Welcome back, Commander!
Type: Single-player, Multiplayer
Developer: Petroglyph, Lemon Sky Studios
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Franchise: Command and Conquer
Release date: 5 Jun, 2020
Command & Conquer has been with me as long as I can remember although it wasn’t the first Westwood game I played. That credit goes to Dune 2000. It was the game that got me into base building Real Time Strategy (RTS) titles. From there I found Tiberian Sun and later Red Alert 2, the first sequels to the two Command & Conquer series Westwood had to offer. I later went on to other base building franchises but Westwood’s Command & Conquer series is still my favorite of the genre. Electronic Arts eventually bought Westwood and released a few of their own titles including Command & Conquer Generals which I felt shouldn’t have been called Command & Conquer. It was too much of a departure from the established series and would have been better as the start of its own franchise and then Command & Conquer 4 which was so far removed from the core game play that they replaced base building with a multi-tool inspired mobile command center. I mean, the concept worked and the story was there, but it felt wrong to me who grew up with Command & Conquer being a base building series to have that stripped away and the genre swapped to the more modern strategic RTS. Red Alert 3 and Command & Conquer 3 were in my mind the last of the true Command & Conquer games released. Command & Conquer Remastered Collection takes us back to the roots with the original two Command & Conquer games as well as all of their expansions.
For those unfamiliar with the Command & Conquer series, this game should be a great history lesson for you. Command & Conquer is a base building Real Time Strategy game originally released by Westwood. While not all missions involved base building, the ones in my opinion that were more interesting all did. Sure the infiltration missions were entertaining too, but being able to build and then having to defend your base while taking on the enemy base was the bread and butter of the series and where the most fun came in. The Construction Yard was the most important building as losing it would make you unable to produce any new buildings unless you could capture another one or had the ability to make one. It was always great to capture the enemy’s construction yard in order to start producing their units and structures for yourself, but it was really a pointless move as by the time you are able to successfully capture and hold their construction yard the match was pretty much over. That never stopped me from trying though; I remember this one time…
EVA: Transmission Lost… Please Stand By…
EVA: Incoming Transmission
Greetings Commander, it is I, Kane. Listening to this person prattle on about the virtues of the series wastes what preciously little time we have. All you need to know is that to marshal the forces of the Brotherhood is the greatest honour I can bestow on the faithful. We will lead the Brotherhood to glory over the corrupt GDI and their decadent ways. Only I understand the true purpose of Tiberium and together we will lead the world into a bright Tiberium based future and will ascend to…
EVA: Transmission Lost…
EVA: Reestablishing up-link… Please Stand By…
EVA: Review Control Online.
… and there was even a first person shooter which worked out surprisingly well all things considered. Anyway enough of a Command & Conquer history lesson, let’s talk about the gameplay of this collection.
The gameplay here is very basic in terms of what the series became later on. Mind you at the same time it has not changed that much over the years either (other than Command & Conquer 4). You have two factions with very similar buildings and units but each faction being just a little bit different. There are common units, like the Engineer, which is common to all factions but there are also unique ones like the Guard Dogs of the Soviets, or the Allies with their Spies which do not have a direct counterpart in the other faction. The basic idea of the most common mission type is to build up a base and command your units in order to conquer the enemy while at the same time preventing the enemy from doing the same to you. As you progress through the missions you will unlock stronger and more interesting units and abilities. In the final missions you will even unlock super weapons. Mind you these super weapons are kind of underwhelming in the original games in the series and a bit overpowered in later games. They were still fun to use though. It was unfortunate that with them being unlocked at the end of the game and with fairly long recharge timers, they didn’t get all that much use and were more just a status symbol than anything else.
