Command & Conquer Remastered: chronofear

Given how many old games are repackaged and pushed out there with a fresh lick of paint before being immediately forgotten until the next go-around, Command & Conquer Remastered has me surprised. What I see in this package of the original C&C and its first spin-off Red Alert is… well, a bit of craft.

It’s the little things, like tapping space to quickly alternate between new and old graphical styles (old is better, naturally), or the lovingly recreated game install video, which apes the 1995 process you actually had to go through. You don’t have to go through it this time. But you should, just once, because it’s lovely.

I never actually stopped playing Command & Conquer, it should be noted. I genuinely don’t think a year has passed since I picked up the first game – on PlayStation, from Blockbuster no less – wherein I haven’t played at least one skirmish on one of the many C&C titles. Usually Red Alert 2, let’s be honest.

So while this redone double-pack does have me all a-frothing at the gnashers, it’s not like I am most of the audience for the game: lapsed fans. Those who lost track, who see the re-release as a nostalgia blast, who didn’t know that by jumping through some basic hoops it was easy to get the old games running, or that there’s still an HTML5 in-browser version of Command & Conquer knocking about online. It’s always been there.

But now it’s easier to get, and it’s being shown. It’s very present and being pushed by the bods at EA in a clear and present ‘Do you want us to do more of this?’ fashion. It’s testing the water. Do I want more old games with the gunk power-washed off and a bit of love sprinkled on top? Yes. Yes I do. Will I pay money for them? If they’re done as well as this, yes I will. Is it cynical? I… It’s not. It’s really not. I’m so confused.

After railing against this sort of thing for so long, I just don’t know how to react when a publisher puts time and effort in to do things the right way. So instead of trying to break it all down and compartmentalise my feelings on the matter, I’ll just keep on playing the odd mission here and there, and the odd skirmish for an hour or two. Just like I did when I first got into Command & Conquer.

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The effort to make everything look spangly and new is appreciated.

So simple, and as warm and welcoming as a flask full of Cup a Soup on a chilly winter’s morn, Command & Conquer and Red Alert both play out much the same as each other, and indeed much the same as they ever did.

These are the halcyon days of the real-time strategy game; when clicks per second or whatever the measurement is didn’t matter so much, and really all you needed to do was tank rush or put up a wall of Obelisks of Light/Tesla Coils to destroy your enemy’s base or the invaders, depending on which side of the assault you were on. That shouldn’t be satisfying – not really – but it is.

There’s so much bloody personality in these games, it just oozes with it. The FMV has been upscaled to the point where it looks… well no, it looks pretty bad still, but there’s no getting over just how captivating the performance of Joe Kucan as Kane is, or how weird and weaselly Seth is. You recognise units instantly by their acknowledgements, and you know what you’re being attacked by from the sound (and arc) of the incoming projectiles.

It’s utterly competent – I mean that as a compliment, not a back-handed one – and still, even 25 years later, makes me smile like a fool. I’m walking around the house doing impressions of the commando unit. I’m muting it on a Tanya-heavy mission because she won’t shut up. I’m seeing if I can beat later levels with nothing more than a few dozen minigunners. I’m in heaven.

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What you’ve got yourself here is an old-fashioned Soviet tank rush, kids.

I can’t – I won’t – ignore the fact that there are some hugely irritating aspects in both games. Pathfinding ranges from absolutely fine (when moving in a straight line from A to B) to intensely bad (when in any other situation). The AI on anything above easy difficulty will build with a level of automation that puts the fear of the future of the labour market in me.

Strategy is limited to having bigger and/or more of things, and not much beyond that. You’re not going to see high-level competitive Command & Conquer play, because it is, on a technical level, not really a good enough game for that sort of thing – at least not in these early examples of the series.

And yet, for the first time in ages, I feel as though the endless pursuit of nostalgia hasn’t just been for the sake of itself. In the case of Command & Conquer Remastered, a true classic has re-emerged and been brought back from the dead. Enough has been done to the game to freshen it up, and enough respect has been shown that the purists (hi!) are still catered for.

Beyond that, plenty of little trinkets and Easter eggs have been buried in there to reward those who plough on through. This is healthy nostalgia, not predatory, and it’s quite frankly bewildering that it’s come from the vault of EA. Fair play, though, let’s get cracking on Red Alert 2 and Tiberian Sun, the greatest of all C&C titles.

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Command & Conquer: Tiberian Sun
Maybe the C&C remakes will stretch to this sequel at some point, but for now, you still have to stick with the original. Ways of playing the game on modern hardware are here:

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