Command and Conquer: Tiberium Alliances is a Web-based free-to-play strategy game based loosely on the popular PC game franchise Command and Conquer. Specifically, as the title suggests, it is based on the futuristic “Tiberium” subseries rather than the self-conscious alternate-reality campness of the Red Alert games. The game was developed by German studio Phenomic and published by EA, who own the Command and Conquer property as a whole. It has been promoted via Facebook sidebar ads, but is a standalone browser-based game with no Facebook connectivity.
Tiberium Alliances is a massively-multiplayer “hardcore” strategy game in which players must construct a base, build up an army and then use their forces to capture territory from computer-controlled enemies and other players on a persistent world map. There are two main components to gameplay — building and combat, both of which are explained to the player through a comprehensive but unobtrusive series of tutorial quests. Pleasingly, the game gives players the option to explore the interface for themselves right from the outset rather than the more common approach many games take of initially blacking out the entire interface apart from the individual button the player is supposed to click on. This option is still available for inexperienced players, but veteran gamers will be delighted that the game doesn’t talk down to them.
The building component of the game is split into several main sections. Building up the player’s base requires constructing harvesters to collect resources, power plants to generate energy and various other structures to unlock additional options. Players are limited in how much they can build according to the level of their Construction Yard structure — upgrading this allows additional buildings to be constructed. There is a lot of upgrading buildings required as well as building them, and this function often seems a little superfluous — many times early in the game, the player is tasked with building a certain number of a particular structure and then immediately upgrading them several times. It would perhaps have been better for the player to have the option to immediately construct a higher-level building, but this is a relatively minor issue.
In order to protect the player’s base, defenses may be built on a separate screen representing the land leading up to the main bulk of the base. This is split into several “lanes,” and structures may be built in each lane. Each defensive structure costs a particular number of “defense points,” and like the build limit in the main base, the defense points limit may be increased by upgrading specific buildings.
Finally, the player may, once the appropriate structures have been built, construct units for their army. When constructed, these are placed into one of four “attack waves” which become relevant once they enter combat. Battles are triggered from the region overview screen, on which players may see their own territory and the surrounding areas, including computer-controlled camps and other players’ bases. Clicking on a camp or base to attack allows the player to review the opponent’s defenses and arrange the units they have built into the various lanes according to what they would like to attack. When the attack is triggered, the units have a maximum of two minutes to inflict as much damage as possible, during which time they drive straight forwards in the lane they are assigned to and attack units and structures within their reach. Destroying buildings wins the player resources; destroying a base’s construction yard takes the base out altogether.
Monetization comes from a premium currency known as EA’s “Play4Free Funds,” which may subsequently be exchanged for any of the game’s resources or currencies. There are relatively few mechanics in the game that require the player to wait or pay, with the exception being the “Command Points” system — these points act as a form of energy system limiting how often players may trigger battles from the regional map, but they are often awarded as mission rewards and may be purchased with Play4Free Funds. The player’s maximum limit of Command Points may also be increased through the expenditure of Play4Free Funds, though only for a 7- or 30-day period at a time. At the time of writing, the payment system was down — according to the game’s Facebook page, the developers are aware of the issue, but comments suggest this has been a problem for a noticeable amount of time. A number of comments also complain that Play4Free Funds are much too expensive when compared to what they buy in the game.
The game is not based on a social network so does not feature many common social game features such as the ability to share achievements and promote the game via Facebook or Twitter. However, the game is designed to be played with others; there is a strong focus on joining or forming alliances of players to get the best experience, and the game provides a real-time chat and private message facility for players to communicate with one another. To aid with recruitment for alliances, players can even access the official game forums without leaving the game screen (see above) — a nice touch that helps to integrate the external community features into the experience rather than making them feel separate. The game uses EA’s proprietary “Origin” network to sign in, and does not support signing in using any other social media services.
On the whole, Tiberium Alliances is a very good example of a free-to-play core-focused strategy game done right. While it still may not quite have the same depth as a standalone strategy title for PC, it strikes a good balance between being newbie-friendly and offering enough options and interactivity to keep more experienced players satisfied. There’s a strong focus on playing together and interacting with others, which is why it’s surprising the game hasn’t been converted to work on the Facebook canvas yet — Facebook’s social features would seem tailor-made for players to share their achievements and recruit new alliance members from among their friends, but it is not to be, for the moment at least.
A great free-to-play strategy game, friendly to newcomers and veterans alike — albeit one which could be a bit more “social” on the whole.