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Growing Up With Command & Conquer: A Retrospective


Okay, I will admit it: I have a control problem. I like telling others what to do, especially those I feel are below me. How am I supposed to go on through life though? These people are bought by me to be used by me for my needs. I may seem cruel but realistically my life is much more important than theirs. Hell, none of them seem to even have names. They exist to serve me and I am not going to treat them like they have any other purpose. Of course none of these people are real, I am actually not a very controlling person and the Command & Conquer games unlock this little jerk inside of me who likes to watch tiny soldiers die.

When I was about eight years old the first Command & Conquer game released on PC. My first real time strategy experience was Westwood Studio’s Dune so I was easily able to slip into the C&C mechanics. I played OG C&C for a few years, never truly being able to master the game but I did get enough of an understanding to enjoy it. I eventually upgraded to The Covert Operations expansion pack which was incredibly difficult and I immediately dismissed it. My young brain loved seeing the dozens of troopers on screen all bending to my will, and as the fat kid in school I loved being the one to tell others what to do. Call it emotional revenge.

When I was about ten or so I started to play Command & Conquer Red Alert which was not so much a sequel of the series in a vertical sense, more of an extensive expansion pack. I was not quite versed in the 1950’s so my entire knowledge of that time period came from playing Red Alert. Being a young child attempting to explain that Einstein invented time travel and stopped World War 2 always attracted chuckles from my family. I did not care that they laughed though, history had lighting towers and warp tanks and bomb dogs! History was f***** amazing!

The Command & Conquer series soon became my favorite games ever, and even though Star Craft came out and I played that for hours a day I would still consider C&C to be superior. That level of superiority came to a climax with the release of Command & Conquer: Tiberian Sun. The jump in graphical fidelity, the new units and the amazing futuristic time period were an absolute joy to behold. Tiberian Sun was the first game in the series that introduced me to the joys and terrors of online multiplayer. I marveled at how quickly I could be matched up with players from around the world, and I lamented how easily they defeated me with their cunning and tactics. I hated how everyone in the world seemed to be better than me.

What I did not realize with RTS games up to that point was that the “S” in RTS stood for strategy. I assumed massive blitzkriegs of units could defeat any enemy, regardless of intelligence. I learned an important lesson from that hubris and soon started to read message boards and forums about C&C strategy. I learned how different units complemented each other and how a small handful of carefully selected troops could have a strength greater than the sum of their parts. I learned about making squads and how to properly build my base to maximize defense. I was soon becoming a rather intelligent general, and my bloodlust for tiny groups of pixels increased with each victorious battle.

All strategy went out the window though when Command & Conquer: Renegade came out. Renegade was an FPS and had nothing to do with tactics and unit placement. In Renegade I was able to actually be one of my troops from the ground level. I saw first-hand what life was like for the troops under my command. I saw dozens of my men die simply because they were in the wrong place at the wrong time. I kept telling myself that my missions would be more successful if the game would simply let me play commander again.

Then it hit me: regardless of how many battles I was winning I was a horrible leader. Over the years I had sent thousands of men to their deaths, and for what reason? Sure I won battles faster but I never considered the cost of those victories. Even though none of my men had names, seeing them die on the battlefield was too much for my little brain to handle. These men needed a better general, and I was determined to give them that… after being a badass and killing tons of Nod bastards with about thirty different guns (did I mention Renegade was awesome?).

I was at Best Buy on the release day for Command & Conquer Red Alert 2 and I was shaking with anticipation the whole way back home. Once I had the game installed I was treated to quite possibly the greatest opening FMV in videogame history. The major talent behind Red Alert 2 really did a great job selling the rather campy story of war, nukes and mind control and I was hooked from the very first minute. The game had so much character put into the graphics and storytelling and it would be a waste to be the commander I used to be. I treated each soldier with respect and cunning and I did my best to keep everyone alive so they could go home and see their digital families.