The Engineer is an interesting unit and worthy of mentioning on its own. It functions differently between Command & Conquer 1 and Red Alert 1. In Command & Conquer 1, running a group of engineers into your enemy’s base allowed them to fan out and capture buildings freely. This allowed for a wealthy and heartless Commander to run a squad of engineers through the enemy’s defenses and capture key buildings with the survivors. Red Alert 1 fixed the engineer rush tactic by requiring the buildings to be heavily damaged before they can be captured. While this was a great improvement as it now took multiple engineers to take even one building (unless badly damaged as mentioned,) it made sending a wave of engineers to capture all of the enemy’s production buildings no longer as tempting of a battle tactic. It also meant holding captured enemy buildings was now very difficult to do as the enemies can easily quickly finish of the damaged building before you can repair it or build any of your own defenses (unless your game is so far along that you are just capturing them for fun). I honestly can’t say which system is better. My Nod fanatical engineers running through the hail of machine gun fire to capture a building in the name of Kane made a lot of sense to me, but at the same time, it would be a royal pain in multiplayer.
Another element of the gameplay I feel compelled to mention is the fact it has a certain choose your own adventure style to it. Often it lets you choose which mission you want to take next with the other options being locked out after you finish the one you took (unless you go to mission select afterwards). Most of the time it’s the same mission just with a little bit of different starting conditions and map layouts, but sometimes the alternate mission is something completely different. If you choose option A every time, you will get almost the same story as if you chose option B or C every time, but there will be the odd completely different cutscene and mission thrown in for good measure. This allows for replaying the same campaign (perhaps on a different difficulty) and making it feel a little different rather than just being a pure repeat. The mission select screen will allow you to see these alternative missions easily and allow you to just play those if you so desire rather than doing a full replay. You can adjust the difficulty at any time you want so if you are finding yourself a little too battle weary you can reduce the challenge or if you find yourself able to blow through the enemy units like they were made of wet tissue paper, you can turn up the difficulty too. The last bit I should mention is that all of the released downloadable content (we used to call them expansion and mission packs!) is included in the remaster collection and can be found in the mission selection screen including the super-secret Ant Missions. Unlike the main campaign the extra missions don’t usually have any kind of cutscene before them and go straight to the action. It’s kind of like a guided sandbox experience.
Even with the remastering the game still looks a little old… which is something I wouldn’t change at all! You actually can change between the original highly pixelated graphics and the smoother and sleeker slightly less dated looking graphics. Had they completely remade the game with flashy modern style graphics I actually think it would have hurt the series more than releasing a spit and polished classic gem. Sure the Full Motion Video cutscenes are a little blurry because there is only so much they can do to improve the resolution of the old clips, but they are not so blurry that they detract. Plus it helps keep that nostalgic feel from those of us old enough to have played it in the same decade it was originally released in. So yes, even though it was just released, the game does look like it is quite old already and that is because it is. It is twenty-five years old or at least the original Command & Conquer is! I remember back in the day the game looked fantastic, and with this remaster it looks the same now as it does in my memory. The animations and battle effects are not going to stand out to anyone now, but even something as simple as damaging the ground was a novel concept back then. Battle scaring the land and being able to blow up a bridge and change the map back then was an almost unique experience with few games offering similar levels of realism.
The game has a lot of voice acting both in the cutscenes and during the missions. While the cutscenes is where the acting really shines, having EVA communicate with you while in the battlefield really helped make the game enjoyable. Now it is almost considered a staple in these sorts of games, but back then it was fairly new. They didn’t just re-release the old game with some improved graphics though, they actually remastered the audio tracks as well and added a bunch of new ones (or at least ones I don’t remember!) They even threw in a really handy Jukebox feature that lets you set the background music to be whatever track you want. Some of them fit far better than others do, but if you happen to find one you grew tired of or one you particularly liked, you can adjust the playlist accordingly. The general sound effects of the game are not really going to win any special awards, but they fit the game very well. They are simple yet clearly indicate what is going on. From machine gun fire to explosive rockets each one has its own fairly unique and identifiable sound effect. In Red Alert the Tesla Coil is one such iconic sound effect. As an Allied player there is nothing worse than hearing the sound of the Tesla Coil still hidden in the unrevealed territory charging up preparing to obliterate whatever unit of yours has inadvisably wandered into its range. On the flip side when playing as Soviets, there is nothing more satisfying than hearing that electrical discharge followed by the painful screams of your enemies as they foolishly tried to attack your base.
