We are going to have to act, if we want to live in a different world
Command & Conquer represents a watershed moment in the strategy genre. There had been titles of its kind before, but Westwood Studios’ military base-builder was, undeniably, a key moment in opening the niche genre up to a more mainstream audience. Thus, for many, Command & Conquer was the first strategy game they had ever played.
Originally, C&C was an alternate take on Westwood’s previous release, Dune II, having repurposed many gameplay elements and mechanics from the 1992 DOS classic. But in the ensuing decades, C&C has written its own legend, thanks in no small part to its fast-paced gameplay, tongue-in-cheek FMV sequences, hard rockin’ soundtrack, and ready availability on consoles, a market often shied by the majority of map-based strategy titles.
Swiftly learning that fantasy was key to inviting in a wider audience, C&C gradually shifted from standard “grunts ‘n’ tanks” action to scenes of warfare that included missile-firing dolphins, psychic schoolgirls, screaming mechanical spiders, and Jenny McCarthy as a top-tier Black Ops commando. It’s C&C‘s universe now, we’re all just living it.
But today we return to a quainter time – when the series was still finding its footing – courtesy of the recently released Command & Conquer Remastered Edition. This double pack features fresh takes on the series’ first two entries: Command & Conquer (1995) and Command & Conquer Red Alert (1996). Let’s find out if these classics still deserve the Nod of approval.
Command & Conquer Remastered Collection (PC)
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Released: June 5, 2020
From the moment the player first fires up Command & Conquer Remastered Collection, it’s very clear that developer Petroglyph is going above and beyond to get the nostalgia fires burning. Opening with the classic Westwood Studios logo, the player is then treated to a phony ’90s installation process, complete with sound card selection – SoundBlaster 16, we hardly knew thee. This process then culminates with an upgrade to 4K resolutions, the stuff of a madman’s dream back in 1995. The famous “channel-hopping” FMV intro fires up, and we’re off to war once again.
Overall, this fake installation sequence is a metaphor for this remaster in its entirely. C&C Remastered is a nostalgia-fueled product that wishes to deliver an experience almost exactly as fans remember, but polished with subtle gameplay tweaks, progressive control options, and a splendid visual and audio overhaul. These additions bring both Tiberian Dawn and Red Alert – along with bundled expansions Covert Ops, Counterstrike, and Aftermath, and even the console-exclusive missions – marching into 2020.
Once out on the battlefield, the decades just melt away, with C&C feeling immediately comfortable. The vibrant visual upgrade gives the soldiers, vehicles, buildings, and torrid landscapes a whole new lease of life, while remastered sound makes the famous voice samples and unit acknowledgments crystal-clear (kudos to original EVA actor Kia Huntzinger, who returned to re-record her indelible U.I. dialogue). C&C Remastered‘s target objective is to provide an experience that looks, sounds, and feels new, while still retaining the beat-by-beat gameplay of its forefathers. It is a goal that the package delivers with accuracy and passion.
C&C Remastered features a slew of custom options that allow the player to fine-tune features old and new to find their gameplay “sweet spot.” Players have control over multiple elements of C&C Remastered, from visuals and audio, to new mechanics, game speed, key bindings, and more. You want the original lo-fi sound samples? You can have them; A new build-queuing mechanic? You got it; Want to fully configure your mouse buttons? You can. C&C Remastered offers a deep level of customisation, allowing each player to adjust both titles to their needs, whether they want the nostalgia dial on low, or cranked right up to 11.
These configurable options are vital because, undeniably, C&C‘s gameplay has become dated. Though groundbreaking on release, it’s a simple fact that 25 years have since past, and the strategy genre has made enormous strides in that time. As such, while purists will relish the restrictions placed upon them for their Tiberium-based battles, newcomers may be shocked at the overall simplicity of old-school C&C action. But, by offering a wide range of customisable options, C&C is afforded the potential for modernisation without even once compromising on its decidedly retro gaming experience.
Unfortunately, not every element of C&C Remastered can be brought up to scratch. Despite being given a smudgy filter, C&C‘s famous FMV sequences look mostly atrocious. These sequences were never intended to be seen outside of a low-res PC window, let alone on a 4K widescreen monitor, so this is an almost unavoidable blemish. As a wonderful bonus, original rehearsal footage is unlocked throughout the campaign, giving fans a fun look at the quaint film shoots that brought Seth, Kane, Stalin, Tanya, and Albert Einstein to life.
It would be a crime not to make mention of C&C Remastered‘s fantastic soundtrack, which features not only original and remastered versions of the memorable tunes of yesteryear, but also includes a selection of brand new tracks, recorded by original composer Frank Klepacki and his band “The Tiberian Sons.” Over two decades later, C&C‘s score still holds up marvelously. Even its occasionally cheesy ’90s samples still raise a smile. A jukebox option lets players custom-build their own setlist out of both games’ scores, so you can personally DJ your base-destroying, body-burning mayhem.
Expanding on this customisation factor, C&C Remastered also includes not only a Map Editor for homespun missions, but also contains the original source code for both Tiberium Dawn and Red Alert. This exceptional decision by Electronic Arts opens up a whole new future for both titles, allowing the die-hard community to create entirely new missions, campaigns, units, and more. C&C Remastered is good enough as a standard gaming experience but, for the franchise faithful, it is also a toolbox that opens up worlds of possibility.
Command & Conquer Remastered Collection is now a flag-bearer for how to do a remaster correctly. By including a slew of options – and heavily emphasising player customisation – Petroglyph has created a nostalgia trip that can be as old-school or as progressive as each player desires. C&C Remastered successfully walks a fine line of bringing these vintage strategy sims up-to-date, while never losing sight of the limitations that initially made them all-time classics. The package is a little pricey at $20, but for C&C fans, modders, and video game historians, it’s well worth its weight in Tiberium crystals.
Command & Conquer Remastered Collection is a masterclass in how to re-energise a classic title. There’s no denying that the 25-year-old gameplay doesn’t quite hold up to its modern contemporaries, but with over 100 missions, progressive options, revamped multiplayer, and full mod support, C&C Remastered is both a solid package and a proud testament to Westwood Studios’ genre-defining work. Now, about Red Alert 2…
[This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]