Red Alert 2 treated me for caring about my soldiers and they would level up as I used them. At the end of every stage I had teams of badass maxed-out commandos and they decimated all who opposed them. I could have simply sent in troops by the dozen and watch them die as I inched my way to victory, and while that would have worked it was more satisfying to see my tactics rewarded by the game. I took the lessons I had learned and brought them into the multiplayer arena where I was met with fierce opposition and highly enjoyable times. Red Alert 2 was my new crack, and sadly to say it was the last time I really enjoyed the series to its fullest.

I am not one of those gamers who hates things that are new, quite the contrary in fact. I love to see series evolve and change over the years and I adore when old IPs are given new gameplay elements. A great example of this idea is the Kirby series. If you look at any Kirby game there is always a new elements (golf, collecting, patchwork etc) that is the main design focus of the title. Nintendo uses its Kirby franchise to innovate and never is afraid of offending the Kirby purists. I was hoping that EA would be able to do this with the Command & Conquer series when they released Generals, but unfortunately this was not the case. Generals was a fun game but lost all the soul of the original games.

The first issue I had with Generals was that it simply did not feel like a C&C game. The story was modern and politically relevant, but the trademark camp of the series was nowhere to be found. Instead of sending packs of dogs into a base of Tesla troopers I was using tanks to blow up terrorist bases and tunnels and save cities from suicide bombers. The 9-11 attacks only happened two years prior to the release of Generals and that may have had an effect on my enjoyment, but the themes were just too realistic to enjoy. I was no longer fighting psychics and mutants, instead the enemy was brown people from the Middle-East. I simply could not love the game, I only marginally liked it.

I held out hope for the next C&C game though because we were returning to the Tiberian universe. I eagerly anticipated each and every screenshot and trailer that showed me how amazing that universe could look in 3-D. Even if the game was a glorified Generals mod I would probably have loved it. When Command and Conquer 3: Tiberium Wars hit in 2007 I was faced with a sad realization: my favorite series had changed and it was no longer the series I had once loved. The trademark camp was replaced with gritty (futuristic) realism and the game was simplified to accommodate the console release. Yes it was fun and yes the multiplayer was good, but it was not the same anymore.

Red Alert 3 came out and it was one of the first times I waited to buy a Command & Conquer game new. It had a console release so I decided to wait until a used XBOX 360 copy came into my possession. Once I had a chance to play I was absolutely relieved: the camp was back! Ruskies, hot chicks with guns, fu***** BEAR CANNONS- Red Alert 3 had everything! The game even had a great feature where a majority of buildings and units could be built on the water. I was never a fan of building aquatic units in the previous games, but having a tank that could be land and sea-worthy was a breath of fresh sea-air. My inner child adored every second of this game, especially when I played it again on PC.

After beating Red Alert 3 I had only one game to go: Tiberian Twilight. This was the last major Command & Conquer game that I would ever play, and my melancholy feelings towards saying goodbye to one of my favorite franchises prevented me from buying a copy until well into a year after it released. I wish I could praise the title, I wish I could say it was the best game in the franchise… hell I wish I could say it was a solid iteration of a classic series. Sadly though Tiberian Twilight was a shell of what Command & Conquer used to be. Between the emphasis on multiplayer and the removal of base building I had lost all interest.

The dream it seemed had ended.

I choose not to be sad about the end of this great franchise. Sure there is the Generals sequel coming out sometime this decade but I have little interest in it. I choose to remember just how great these games were and how they changed the way I looked at strategy in general (pun). Even though these are just video games I had to respect the men under my command. They were there to help me win, and as long as I respected them with proper strategy the games rewarded me with fantastic and intense experiences.

Command & Conquer as a series shaped who I am as a gamer today. The games grew up with me and I am forever thankful to EA, Westwood and all those involved. Sure the series may be gone, but we will always have the classics. That, and a respect for each and every soldier that helped me win. Oh, and my desire to see little pixels die en masse? Lets just say I reserve those feelings for Hotline Miami now.

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About ryanclicksone of us since 12:41 PM on 02.10.2013

I am the writer of www.betterbyyouasking.com . I am currently developing a game about... things important to those who are married. More to come!