How does one pay homage to the past without losing the essence of what made it so important? There are several ways to do this. One is like the recent Final Fantasy VII Remake, which has multiple nods to the quirkiness of the 1997 game, while adding massive chunks of back story and extra character moments to the story, fleshing out scenes and giving them more time to breathe. Or you can do what Command & Conquer Remastered did: adding a fresh coat of paint, but leaving almost everything intact, letting it stand proud on what was achieved so long ago.
Welcome back, Commander
Something lost to the joys of high-speed internet and the use of unified game libraries is the pleasures of a well-made custom installer for a game. Command & Conquer had an amazing installer, and it plays as a cinematic before the game launches, complete with resolution increases and a screen crying about IRQ ports being obsolete. It is the perfect nod to these now lost moments in gaming, and just one of many places where the community of Command & Conquer have come through with absolutely shining work.
Something lost to the joys of high-speed internet and the use of unified game libraries is the pleasures of a well-made custom installer for a game. Command & Conquer had an amazing installer, and it plays as a cinematic before the game launches
The developers are well aware of how important it is to show what the games used to be like, to the point that the graphics don’t change to high-definition until you hit the space bar. You can also zoom way out to see more of the battlefield, and the option to go back to those old graphics stays the whole time, letting you see just how much has changed. Remember that one blob that was a spy? Apparently it was a James Bond type all this time! It works so well because the maps haven’t been changed to try go from 2D to 3D, meaning almost everything has stayed intact. Even the weird pathfinding. Oh wow, how did we accept this pathfinding so many years ago as acceptable?
Talking about upgrades, the whole soundtrack has been remastered, with a hefty jukebox that lets you pick from remastered and original tracks to make a nostalgia-boosted playlist. Sound, in general, has been given a lot of thought, with the original voice actor for EVA re-recording her lines so that you can hear those instructions in high definition audio. Or, set it to the original and hear everything in old school tinny sound.
A tale of media manipulation and terrorism
The remastered pack includes two games: Tiberian Dawn and Red Alert. As someone who only got into C&C at Tiberian Sun, seeing where things started was quite fun. Westwood Studios was completely comfortable in a time when FMVs ruled videogames, using real actors to form the bridge between the various missions of the game. We learn about the arrival of a strange substance called Tiberium, which leaches metals and other precious resources from the ground, making it easy and quick to mine. Thanks to where it landed, a cult/terrorist organisation suddenly has an avalanche of materials and cash, allowing them to manipulate the world markets. You pick to sign with NOD, the terrorist group with the charismatic Kane, or the GDI, a peacekeeping branch of the UN.
n Tiberian Dawn especially, the vision radius of almost all units is atrociously small, meaning that unless you have a scouting unit of some kind, you will be attacked around the same time you actually see the enemy.
It turns out that this miraculous Tiberium is harmful to the environment (who could have guessed?) and when it grows on plants, the spores it releases have pretty severe effects on humans. But besides this sci-fi element in the mix, a lot of what is shown is still relevant today. Manipulation of the media, false news reports to sway public opinion in an attempt to dismantle organisations is something that hits close to home even now. Get ready, because Kane has a lot of tricks up his sleeves.
The fact that the games have been left largely unedited does show several of the problematic areas that modern RTS games have tried (with varying success) to eradicate. Many levels play out like a puzzle, giving you limited units and a map to explore. In Tiberian Dawn especially, the vision radius of almost all units is atrociously small, meaning that unless you have a scouting unit of some kind, you will be attacked around the same time you actually see the enemy. This can often result in the quick loss of a map because the game has been designed with several pitfalls and instant kill mechanics. Got your hero unit too close to a dog? Instant death. Went east instead of north? Tesla towers and rockets just decimated your troops. Lost your engineers while forming a beachhead? No base for you, sorry.
In one level, if you go west instead of east when dropped off at a bluff, a flame tank pops up and destroys your tiny squad of grenadiers. Good thing restarting a level is pretty quick, but it happens often enough that it gets pretty annoying. The worst is when you know about an ambush or a place that requires one specific unit type, but the pathfinding fails, taking them into harm’s way. Why would a long-range artillery tank decide that moving right next to the target is the best option? I wish I knew. Similarly, most missions only end once you have killed every single unit and building. Even that one silo in the corner that you missed.
Seeing these old quirks serves as a great reminder of how far things have come in the years since. Even firing up Red Alert 1 shows how much things have improved, with looser building placement restrictions and slightly smoother pathfinding and reaction to movement commands.
Some things best left alone
Command & Conquer Remastered proves that with minimal improvements, the games are still something special. They might not appeal to RTS fans that didn’t play them back in the day, but that nostalgia punch is just perfect. Sometimes a good thing doesn’t need to be reinvented to still be good. It just needs an easy way to access it and enough fresh paint to stop it from looking like a random blur. Having all the expansions, secret levels, console exclusives and behind the scenes footage for the various cinematics makes this a glorious trip down memory lane and it feels like a collection of history, ready for preservation. The only sad thing I thought about when playing this was how we might never have Command & Conquer games like this ever again.