Developer: Westwood Studios
Publisher: Virgin Interactive
Released: August 1995
Taking on a retro review of a beloved title such as Command & Conquer is a risky move. Yet for those uninitiated few its important that this article exists so that they might come to learn the loving, warm embrace of one of the greatest real time strategy games known to man, and one that spawned two decades worth of sequels and counting. Also, look at the size of my balls for reviewing this!
It’s safe to say I’ve played my fair bit of Command & Conquer. I’ve kept on top of the series through the golden era up until the more recent sludgey messes that the current string of years have produced. Hell, I even played over an average amount of C&C: Renegades, a feat I should include on my grave.
“Played more than his fair share of C&C: Renegade. Your move, creep!”
What is a ‘Command & Conquer’?
Having sold over 30 million copies by the last count in 2009, the chances of you having played at least one C&C game is pretty high. Do I care about that? No, because firstly only 10% of those who’ve played a game of the series have probably only played the fantastic original – based on the reported 3 million sales. To top that, many of the younger generation (Gen Next according to the assholes of the world) will probably have only played the more recent and much lesser titles like Command & Conquer 4 or even 2003’s Command & Conquer: Generals dismissing a series that once captured the minds and imaginations of a metric shit-ton of gamers.
Releasing over 2 years on every gaming system you could think of, it’s hard to think you could’ve let Command & Conquer slip by you on its release. I was but a mere child and I still got my hands on this delightful bundle of child-safe crack! Taking place in what was the present day for 1995, Command and Conquer sees you take control of one of two factions; the United Nations backed Global Defense Initiative (GDI) or the fanatic terrorists, the Brotherhood of Nod (NOD). You might feel a slight twinge as you read that and are up to date on current affairs (ISIS anyone?) and surprisingly, in retrospect, it all hits very close to home given our current times… and now that that’s acknowledged we’re going to leave that hot potato far-the-fuck-behind!
The game kicks off with an FMV of a TV switching through various channels giving you brief glimpses into the world you are about to wage war in. Establishing Nod as rather wealthy terrorists who are reaping the rewards of advanced harvesting of a new material, Tiberium. The opening also informs us that Nod currently control almost half of the total world’s supply and that they’re currently soaring on the London Gold Exchange. It follows this news with a reported terrorist attack by our chums, the Brotherhood of Nod, on the Grain Trade Centre in Vienna adding a bit of show instead of just tell. It briefly introduces some main characters particularly the most baller and bald bad guy going; Kane, the messianic leader of the Brotherhood of Nod.
Now go back up and watch the Kane dance again…
Here we also establish GDI as the counter point to Nod but we’re not fully informed of their history or reasoning for involvement until later cutscenes which explains their commissioning by the United Nations Security Council. Vatious types of news clips are shown time and time again as you play through the game expanding the lore of Command & Conquer in a tidy fashion considering you spend your in game time far above the battlefield probably eating a packet of crisps.
To battle – You’ve got it!
Command & Conquer plays exactly like you would expect; top-down viewport, build, amass and attack play-style. You can win by throwing hundreds of units down the enemies throat, but a well-played tactical attack can equally do as much damage if not more. To state that this is a standard affair would be to do C&C a disservice. It’s the finer items that really polish up the title as a whole and there’s plenty here to give even the most hardcore RTS fans something to tinker with and construct elaborate strategies.
Aided by two delicately balanced factions who both offer their own distinctive gameplay elements. The GDI are strong, sturdy and contain mostly conventional units such as Humvees, APCs, and tanks including the mighty motherfucking Mammoth Tank, – the motherfucking is sadly not included in the official title but it should be – a Tank that has not just one, but two turrets and an attached small scale rocket launcher because if you’re going to make a lethal tank you better make sure it’s the most ludicrous, and probably expensive, tank I’ve ever had the pleasure of seeing. If the Mammoth Tank was an animal it would be the I-Rex from Jurassic World.
Not to be outdone the Brotherhood of Nod have a more eclectic variety of units available with Nod Buggys, Flame Tanks, Recon Bikes – a missile launching motorbike – and their final unit, the not-so-impressive Stealth Tank that sadly doesn’t have a patch on the mighty Mammoth Tank. Nod requires a heavy mix of units to maximise their strength and efficiency as their later units are designed with guerilla warfare in mind. The result being that the late game units are made of paper but are extremely effective at dismantling GDI vehicles being mostly rocket type units. Couple these with the infantry eating Flame Tank and you have yourself a jolly GDI barbecue.
