Command & Conquer
Now that I’ve blocked off the time to sit down and write about Command & Conquer, I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s difficult to avoid the temptation to just devolve the whole thing into a slew of unit quotes and game quotes. After all, probably 80% of what I remember from the original C&C are the voice clips. So no more voice clips. No.
I picked up the C&C Ultimate Collection from the Amazon sale (which is still ongoing at the time of this writing), and after all the negative press about “lazy EA” and “lousy porting”, I find myself pleasantly surprised. C&C 95 ran without a hitch.
Then again, I haven’t yet tried any other games in the set besides C&C 95 and Generals, and if the latter didn’t run, we really would have had a big problem.
Command & Conquer is of course one of the great granddaddies of the real-time strategy genre -- the game that epitomized the much-maligned concepts of SimBase (build up a huge base and never attack!) and the tank rush. I can’t delve too much into the intricacies of the system and how unbalanced it may be, but I can say that the unit variety isn’t that inspired, and different types of infantry don’t even get distinct voice clips. They all sound like the same freaking soldier dude.
Even the setting didn’t do much to wow me when I first saw it in action long ago. I had played Westwood’s Dune 2 -- the game widely accepted as the first modern real-time strategy game -- and while C&C definitely had superior graphics and presentation, the world was kind of flat. Dune 2 had all that rich background and had detailed build screens for the structures and a unique gameplay element in carefully traversing open desert. Command & Conquer, in comparison, looked like a generic modern military game with maps that had no sand worms lurking under the surface. It even had only two factions compared to Dune 2’s three!
It can’t be denied though that C&C is still tons of fun.
I fired up a GDI campaign (a new experience for me -- I had always been a NOD-first player) and ran the game through its paces. Three missions in and I was hooked like it was 1995.
There’s a certain purity and enthusiasm to be found in C&C that I’d be hard-pressed to find in any RTS that came out in the last ten years. Competitive RTS gaming was non-existent before C&C was released, and back then, the game’s developers had no checklist of RTS tropes that they needed to hit to grab the attention of the gaming public. There were no standards for hotkeys, or controls, or presentation, or any of those things. C&C remains an enjoyable game because it’s designed to be a game that anyone can get into, not just the diehard RTS players.
For someone like me, who largely avoided RTS titles during my childhood because I sucked at them, this is an amazing opportunity to get back into the genre and revisit old memories while relearning the concepts and strategies that the better players in the 90s already knew. With C&C, I don’t have to wrestle with any unit’s secondary or tertiary abilities because there are none. There’s no modelling of cover, no worrying about unit fatigue, no worrying about running out of ammo or fuel, or anything else that strategy games have introduced since then. C&C simply demands that I stay on top of my war economy so I can crank out enough units to take out the other guy. Sometimes I like it straightforward and simple like that.
Command & Conquer of course grew into a huge franchise and spawned numerous sequels and alternate universes, and it certainly influenced many of the other RTS games we see today. I would argue, though, that most developers were far more influenced by the gargantuan gorilla of RTS gaming: Blizzard. There was once a time during my grade school days when you were either a Warcraft player or a C&C player, and lo, you would be judged according to your affiliation. It’s easy to see the Blizzard influence on modern RTSes: right click to attack and move (which C&C would later adapt), a unit selection group limit, and the funny quotes that your troops would say when you clicked on them repeatedly.
There should be no doubt, then, that Command & Conquer has managed to keep its own identity for itself: great RTS gameplay that features lots of guns and explosions, goofy live action cutscenes, and lots and lots of imaginatively-designed tanks.
I like to think that it’s an elegant formula -- one that’s not as easily copied.