"Command & Conquer 3: Tiberium Wars." For: Xbox 360. From: EA. ESRB Rating: Teen (animated blood, mild language, violence).
Game studios have tried for years to wedge real-time strategy games into our console gaming libraries, and the results have ranged from compromised ("Army Men RTS") to traumatic ("Starcraft 64").
But between the horsepower and high-definition graphics, this appears to be the generation in which the RTS gets some console cred. Case in point: "Command & Conquer 3: Tiberium Wars," which not only comes from the genre's A-list, but also migrates from the PC to the 360 with minimal compromise and no dumbing down whatsoever.
That's not to say "Wars" usurps its PC cousin. It doesn't, and as long as the 360 can't support a keyboard-and-mouse configuration during gameplay, no RTS ever will. You'll have to be quick with the stick to stay on top of all your units, because clicking on a spot on the map isn't an option. Neither are time-saving keyboard shortcuts. All this extra control negotiation can conjure temporary moments of panic in a game that's faster-paced than your average RTS, especially when facing human-controlled armies over Xbox Live.
Still, "Wars" does quite a job with the hand it's dealt. While commands are never a key press away, they're rarely more than a button click or two out of reach. Once you achieve some hands-on experience with navigation and develop a sense of how commands are arranged, second nature settles in.
With the control hurdles overcome, "Wars" plays no differently than what PC gamers received barely a month ago. On the right equipment, it looks outstanding. (SDTV owners should prepare to treat their TV like a monitor and sit closely.) The top-notch storyline proves there's still a place for full-motion video in video games, and the ability to wage campaigns from all three sides of the story -- with multiple difficulty settings -- is a treat. Slowdown occasionally plagues the action when things get busy, but the 360 proves it's capable of hosting a top-notch RTS without gimping the experience.
If you've checked out the demo on Live, you already know "Wars" has tremendous multiplayer upside. Up to four armies can take the battlefield at once, and "Wars" also offers team play, some familiar alternate modes (capture the flag, king of the hill, territory), and even Vision Camera support. Solo players can somewhat replicate the experience with the Skirmish mode, but it's not the same thing when no one can see you striking victory poses at your defeated enemies.