Controls and User Interface
The controls are customizable and have two default control schemes: Legacy or Modern. Legacy is how it used to be played back in the day and Modern is more what players of future games will expect the controls to be. Despite being a purist who never changes the controls during a review because I want to experience the game the same way as anyone else would starting out, I admit I switched to the modern controls. They just felt more natural. I didn’t rebind any keys though, simply adjusted the mouse controls to modern. Overall the available hot keys and the modern mouse controls made this game very easy to use. The User Interface in general is refined enough for the era the game came from. It is easy to navigate through the menus and everything is understandable. The only real complaint I could have is that the mission selection screen gives more details than the map view. In map view you are asked to pick your next territory to advance to without any real mission details (unless I somehow missed it!) and the mission selection screen offers you the titles of the missions and makes it easy to notice the alternate mission objectives I mentioned previously. Another beauty of this game is there is no need to micromanage special abilities of your individual units. It’s a plain and simple build the unit, add it to your army and let it do its thing type of game. There is no reason to make sub-groups in order to fire off their special extra ability because the units don’t have them! Those will come in future Real Time Strategy games, but not here!
Other Things to Talk about
There are a few other things worthy of note before we wrap this up. The Bonus Gallery offers a bunch of unlockable bonus content for you to view as you work your way through the game. From B-roll footage to unreleased music tracks and behind-the-scenes images, there is bound be something to interest you there. Multiplayer is available and although there are not that many full games going on right now you don’t usually have to wait that long to play. There are some variations on the game available in multiplayer so it is well worth checking out if you grow weary of the AI. If you are a really competitive person there is even a Leaderboard for you to try to reach the top of! If you need a break from the strategic planning, there is also the Map Editor if you want to play around designing your own perfect slice of the world all set for you to wage war in later. Lastly there is Steam Workshop integration so if you ever want to mod out your game it will be very easy to do.
I have only one major complaint I can say about this game. The AI pathing leaves a lot to be desired. Often times when I order my units to roll out or even just have my harvesters working, they will try to take the shortest route to get there. That makes sense, except, it doesn’t work properly. I have watched my harvesters drive completely in the wrong direction, kind of slowly pinball off a few walls before turning around and driving to the harvesting area. I have seen my tanks roll up to the side of cliff and park there looking at their destination rather than just going around the cliff on the revealed path or they may set off in completely the opposite direction from where I told them to go before realizing their mistake when they hit a dead-end and turn around. They might even find some long completely circuitous route to move to the nearby destination I had set. I actually had a GPS like that once, so it is relatable. It basically comes down to sending more units than you think you will need because a few of them may get lost on the way and either join you later or will get themselves blown up when they attempt to storm a different gate. We can just chalk that up to the chaos and confusion of battle on the front lines.
So, should you pick up Command & Conquer Remastered Collection? If you are like me who have already played every Command & Conquer game and want to relive the past (including the console exclusive missions you may have never experienced!) then yes you will want to pick up this collection. My CDs of the original game never worked in Windows 10 properly and took a bit of finesse and luck to be able to make them work and even then it never worked that well. This Remastered Collection allows those that have never played this bit of history the chance to play it with some upgraded graphics and music (or if they want the retro charm they can play it in non-remastered graphics.) If you are a fan of base building in general like I am, and have a hard time finding a base builder worth playing, then you should check this one out as well. If you absolutely must have the latest and greatest graphics and like to ultra micromanage your units to maximize their combat effectiveness then you might be a little bored here because the game still looks dated and the units don’t require that level of management. I could have had this review out over a week ago but I felt compelled to beat all four of the main campaigns and chip away at the expansions as well. Did I expect to learn anything more about the game by doing so? Not at all. Should I have wrote this review then went back to play the game some more? Probably, but I do prefer to finish games before reviewing them if possible (although usually if the game has nothing more to offer I can stop to review then) but I felt the need to press on. Kane needed me! This is a game that you should Save often because as EVA will tell you, the tide of battle may turn against you at any time.