Before today I was firmly convinced (and I'm still of the opinion) that RTS' are much better on the PC. That a console is no place for a real time strategy game since most of the time the control systems are horribly designed and there's a plethora of buttons and commands to learn. However, whilst I still believe that the premier format for the rts genre is the PC, I can say after playing Command and Conquer 3: Kane's Wrath; the stand-alone expansion pack for C&C3 on the 360 - this is an rts that actually works on a console.
The story puts you in the role of someone whom Kane trusts and whilst people thought the 'Messiah' was dead during the events of Command and Conquer during the rebirth of Nod in the aftermath of the Second Tiberium War, they very quickly learn that isn't true. As Kane makes a bid for power again and you follow the story through the events of the Third Tiberium War and beyond. The game is packed with new missions, new maps, new units and it has been designed to work with a console controller.
I approached it with a good degree of cynicism to begin with, which quickly began to evaporate when I went through the game's helpful tutorial mode: Boot Camp and learned the controls, controls that I was able to remember without too much hassle. The game has an expansive single player mode, a skirmish setup that has numerous options including AI controlled allies and enemies, several special challenges thrown down by Kane himself and of course Xbox Live connectivity to take the battles online with friends or against them.
What makes this an overall better experience than any console rts before it, is the fact that the control system provides a degree of flexibility and unit control that you could normally only get from a mouse and keyboard. Whilst by no means perfect it's a massive step in the right direction, other developers need to take note of these control systems and incorporate something similar into their console based rts titles, unless they're going fully voice controlled like Tom Clancy's Endwar aims to do.
Unit selection is simple, a single press of A will select a squad and double pressing A will select all squads/units of that type. Holding the left trigger will allow you to select every unit with a single press of A that's on screen at the time or in range of the cursor. Movement is simple, A moves the unit to a location and double pressing A on an empty patch of ground moves that unit there in move-attack mode. It's advisable to check out the manual for other advanced controls like changing attack strategy, changing unit formations, suffice it to say that those command choices are simple to get to.
The right trigger is something you'll learn to use quickly; it opens a radial menu that allows you to access special powers, unit abilities and many other features with a quick swing of the left stick to choose them. Stepping back through the menu is done by pressing B and it's possible to select more than one wheel by using the d-pad. This is all explained in the Boot Camp. It's the radial menu that steals the show, with it you can order new units at the push of a button without having to find the correct building during a dangerous confrontation.
It's as simple as opening the right part of the menu, pressing A on the unit type and that's it. Everything important is controlled from this menu and it's the reason that Kane's Wrath is playable on the 360.
During big skirmishes there was little to no slowdown, some frame-rate issues do occur but they're not enough to bring the game to a grinding halt. The graphics are detailed enough and zooming (via the right stick) gives you a good view of the action close up. The maps are designed to take advantage of the console style of play and especially in singleplayer, expect to be harassed fairly early on and make sure you bring up several defensive structures and build units as quickly as possible once you have a stable infrastructure.
The game's story is told through the medium of live action cut-scenes, the staple of the C&C series. Kane returns again and is on top form with some of the best (and cheesy) performances captured perfectly to disc ever. This is futuristic warfare cheesy dialogue and acting at its finest, yet it still manages to bring a smile to your face regardless. The sets and cg effects are decent and the costumes are up to scratch.
With the control system and the CommandStick interface, Kane's Wrath is actually a joy to play and even online it's possible to have some pretty intense matches and still feel as though you're in control of your virtual army. Talking of online play, for the most part it's stable, there are a few server issues now and then and lag was a problem in some of the games, but these problems are often par-for-the-course in these kinds of games.
The AI is good, the CPU provides a decent enough challenge and the path-finding is adequate, none of the units were bottlenecked even on some of the smaller maps and the enemy was able to make use of alternate routes into the base. You can also set the difficulty, as well as the kind of enemy you want to face. If you're up for a challenge, go against an expert turtler or an expert rusher. The turtler concentrates on making the strongest base whilst fighting you for resources. The rusher will charge headlong in and relentlessly force you to concentrate on defence until you're strong enough to take the fight to them.
The physics system is effective and bases come apart with a better damage system than before, crumbling under the onslaught of sustained fire before they blow apart in a satisfying explosion. The same can be said for vehicles as they take damage, small fires start and eventually the vehicle is consumed in a conflagration leaving a broken husk in its wake. Units can be knocked into the air by heavier weapons and when a fire-fight erupts between various squads the animations for combat are fluid enough and interesting (not quite up to the interesting of Dawn of War with its Synch-kills) to liven up the action.
All in all, Command and Conquer 3: Kane's Wrath is definitely an excellent rts on the console format, it is playable and the control system is good enough to allow a console gamer to master the intricacies of unit and building management without a mouse or a keyboard. Further enhancements to the CommandStick system and other elements might just secure a foothold for rts on console if developers adopt this kind of control system.