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LONG BLOG

Welcome Back Commander: A C&C Retrospective - Mods And Life After Death (Finale)

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After 2010, the C&C series was declared deceased. The release of the abysmal C&C4 left a bitter taste in everyone’s mouths and didn’t take long for EA to pull the plug. What followed was a decade of abandonment, with the only products bearing the C&C brand being a browser game and a free-to-play mobile game. There were moments of hope, like in 2013 when Generals 2 was announced, but that was quickly canned. But while the series was officially on radio silence, unofficially the fans were in a state of never-ending chatter. Because when the developers leave a void, there will always be a fan to fill it. And fill it the modding community did!

At that point in time, the modding scene for C&C wasn’t new by any means. But much like what happened with the shmup genre, they gained a tremendous amount of notoriety during this period, whether it was in the format of fixes and tools for online play or full-blown new gameplay experiences! It’s thanks to these dedicated people that the Command & Conquer brand remained relevant during the decade of silence that preceded the announcement of the Remastered Collection. With 25 years of legacy, there’s a lot of good stuff to find. And I’m here to be your guide. This is by no means a comprehensive list. It can’t possibly be. Even as I write this, new mods are being created, released, or updated. What I’m about to present are merely my favorites or the ones I believe better represent the franchise. Sometimes both!

So strap in! You’re about to experience two decades of history in a way you (probably) never did before!

OpenRA Project

Calling OpenRA a mod would be extremely reductive. This is an open-source engine that was born with the intent of modernizing Tiberian Dawn, Red Alert 1, and Dune 2000 to a new era of gaming. In a sense, this is the perfect foil to the Remasters: where the latter strives to stay as faithful as possible to the original experience, OpenRA goes the opposite direction and tries to reimagine these classics with all the features introduced in later C&C titles and then some. Units are rebalanced, you can set rally points, queue units and orders, zoom really freaking far, attack-move, veterancy, observer support, and all the other shenanigans you’d expect from a title released in 2020.

But the real beauty of OpenRA is that because of its open-ended nature, people have modded the hell out of it! Currently, the developers are officially working on “porting” Tiberian Sun, but the community has already done some amazing stuff like Crystallized Doom or Shattered Paradise, mods that reimagine and rebalance Tib Sun with new units and factions like Cabal or the Forgotten. It’s absolutely fascinating to see these works in action. As each group shares their vision of what C&C could be, it can feel like staring at one of many possibilities of the Continuum Shift where the series would be if it kept evolving, and a new title got released in 2020. Modern takes on old classics that are absolutely worth your time.

Twisted Insurrection

If you had to choose a single mod out of this list to play, please make it Twisted Insurrection. This is a mod that has a long history: it started as a bunch of maps for the original Red Alert in 2005, before moving to Yuri’s Revenge engine and then settling on Firestorm’s, and by then, it had become a sprawling full-fledged game. This is another work that I feel calling it a mere mod doesn’t do it justice. For starters, it is standalone. You don’t even need to own Tiberian Sun to play it. The amount of work that went into making this is simply staggering. TI has a completely new campaign that takes place in an alternate universe where Nod won the First Tiberium War. It’s one hell of a change, and you can tell that the developers put a lot of thought into how that scenario would play out, especially when it comes to the new units—the revamped visuals of existing units is also awesome to look at. And even though there are no FMV cutscenes to tell the story, it’s still delivered in a way that you can actually follow and get invested.

If that wasn’t enough, TI even has its own original soundtrack, and I can’t praise it enough. It takes heavy inspiration from the industrial techno that was so essential to Tiberian Sun’s atmosphere, but rather than trying to replicate Frank’s music, they made it into something entirely their own. There are a lot of nods to works from the entire franchise, and they even have their own remixes of “Act On Instinct”, “Hell March” and “No Mercy” (absolute bangers if I do say so myself). But you don’t have to take my word for it, because the supreme overlord himself approves: Frank remixed not one, but two of their original songs in his trademarked style. If that isn’t a sign of approval, I don’t know what is. This is a labor of pure love that deserves your appreciation.

