As a final wrap up to the Command & Conquer playthrough I decided to put together a full review of the game. As usual there is an additional written review below.
With the release of Dune II in 1992, Westwood had begun defining a new genre going by the name of ‘Real-time Strategy’. This new genre would eventually see another defining evolution followed by an explosive growth in popularity with the release of Command and Conquer in 1995. Despite only being 5 years old at the time I spent countless hours playing the game and I still remember completing the GDI campaign to this day. Since we recently celebrated 20 years of Command and Conquer I decided to go back and see if the game had stood the test of time. Of course I couldn’t just play through the game on my own so I went ahead and documented my journey on YouTube as well.
Being such an old classic does mean it doesn’t ‘just’ work on modern operating systems, unless you bought through the Command and Conquer Ultimate Collection of course or used one of many community made installers. Regardless of the install method I suggest using the the Project 1.06 patch which includes several community made fixes and enhanced graphic options which I used throughout my playthrough. Depending on the community installer used there is also the option to play up to 4 player multiplayer over TCP/IP however that will not be covered in the review.
Once the game is fired up you will be presented with the option to launch the GDI or NOD campaign or load up a custom mission. If you happen to have the Covert Operations expansion pack the new missions will be located under the custom menu as they are not integrated into the main campaign. As for the main campaign there are 15 GDI missions and 13 NOD missions which can take anywhere from 15 to 30 hours depending on player skill and game speed used. Overall I actually felt fairly mixed playing through the campaign for a few reasons I shall discuss next.
On the story side this game feels very much like an introduction to the “Tiberium” world. There isn’t much depth story wise and most of the things I learned end up being covered in the sequel rather quickly before they dive much deeper into it. Similarly the full motion video used as mission briefings were rather serious on their first attempt, once again it’s only in later games where their quirky charm really started developing. As for the gameplay side practically all the missions involve you wiping out the opposing faction with nothing particularly special or different. They do mix things up with a few missions either needing a specific target eliminated or needing to micromanage a small group of troops.
Playing through the campaign did prove to be occasionally frustrating with the inconsistent difficulty curve. There is a concept of scaling difficulty by starting the first mission with simple minigunners and introducing new units and structures for each subsequent one. But since most of the missions have multiple maps to choose from, I feel like there was more focus on creating more options instead of better balancing a single option. In some cases I would go back and try the alternative options to find that one was always significantly easier than the other.
As far as gameplay mechanics go, the game is somewhat simple but feels right at home among modern RTS games. There are several keyboard shortcuts for stuff like grouping units, returning to base, scattering units and force attack among others however there is a distinct lack of waypoints which has become a common feature these days. Beyond that there are only a few areas there the game does show its age to these modern games. The first and most obvious would have to be the AI behavior and pathing. Unless the enemy is within range units will not go and attack or even return fire which sounds a bit silly. Similarly the pathing can be really finicky as the pathfinding is primitive which can lead troops down a long route. I suppose the single-use nature of the troops and lack of abilities and technology researching is another hint that this is a really old game but it honestly doesn’t affect it all that much.
While the game may not necessarily feel old the visuals certainly do remind you that this game is over 20 years old now. Considering the game was meant to run at a 320×200 resolution I really can’t fault it for looking somewhat chunky and blocky. Having said that if the game is natively drawn at higher resolutions it actually does begin to look fairly sharp and detailed as all the assets are shrunk down. You can see this in effect in the review video where I ran the game at higher resolutions compared to my playthrough videos which were simply scaled to keep that authentic look.
Overall was it worth going back in time to revisit the most memorable game from my early childhood? Absolutely. Command and Conquer withstood the test of time which is a rare achievement for such old games in my book. While it does feel relatively simple compared to modern RTS games or even later Command and Conquer titles, it still feels familiar and at home among them. Despite the simplicity it can still offer quite the challenge which is becoming somewhat of a rarity these days with so many games targeting more casual audiences.