to the task of controlling masses of units. The game is playable online between PC and Xbox 360 owners, like last year's "Shadowrun." But as good as the controls are, the precise movements and quick response times afforded by a mouse and keyboard likely give PC gamers an edge over most console counterparts.

This would be less of a problem, except for the slowdown when a large number of units are in play and the occasional hard system freeze. There's a solid game here, but it's difficult to recommend the Xbox 360 version unless it's updated for better performance.


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