Mental Omega

Red Alert 2 has mods. Lots of mods. But if I’m to be brutally honest, the only one that you need is Mental Omega. I mean no disrespect to everyone else, but there’s a reason why this is the fourth most popular mod on the ModDB website as of the moment of writing. Mental Omega was born as an unofficial balance patch for Yuri’s Revenge in 2005 but soon evolved into a fully realized expansion for the game. In a sense, this is the Red Alert 3 that never was, and I do not say that lightly. After more than a decade of tireless work, Mental Omega has a lot to be proud of. It added an entirely new faction called the Foehn Revolt: space knights from the future that are all about nanotechnology and chivalry. There is an extensive campaign mode for each faction (that is still being updated as we speak). All the existing sub-factions have been significantly reworked to give each a unique playstyle and arsenal, and new have been added as well! Playing MO is like learning an entirely new game!

The presentation in MO is also fantastic. Revamped visuals add a modern flair to the game without taking from its identity. Small quality of life things were added, like marking MCVs and Engineers with a symbol for ease of identification, a heap of changes to the overall balance of the game, whole new units that fit the universe like a glove—even “boring” units like the M1 Abrams feel right at home thanks to the way they’re presented—and each side has its own curated playlist of music. Allies and Soviets received many of Frank’s already existing works, but Yuri and the newcomer Foehn totally steal the show. Black Ice 9’s techno-industrial style gives the Episilon faction an air of mystique and intrigue, and the heroic rock/metal of the group Words Beyond fits the noble Foehn to a T. Seriously, this mod is an absolute blast to play, and it is mandatory for any Red Alert fan out there.

Renegade X

Renegade might not have been the most well-received title in the franchise, but in many ways, it was ahead of its time. Thanks to a dedicated team of fans, this remake might just shed light on why. Renegade X is a totally free, totally fan-made recreation of the shooter spin-off but not really, C&C: Renegade, using the Unreal Engine. I will admit that Renegade is a bit of a blind spot in my C&C knowledge, so I’m not gonna be able to give you the full rundown on this one, but from what I can gather, this is a pretty faithful remake, albeit with its own quirks. Fans of the original tell me that this game changed the experience way too much, but I’ll be honest, I can’t really tell. I’m still glad this exists, cause the whole experience is something that is just begging for a triple-A treatment, and the fact that no studio ever attempted to make something like this just baffles me. If Renegade was your jam back in high school, give this a shot, you might just like it.

Generals: Zero Hour

Generals might be the odd kid of the C&C family, but that doesn’t mean its mods are below the rest. In fact, I think it has so many great mods that I can’t highlight just one. Each of the following works could be a new expansion in and of itself, taking the game in different directions depending on your taste. So let’s get to it!

Contra 009

The Contra mod is what happens when someone falls asleep playing Red Alert and wakes up playing Generals. If you ever wish this game took itself even less seriously, then look no further. This mod just throws caution to the wind and says “fuck it, let’s add a cyborg general and give him a goddamn Metal Gear”. This is the level of absurd we’re dealing with here, and it is glorious. The Nuke General? Just make so that even the infantry fires miniature nukes. Stealth General? Camouflage for everything and everyone! The ham never stops with this mod!

But I don’t want to make it sound like this mod is just wacky for the sake of it. It does a lot to differentiate itself from base Zero Hour and believe it or not, it's also somewhat balanced! High tier units and buildings are locked behind the Rank system, encouraging aggression to unlock the best tools in your arsenal (the aforementioned Metal Gear is one such super unit that requires max Rank), three new generals are added, new graphics, AI improvements, native voice acting, loads of quality of life features, obscenely powerful superweapons (trust me, they will end the game) and so much more! It has so many options that it comes with a built-in launcher so you can tweak it to your liking. This mod is absurd and never fails to make me laugh.

Shockwave

Going the opposite way of Contra, the Shockwave mod attempts to make Zero Hour more like the original beta version of the base game. It focuses on expanding existing content while restoring units and mechanics that didn't make the cut, and it does a bang-up job at that. Almost every unit, upgrade, mechanic, or General Power that was missing has been implemented in some way and all the existing are tweaked to maintain the balance between the old and new. It also adds a lot of new stuff. So much so that there are a total of 15 different factions for you to play. A staggering amount that I’m sure was a pain to balance. A personal highlight of this mod for me is the reworked General’s Challenge, where this team reintroduced three cut Generals from the mode, thus greatly expanding its replay value. Shockwave might not be as ridiculous as Contra, or as ambitious as our next candidate, but it does give us an idea at what Generals could’ve been with a little more time in the oven, and for that, it’s absolutely worth your time.

Rise of The Reds

If Contra is an attempt at making a sillier game, and Shockwave an attempt to rebuild a game that never was, then Rise of the Reds (ROTR from now on) could be considered the sequel we never got. Its biggest feature is the addition of two new factions: the tank-loving Russians and the defense-oriented ECA. It’s impressive how good of a fit both are, offering new mechanics and ways to conquer your enemies. No doubt part of that comes from the superb presentation of the mod. This is true for pretty much everything on this list, but ROTR comes so close to the original tone of Generals that you could legitimately mistake it for an official game, especially when it comes to voice acting. The new units match the style of the base game, with wit and personality to spare, and one or several shout outs to other C&C titles. Add some very good models into the mix and you (I particularly love the new look of the GLA) and you've got one hell of a good-looking mod.

In the gameplay department, ROTR trims down the number of factions to 5. There are plans to add 3 Generals per faction but I’m not sure if that’s still in the cards. As it stands, I found this mod to be the best in terms of overall balance, as the fewer number of factions makes it so that each stresses a particular strength while still giving you the option to choose your tactics, thanks to the good old General System. I particularly love how nearly every GLA building functions as a tunnel system, and the new scrap mechanic is so creative I don’t think I can go back to old GLA now. This one gets Nior's golden seal of approval!

Tiberium Wars

Now here’s a candidate with a ridiculous amount of potential. As a relatively modern title (compared to the rest), Tib Wars has that perfect combination of a very competent engine and ease of tinkering that is every modder’s playground, and as such, there are a lot of competent mods out there. You will need to do some setup work first, but I already detailed the process when I talked about C&C3 in this blog. Just scroll to the very end and good modding!

Tiberium Essence

If you’re part of the gang that misses the units from Tiberian Sun, boy do I have news for you! Tiberium Essence’s premise is exactly that: what if everyone kept their technology from the time of the Second Tiberium War around? The result is this skirmish-focused mod that delivers that in spades! Besides bringing back fan favorites, it also adapts the looks of many of the existing units to fit their old-school aesthetic. It also includes a plethora of changes to the presentation, like new effects and blood! If that wasn’t enough, and it isn’t, this package also brings in new super units for all sides, like the Kodiak Ship. You know, the one from the briefings? It’s playable now and it is damn glorious. You can play the campaign mode with this mod, but the real fun of this one is in playing with friends or online. If you take a liking to Tib Essence, keep an eye out for their ModDB page, as they have plans to release a new version with the Forgotten faction in the near future.

The Forgotten

Speaking of forgetting stuff, if EA won’t give us the Forgotten faction, then this mod will! The Forgotten Mod doesn’t do any changes to the basic game, it simply adds a completely new faction. I say “simply” but the amount of work that went into making this thing is crazy! This is a mod with a dedicated campaign and, get this, it’s one of the rare examples of mods that feature FMVs! Sure the acting isn’t on the same level as vanilla C&C3, but it isn’t “my first school movie” levels either. It’s decently competent at what it does and there’s a lot of thought put into the story and how the Forgotten would operate as a faction. They use a lot of stolen/outdated technology, which makes sense since they are scavengers, mixing old Nod and GDI technology with guerilla tactics and Tiberium lifeforms. If you wanted an excuse to play more single-player Tiberium Wars, there you have it.

MidEast Crisis 2

Now for something completely different. MidEast Crisis 2 is a total conversion of C&C3 that imagines a future conflict in the Middle East. Obviously. It still shares some of the basic gameplay of Tib Wars, like the sidebar and support powers, but the flow of battle is completely different. There’s no traditional resource gathering, so this plays more like Company of Heroes or Dawn of War, in the sense that you need to hold certain points on the map. But you can’t just capture it, you need to keep a ground unit there for a constant flow of cast. Joining that is a fuel system that basically serves as a soft population cap: every building and unit costs a certain amount of fuel to deploy. Unlike the shitty system in Tib Twilight, your starting cap is pretty generous and there are fuel stations (and fuel trucks) you can capture and maintain for increased capacity. It definitely makes for a more cerebral game than vanilla C&C3, but without removing too much from it.

Then there are the factions, which all play very differently from each other, including some neutral units/buildings that only certain factions can interact with. Maps also have some random events and certain exclusive rules, mostly tied to the Geneva Convention. I won’t pretend I fully understand it yet, but the basic gist is that all factions must abide by the Geneva rules (a certain Jihadist group being the exception for the most part) and all three factions interact with it in a certain way. All of this is neatly tied in a great presentation: units have custom voices acting just like in “Rise of the Reds," and the quality of the models is crisp and clean. No campaign mode as far as I know, but if you’re looking for a different experience and have a couple of friends around, do give it a shot.

Red Alert 3

I’ll be honest, RA3 might be the entry that I had the least amount of fun with, and its mods didn’t do much to change my opinion. It doesn’t help that most of the popular ones seem to have ceased development very early in their life cycle. Still, I did find a few I can recommend: Entropy is still very early in its development but I really like its premise of expanding the base factions while trying to stay lore-friendly. Right now they brought back the units from Uprising and made a bunch of other changes that I’m down with. Revolution is another mod that managed to hold my attention. It’s kinda like the Tiberium Essence of RA3, but instead of bringing back old units, it focuses on expanding all the existing arsenals. If you just want to throw balance out the window, you can always try the Science mod. There is no meta, and there is no God in this one. Overpowered units are the name of the game, so if like me you get bored with RA3 easily, this one might provide a nice change of pace. If you have more experience with RA3 mods, I’d love to hear your recommendations!

"We're Going To Have To Act..."

It’s funny how life works. This whole series of blogs started because I wanted to tell that dumb “USA is adept at invading your borders” joke in the Generals blog. Since my CD wasn’t working and the Remaster had just been announced, I ended up picking the Ultimate Collection, and that’s when I decided that it made way more sense to do a retrospective instead. But something changed during this process. I originally intended to make only three blogs, each discussing three games. But as I kept going the words just kept coming in, and I soon realized that this method would not do justice to C&C’s legacy. And so, each blog just grew bigger than the last, as I fell in love with the series all over again, and just had more and more things to say.

The C&C franchise has been with me for a long time, and writing this retrospective was like revisiting an old friend and rediscovering a treasure trove of photos you thought were long forgotten. It’s difficult to really put into words just how much things changed from when I first played Red Alert 2 as a child, to right now, an adult trying to convey his feelings for the world to see. But the one thing that didn’t change was how much these games mean to me. Needless to say, I enjoyed (almost) every second of this project. Although the Remasters are out now (and I do plan to cover them in the future), the future of the series is still up in the air. But I don’t worry too much. Because C&C still lives. In our hearts, it lives in memories. In Petroglyph, it lives in spirit. And in the modding community, it lives in death!

It doesn’t matter if it is an alternate WWII, the modern warfare of the Eastern theater, or the far apocalyptic future, there will always be a battlefield waiting for us. Waiting for a leader, to command and conquer. So to the modders that stuck with C&C for all these years, to fellow fans that provided ways for these classics to be preserved, to the randoms that completely destroyed me online, and to you, the person that stuck with this dumb series of blogs for the past ten or so months, I can only say:

Welcome Back, Commander.

- Wine, videogames and top hats.


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About Niorone of us since 5:29 PM on 12.15.2014

Writer for fun, professional amateur and 16-bit dreamer.

Brazilian man born and raised, under the hot sun where I spend most of my days. Currently working on a series dedicated to the documentation of the local gaming culture and landscape, that I call Brazil Of Games. I took the name from an old TV series that aired a long time ago here but no trace of it exists on the Internet.

The Brazil Of Games:

[*] The original blog about Nintendo's departure from my country that planted the seed for everything that's to come, all the way back in 2017.

[*] The first real installment, where I explore the origins of the world's first digital-only console, the Zeebo. And why it failed.

[*] Meet the Locadora, the parlors where we got our first contact with gaming!

[*] A follow up of sorts to the previous blog, where I explore Brazil's most revered game: Top Gear!

[*] The SEGA Genesis might have been born in Japan, but it was Brazil that made it its home! Here's how it happened.

[*] It's no secret we love soccer games. So here's a brief history of the Mod that forever changed how we played them!

[*] Folklore is not something many games explore. Here's a game based on a local folk tale from my hometown.

[*] Everyone knows that gaming really started in the days of the arcade parlors. Brazil's history with them was a very curious one, thanks to legendary company Taito and their many, many bootlegs!

[*] Every story has a beginning. Here's to the game that created our whole gaming industry, AmazĂ´nia! May your legacy be remembered for all eternity!

[*] Happy 20th anniversary PlayStation 2! This one is dedicated to the console that changed everything!

[*] A mini review of the cute little indie platformer Out There Somewhere.

[*] What do you get when you mix history, culture, and Metroid? You get the little hidden gem that is Dandara!