Command & Conquer Remastered Collection review – Kane re-enabled

The granddaddy of all RTS games, and spin-off Red Alert, is brought back for the modern era in two of the best remasters ever.

When a younger gamer looks back at the games of yesteryear, they’re often shocked at their simplicity, but can still see a clear evolutionary line between something like the first Zelda or the original Doom and what we have today. But Command & Conquer is part of a genre that doesn’t really exist anymore. Ironically, the real-time strategy (RTS) was originally seen as a way to update and modernise turn-based strategy games, and yet today turn-based games, from Fire Emblem to XCOM, are more popular than ever.

The legacy of the real-time strategy is MOBAs such as League Of Legends and Dota 2 but while they are amongst the most popular games in the world they have little in common with an actual RTS. There are various reason that the genre has not been able to move with the times, from its unsuitability to console control schemes to the lengthy and open-ended nature of its battles, but the RTS heyday of the mid-90s and early 2000s is now very clearly over.

Part of the problem is that the RTS was created almost fully formed and while there was certainly refinement there were almost no new ideas after the genre was created by developer Westwood’s Dune 2 in 1992 and then popularised by the first Command & Conquer in 1995. The concept was perfected almost on its second outing and there was nowhere else for the genre to go, something which this loving crafted remaster only further proves.

There had been strategy games that ran in real-time before Dune 2, but while turn-based strategies could be any kind of game the term RTS is essentially synonymous with Command & Conquer clone. The only modern day equivalent of any note has been the Halo Wars series and yet despite the more than 20 years between the two games the basics of the gameplay remain largely the same. You are put in control of one of two warring factions, battling over a resource called Tiberium, and it’s down to you to wipe the other off the map – either in a series of single-player story missions or online multiplayer.

Although there are occasional missions where you’re controlling a select group of vehicles, or even a single unit, most missions in Command & Conquer involving harvesting Tiberium and using it to construct buildings, many of which in turn can be used to build vehicles and infantry. To get them to fight all you need to do is select them and point them where to go, and that really is just about as complex as anything ever gets.

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Command & Conquer is essentially playing with a toy army, but with rules and ultra corny cut scenes starring Tim Curry (we’ll get to those in a moment), and as such is almost as much fun today as it was 25 years ago. The original game takes place in a near future sci-fi setting and involves the evil Brotherhood of Nod fighting the UN-esque GDI. Meanwhile, Red Alert is a prequel of sorts set in an alternative history Second World War where you fight over less exotic resources.

Westwood was originally inspired by the Mac operating system, so the control system is built around single clicks of the mouse, which beyond the visuals seems the most archaic part of the game today. There is an alternative control system that’s a bit more versatile but clearly the intention has been to keep the remaster as close to the original games as possible.

That includes the artificial intelligence, which works on very clockwork logic and yet, on a surface level at least, still hangs together very well. The dominance of the tank rush tactic can shatter the illusion of tactical variety but call it a blitzkrieg and you can almost put that down to pseudo-historical realism. The bottom line is Command & Conquer is fun, partly because of the novelty but also because the whole concept of controlling armies of little tanks and helicopters is intrinsically entertaining.

In terms of the remaster this is an almost perfect update. At first glimpse it just seems to be the original graphics at a higher resolution, but everything has been re-rendered from the original designs, in a much more literal take on the concept of remaster than usual. Although the original visuals and unremastered soundtrack are available as options if you want them.

The collection has been handled by developer Petroglyph, which is staffed by many ex-Westwood developers. Although that was never the guarantee of quality you might think, as their output over the last 14 years has been generally disappointing – most recently with Conan Unconquered.

Although both remasters are clearly decades old in terms of their origins the only time that becomes a distraction is during the famous live action cut scenes. The acting in these is still gloriously terrible, just as they were at the time, but the video quality is poor and while Petroglyph has done what they can to upgrade the quality the limitations of how they were originally recorded seems to be insurmountable.

Given how remakes are becoming increasingly popular at the moment, it’s interesting to see an example of a remaster that gets essentially everything right. Often they’re treated to the minimum of effort necessary to make the game look vaguely modern but here everything has been done that could be done without simply remaking the originals from scratch, including adding behind the scenes content and missions and cut scenes that were originally only in the console versions.

The remaster updates not only the visuals and sound but also adds modern multiplayer options such as custom lobbies and matchmaking. There’s also a powerful map editor and EA has allowed the source code to be made public, thereby actively encouraging fan-created mods. It’s so good that there is now zero reason to ever play the original versions again, which cannot be said for many other remasters.

Although any resurgence for the RTS genre would be welcome, as the granddaddy of the whole concept it’d be particularly good to see Command & Conquer back with a brand-new game that reclaimed at least some of the originals’ mainstream appeal. But if that never happens at least we’ve got the Remastered Collection, which brings the whole franchise, and genre, full circle in the most satisfying way possible.

Command & Conquer Remastered Collection review summary

In Short: Two of the best remasters ever made, as after years of neglect the Command & Conquer franchise finally gets the tender loving care it deserves.

Pros: A perfect update that recreates the original gameplay and graphics but offers just the right amount of modern conveniences. Lots of extra content, including from the console versions.

Cons: The control system and artificial intelligence is very old fashioned and shows up the limitations of the original designs. It’s not the remaster’s fault but the video quality in cut scenes is poor.

Score: 8/10

Formats: PC
Price: £17.99
Publisher: EA
Developer: Petroglyph
Release Date: 5th June 2020
Age Rating: 16

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