Command & Architecture
Nod forces are total bros when it comes to the construction options and end game abilities. GDI may get a giant sky laser in the ION Cannon (Another 5.0 on the naming scale!) but Nod get the Obelisk of Light; a turret modeled as though it was the tail of a scorpion which fires a super sexy and destructive laser instantly killing almost all units in one shot. The sound of it firing up sends shivers down my spine and its gigantic, phallic appearance probably works for the ladies too. Line a defensive wall with a few of these and you can sit back and laugh while your opponent wastes his valuable men and ION Cannon strikes on them as you prepare your nuclear strike from the Temple of Nod a giant scorpion shaped structure. Scorpions are/were shit cool, right?
By in large, a lot of the differences in structures between GDI and Nod is purely down to colour but there are some characterisations to be found as a great example just look at the impractically built Hand Of Nod. The bulk of the changes are made through exciting unit design that still looks great today. The graphical elements do lend themselves to a timeless effect that allows you to engage your imagination to further enhance the designs while showing you enough to get a clear picture in game. Everything looks and feels smooth and the transitions from one state to the next are spot on. The exploding death animations for infantry, truly tops it all off.
The smooth sounds of a great RTS
Speaking of explosions, every sound-effect is perfectly crafted and blends seamlessly with the visual cues. The hallmark of a classic Real Time Strategy game is its soundtrack and sound-bytes both of which are in exceptional form through out Command & Conquer. Though its not quite as strong as StarCraft’s incredible soundtrack, the music fits the tone and shifts perfectly to adapt to each scenario, the remarks, acknowledgements and general phrases from your units is colourful enough to not wear on you which I can imagine is a freakishly daunting task given that you click a billion times per game – alas why was Rise of Nations’ ‘speed’ tab not invented earlier so we can all delight in our click counts.
Possibly my favourite aspect of Command & Conquer is the FMV (Are they even classed as FMVs?) sequences. These live-action acted out clips keep the pace going but more importantly, are fucking rad! The actors speak directly to you, informing you of the mission you are about to take part in, treating you as part of the team, completely and totally enrapturing you in the entire experience. Kane, the golden figure and head honcho of Nod, leaks charisma out of every orifice and I mean every!!! His smooth-headed bravos reaches through the screen leaving you completely ensorcelled. Even playing as GDI you almost feel bad beating the game. If you play Nod his entry will undoubtedly leave a mark on you as it’s easily one of the top moments of my personal gaming experiences.
Start the war, finish the war, make friends
Playing through the campaign you learn more and more about this intriguing world Westwood Studios have developed. You gain insight into the origins of Tiberium, it’s horrible effects on people and animals and the origins of the Nod with pretty vague glimpses into Kane’s past. With each completed mission the following cutscene drags you to the next at full throttle as you furiously play through to the next snippet of story. There’s so much grace in the simplicity behind the live-action footage and a natural cheesey-goodness oozes out, solidifying the edges around each wonderful tome of quality experience.
That’s not to say that the game relies solely on them. The DOS version of Command & Conquer was one of the first video games to include 4-way competitive ties over the internet allowing you and 3 mates to take your learnings from the campaign into an entirely different arena against real-minds and adding the essential ability to gloat after all is said and done. This, along with the many reasons listed above, is why the original Command & Conquer – and most of it’s initial counterparts like Red Alert – lives on to this day. The perfect game, delivered in exceptional condition, across a wide landscape of gaming machines, that gave more than its story offered.
Put simply Command & Conquer is one of they best games going even by today’s standard much like the original StarCraft. Very little innovation has come to the genre since its inception and the little that has is not too far removed from the offering here. I would gladly pick this up and play for another 20 hours or so and probably will given that it’s now free online. That’s right, FREE! You’ve no excuse not to try it and if you do, I can guarantee you will have a great time. Now, if you’ll excuse me I’ve to go back to watching my Obelisk of Light ruin some GDI pricks…
My retro review score: