Although several expansion packs and the pseudo-sequel Red Alert have been published over the last four years, the Command & Conquer series has never yet surpassed or even matched the level of excellence with which it began. And so there's a lot at stake with Tiberian Sun, Westwood's third major release in the series, especially because it draws directly from the original game for its inspiration by returning once again to the conflict between the Global Defense Initiative and the Brotherhood of Nod. But because Westwood has no intention of risking any more than necessary, Tiberian Sun predictably takes very few risks of its own, and feels and plays just like the original Command & Conquer.
Tiberian Sun will look immediately familiar to Command & Conquer players, although a closer inspection reveals that the game's terrain graphics are far more sophisticated than they used to be. Realistic topography and colored lighting effects make Tiberian Sun's terrain look great, and because explosive weapons leave craters or knock down bridges, the terrain provides an important new tactical consideration. You'll notice a few other additions to the battlefield, including a second, more valuable type of the mysterious resource Tiberium and even Tiberian mutants that will attack your forces on sight.
While your infantry units are still little animated sprites that look much like the infantry units in every Command & Conquer game, your vehicles are drawn using voxels, which in practice lends them a rough-hewn three-dimensional look. It's not a bad effect, and you'll see its advantages no sooner than when your harvester lumbers up and over the nearest hill. Some of these voxel units do look pretty bad - the Devil's Tongue Flame Tank looks like a giant shoe box, a far cry from Nod's menacing original. Other units, like the GDI Titan, a gigantic walking tank, look fantastic. You'll also notice and appreciate the game's subtle special effects, like the Titan's red laser targeting pointer, damaged units billowing smoke and showering sparks, and Nod cyborgs ripped in half but still alive and shooting.
Tiberian Sun's units include a number of throwbacks to Westwood's classic Dune 2, including a Nod buggy, which is a spitting image of the heavy quad, and the GDI Disrupter, which may as well have been called a sonic tank. Likewise, the story involves a breed of mutants indigenous to Tiberium-infested regions, which closely parallel Dune's enigmatic Fremen. Dune 2 fans will enjoy such references; Command & Conquer fans may find them disconcerting. The fact is Tiberian Sun is a science fiction game. The original Command & Conquer, though it took its share of liberties with unit design, was still dominated by readily recognizable tanks and troops. Tiberian Sun, by comparison, offers not even a single mundane unit for either the GDI or the Brotherhood. Even the lowliest infantry are armed with pulse rifles.
But Command & Conquer has never been about long, drawn-out wars of attrition. By the time either the GDI or the Nod reach the top of their technology trees, they have not one but several means of smashing large chunks of their enemies' bases with a single blow. For that reason, Tiberian Sun, like its predecessors, demands that you strike before your opponent, and that necessity makes the game exciting to play. Unit queues, good pathfinding, and an excellently implemented waypoint system (which lets you set guard patrols and travel routes) all let you focus on coordinating complicated attacks instead of micromanaging simple ones.
When you're finished with one or both campaigns, you can keep playing against the computer in skirmish mode, which stays interesting thanks to the game's random-map generator that can build a map to your specifications much faster than you ever could with your average map editor. Sooner or later you'll also want to pit your skills against human opponents, and you're guaranteed to find them in droves on Westwood's online multiplayer server, where Tiberian Sun is destined to enjoy a very long life whether you like it or not.