Friday 12 February 2021

Command & Conquer: Remastered Collection

In 1995, Westwood Studios released Command & Conquer. Building on the formula of their earlier title, Dune II, they helped perfect the real-time strategy genre. A year later, they did it again with a spin-off game, Red Alert. And twenty-five years later, the team got back together to update the two games for modern gamers.

Command & Conquer (retcon-subtitled Tiberian Dawn) wasn't the first RTS game - progenitors ranging from Cosmic Conquest (1982) to Herzog Zwei (1989) predated it - but it was arguably the game that exploded the genre into the mainstream. The core formula is present and correct. You build a base, set about gathering resources (in this case, tiberium, a mysterious crystal that has fallen to Earth in meteorites) and use that to construct additional buildings, such as barracks and war factories, which in turn produce vehicles and troops. You assemble an army and attack the enemy in real-time, with a careful balance having to be maintained between building up and protecting your resources and maintaining your war machine.

The formula is outstanding fun and remains so, but it should be noted that the OG C&C is not the best example of the genre. It's curiously slow paced, with it taking ages to get a base running and an army on the field. It takes a long time to build units and their effectiveness in battle is questionable: the unit roster is decidedly limited and the pathfinding and AI is ropey, at best. These things have only been marginally improved in the remaster, which is more focused on graphical fidelity. Being able to zoom in on your base and guide the wonderfully-animated units around in unthinkable levels of detail by 1995 standards is tremendous fun, as is experiencing the nostalgia generated by the soundtrack.

In terms of being an actual game you'll want to play in 2021, the original Command & Conquer is probably not going to hold your attention for too long. Map design is a mixed bag and there's far, far too many gimmicky missions where you can't build a base (the whole point of the game) and instead have to guide five easily-killed units on an escort mission or something. The truth is that the original Command & Conquer got a lot of passes for ropey gameplay because the core RTS loop it perfected is so compelling. But compared to StarCraft, Age of Empires or Total Annihilation, the lacklustre map design, and unit roster quickly tell against it.

Fortunately, for the sake of the project and the purchaser, Red Alert is a completely different kettle of fish. Despite using only a marginally modified version of the engine, the game is far sharper, much faster-paced, has a much stronger unit roster for both sides and an even better soundtrack. Establishing a base is much quicker and more intuitive, and there's less gimmicky missions, and those that are included are a lot more fun than their original counterparts. This is still a limited game by the standards of just a few years later, let alone twenty-five, but the fast, furious gameplay, knowing sense of humour and modest price makes a full revisit of Red Alert very worthwhile indeed.

As an overall package, you can't fault Command & Conquer: Remastered's fidelity to the original game whilst also improving what needed to be improved. Between the two games and three expansions, there's a ton of content here, and it's fascinating to revisit such iconic games. In terms of actual gameplay, C&C itself (***) has not aged well, but Red Alert (****) remains a thunderously enjoyable, fun game to play. In terms of deeper, more strategic gameplay, stronger unit selections and better map designs, you may want to check out Homeworld RemasteredStarCraft Remastered or Age of Empires II: Definitive Edition, but this package is a lot of fun for a reasonably decent price. Hopefully EA will consider a second package focusing on Command & Conquer: Tiberian Sun and the best C&C game ever made, Red Alert 2.

Command & Conquer: Remastered Collection is available now on PC.

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