The first game I played on my new gaming PC was a strategy game made over two decades ago. The timing of my new build was coincidental, but it served to really drive home just how far things have come since the first time I booted up the classic Command & Conquer.
I've played this series since before I can remember. My dad had every Command & Conquer installed on our home PCs, and my earliest formative memories still contain the sound of a Tesla Coil charging up. Even just seeing the boot-up sequence for this Remastered Collection, which gathers both the original Command & Conquer (sometimes referred to as Tiberian Dawn) and Red Alert with all their myriad expansions and additional content, took me all the way back to those early years.
I imagine most people who are interested in this share a similar nostalgic craving for the golden days of real-time strategy. They're people who relish the lack of modern strategy games, and want to hear those same voice lines, see those cheesy FMV segments, and amass armies of tanks to throw at one another until a Construction Yard tumbles. I'm happy to say, it is exactly that; but it provides so much more in the process.
If you weren't playing these back in their heyday, Command & Conquer was one of the early titans of the real-time strategy genre. Players take the role of commander, deploying buildings and units across land, air, and sea to destroy each other's bases. The Command & Conquer Remastered Collection is the same game: deploy onto a map, build up a small hub of critical structures, form an army, lay waste to your enemies.
It's a formula that holds up in 2020. Part of Command & Conquer's charm is its more exotic units: tanks and APCs are known quantities, but rolling out a Stealth Tank or an Orca adds a new layer of strategy, as well as some fun toys to frustrate opponents with. I love baiting enemy forces out of one side of their base, only to sneak a small squad in the other side and start taking out key structures.
The most immediate high point is the quality of this remaster. Everything has been remastered up to 4K and given a graphical upgrade, but it thankfully doesn't lose the C&C aesthetic. It retains the overall design of an older game, but with crisper edges and more detailed shading.
Rather than holding a gaming monitor next to an old tube monitor for comparison, though, the Remastered Collection has a dedicated button for hot-swapping between the old and new visuals in an instant. I put some serious mileage on my spacebar doing exactly that, seeing how different animations had been touched up, and the results are impressive.
Still, there are considerations taken for modern players, acknowledging the 25 years between the original Command & Conquer and now. The camera zooms out more for a much grander view of the action. The move/attack command can be assigned to left or right mouse button, and the sidebar for building has designated tabs and expanded slots. Some changes felt so natural that I had to go back to old footage and remind myself just how different the original games were.
There might be an argument for maintaining some ethereal purity of what C&C was, but I really appreciate that the choices made to modernize all feel additive and don't get in the way of how I remember these battles playing out. Even little idiosyncrasies, like units sort-of idling if not given explicit attack commands, or the way tanks worm and squirm around each other through tight passages, all feel distinctly like Command & Conquer. They might frustrate those who have only played more recent strategy games, but it just wouldn't be Command & Conquer if my tanks didn't shimmy a little.
As for the content itself, there is an absolute flood of it. The Remastered Collection contains the full campaigns for both Tiberian Dawn and Red Alert, but a number of extra missions as well. All three expansions, console-exclusive extra missions, and fun "side" excursions like the dinosaur-themed Funpark with its quirky unlock sequence are all here. It's a staggering number of solo challenges to play through, so much that most of my time was spent bouncing between different pieces of it rather than blasting through a single campaign.
Each campaign tells the story of a straightforward, two-sided conflict. In Tiberian Dawn, the Global Defense Initiative (GDI) fights the Brotherhood of Nod, an international terror organization led by the charismatic Kane. Each builds weapons of escalating scale and power until one emerges victorious, vying for control over valuable and potentially dangerous Tiberium. Red Alert is a campy "what-if" about a version of World War 2 between the Allied forces and the Soviets, after Einstein kills Hitler. It is also, in ways too good to spoil, a prequel to Tiberian Dawn.
Although strategy games have only grown more complex with time, Command & Conquer remains a pretty demanding game in the genre. Namely, its single-player missions have not let up with time. There were a few I bashed my head against for over an hour before finally timing everything right and carefully managing every unit. Others are still headaches to this day (looking at you and your indefensible hospital, Dr. Mobius). The campaign still manages to be a fun ride though, and the clever design of certain missions—especially stealth-focused ones involving Tanya or a Spy—are clear standouts.
The full-motion video segments return in all their campy glory too, but highlight one of the few wrinkles of the remaster process. As detailed in a video from the Remastered Collection developers, the original FMVs have been up-scaled using artificial intelligence. While this means all of them run at modern aspect ratios, the results are hit or miss. Some cutscenes look fine, some even great; but others, like one in particular where the Allied special agent Tanya is being interrogated by the Soviets, looks rough. It's not a deal-breaker, but the quality is noticeably different from the bonus gallery tapes.
Those tapes, apparently recovered from a hidden filing cabinet, are rewards for beating various campaign missions and feature never-before-seen footage of green-screen tests and recordings, as well as photos from the making of the originals. It is fascinating from an archival standpoint, and a joy to scrub through after blasting through a few campaign missions. Including the console mission cutscenes for Red Alert is a special highlight, as they introduce General Carville (portrayed by Barry Corbin), who ends up playing a major role in Red Alert's sequel.
Tack on an incredible soundtrack, with all the jams remastered by Frank Klepacki and some new songs from The Tiberian Sons, and the Command & Conquer remaster is already a solid single-player offering. It does rely heavily on its nostalgic hooks, which might not be as appealing to someone who doesn't have the same attachment as I do, but it manages to do right in just about every way by the source material.
On the multiplayer front, I only had the time to get in a few matches, but they were a blast. Spurred on by the modernizations in the controls and interface, it was a joy to once again build up swathes of tanks and demolish my opponent's base. Every unit handles just like it did way back when and fills a role within the army, highlighted by some handy new tooltips.
Where the remaster might have some legs is the addition of an overhauled map editor, as well as the freely available source code and Steam Workshop integration. This sort of thing is what spurred some incredible innovation for other strategy games like Warcraft 3 and StarCraft. I don't think the next Dota will be made in Command & Conquer Remastered Collection, but I do want to see what kind of overpowered units ambitious modders invent.
I admit, the game I really want to play with a modern update is Red Alert 2, and I'd also like to see Tiberian Sun get some love too. But this is a confident start from Petroglyph and Electronic Arts, capturing just about everything that made the original games so impactful while making it actually playable by modern standards. The strides taken to engage with community members and workshop what features would be most beneficial for a remaster really shows.
Though I can't say for certain this will be my new RTS obsession, my routine for the past few nights has been a quick map before I hit the hay, which usually turns into a few more. It's 2020, and I can still lose sleep over Command & Conquer. It would've been easy enough to just make an executable compliant with modern systems, but instead, this remaster really feels like a dedication; an interactive plaque commemorating the legacy of one of strategy gaming's biggest franchises. 25 years later, Command & Conquer's still got it.
Command & Conquer: The Remastered Collection gathers up every conceivable ounce of content from the first two games in the series and gives it a full makeover, resulting in a collection that feels holistic, modern, and true to its roots. It has some wrinkles that add an asterisk, but only just that much. This is Command & Conquer, not just how you remember it back then, but how you'll want to remember it years from now.