Written by  :  Stijn Daneels (85)
Written on  :  Feb 07, 2015
Platform  :  DOS
Rating  :  4 Stars4 Stars4 Stars4 Stars4 Stars

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Summary

The start of an awesome game series!

The Good

Command & Conquer is a game I still have very fond memories of. Playing it on the good old PSX (which was a good port, by the way), I remember I really had to get used to this kind of game. As a kid, I used to play platform or FPS games. You know, games wherein you control a single character with a simple objective, jump or shoot your way to the next level. Now I suddenly was in control of an entire army. I also had little to no clue of what the game's goal was or what I was doing. But eventually, I felt in love with the game. Later on, I sold my PSX version and got the original PC version through the First Decade compilation. And even to this day, I still love to play some good old Command & Conquer. And to celebrate the 20th anniversary of this series, it's an appropriate time to take a look at the game that started it all.

Command & Conquer takes place in a modern day setting and it plays on a fear that has been plaguing the Western world since the mid 90s. What if an ultra-violent extremist group suddenly decides to come out of the shadows in order to take over the entire world? In Command & Conquer, that fear becomes a reality when the Brotherhood of NOD, a mysterious extremist cult that allegedly has existed for centuries, starts an all out war against all nations of the globe. The cult is led by a charismatic man known as Kane and the group uses violence, manipulation and terrorism to strike fear into the hearts of everyone who don't share their ideals. As a result, the Western countries assemble themselves into the Global Defense Initiative (GDI) in an attempt to quell the Brotherhood's crusade for conquest. In addition, an alien mineral called tiberium started to appear all over the world. While being a very unstable and ecologically dangerous element, both sides want it for themselves. GDI sees tiberium as a perfect replacement to cope with vastly decreasing natural resources while NOD sees it as the coming of a new age in human evolution. Plenty of reasons for both sides to start an all out war for control of the world!

Command & Conquer was one of the very first Real Time Strategy games. In an RTS, you have to build units, structures, attack, defend and gather resources all at the same time. Unlike in a Turn Based Strategy game, you don't have much time to think everything over as your opponent will not stop attacking you until you're crushed. So playing a game like this certainly requires some skilled multitasking, flexibility and constant focus. You do not want to assault your enemy with GDI mammoth tanks only to find out that your undefended base gets burned to the ground by NOD flame tanks! It is that kind of fun tension that made me fall in love with RTS games.

Base and unit building goes as follows, you select a building or unit from the menu and the icon representing it gets darkened out. It starts to light up more and more as it gets build. Once it is finished, you unit will appear on screen or, in case of a structure, you can deploy it anywhere as long as it is located next to one of your already existing buildings. Building structures is important, as they allow you to produce units and advance through your side's tech tree, allowing you to build more advanced buildings and units. But of course, that requires quite a lot of cash. Cash that you can obtain by harvesting tiberium spread across the battlefield. Another important aspect about your base that you need to look out for, is power. It is vital that you build sufficient power plants as certain structures eat a lot of electricity. If you're low on power, you get a blackout, shutting down your radar, slowing down your production and turning off certain base defenses.

In C&C, you get to play as either GDI or the Brotherhood of NOD. Both sides have their separate storylines (which ultimately leads to your side defeating the other one) as well as their own style of play. GDI relies on traditional military tactics such as tanks, attack helicopters and even a satellite-based laser beam. Their main disadvantage, however, is that their units are slow and expensive to build. The Brotherhood of NOD's units are generally weaker but are faster and cheaper to produce. They also have quite some original stuff such as laser shooting obelisks and camouflage stealth tanks. NOD's forces are excellent for guerrilla tactics and for swarming the enemy with sheer numbers. Particularly their flame throwing tanks are a true joy to use on enemy infantry or on their base. In summary, both sides are pretty well balanced. Every unit has its own purpose. Some are powerful against infantry, others fare better against vehicles or structures. If you want to win a grueling battle, you will have to efficiently combine your unit's strengths and weaknesses and keep your eyes to what the enemy is throwing at you.

The missions in C&C include objectives that range from collecting a certain item to simply destroying every single enemy unit and structure on the map. Every game map starts off by being completely covered in darkness called the fog of war. When you explore the battleground, the fog of war disappears until the entire map is revealed. Unlike in later RTS games, you don't need to keep units patrolling the map if you want to notice enemies moving through the area. So you can just take a fast unit and explore the map quickly.

Gameplay aside, one other thing that was quite original about the Command & Conquer series is the use of live-action cutscenes. Unlike virtually every other game at the time, the game uses real actors to tell its story rather than just relying on text messages or CGI. I personally think that the actors do a pretty decent job in bringing their characters to life. Particularly Joseph Kucan, the actor playing the NOD leader Kane, is awesome. He's calm and calculating but at the same time has an intense and commanding presence. You just have to look at him and you can't help but believe that this guy truly believes himself to be Jesus Christ reincarnated and that he tolerates no objection nor failure from anyone.

Both the GDI and NOD campaigns have some very memorable scenes. Who can forget that scene in the NOD campaign wherein Seth, your commanding officer up till that moment, gets shot in the head by Kane himself while he was secretly plotting with you about attacking the Pentagon without Kane's permission? Or the final GDI briefing? Wherein your superior, who acted all cool and stoic during the entire campaign, began to show genuine emotion and anger over the horrors of the Brotherhood.

Music and sound effects are great. The game's soundtrack is made by Frank Klepacki and mixes synthesizer with heavy metal and war orchestra. I personally really enjoyed the game's soundtrack, it got me pumped up for some military ass kicking! As for sound effects, the weapons in particular sound powerful and beefy. Your units say generic military stuff like "yes sir," and "moving up." Nothing special, although their dying screams are quite convincing. I would probably also scream like Rob Halford if I was getting shot to pieces! But one unit that steals the show in the game is the Commando. He is basically the Arnold Schwarzenegger among the game's units. He always has a cool line ready for any situation. Shoot enemies and he says stuff like "keep 'em coming" and "that was left handed." Have him blow up a building and he will say "I've got a present for ya" before the targeted building flashes and explodes. Let him stand still for a minute and he will say "come on" while smoking a cigar (with a smoke cloud even bigger than the unit himself).

The Bad

Being of the very first RTS games, it doesn't have some features that have become standard in the RTS genre. For example, it is not possible to create a queue of units to build. So let's say you want to build three tanks, you have to wait until the unit is built before you can give the order to produce another one. It is also impossible to create way points for your freshly created units or to select all units of a certain type. One fun thing, however, is that you do not have a command limit. So you can build as many units as you can as long as you have money to buy.

The game's balance is great, but not perfect. For example, you can quite easily overrun the CPU's base using an army of NOD flame tanks or GDI grenade throwers. The game's AI also has the tendency of constantly sending the same group of units to the same direction of your base. Even if the CPU's units end up been burned to a crisp by a NOD Obelisk of Light. I wished that the CPU was more flexible in its attacks.

There are some missions (specially in the NOD campaign) where you only have a few units to control. And since the game's fog of war only disappears when you are very close to its border, it makes such missions pretty annoying as you can't see enemy units until they attack you. I do not really mind missions in which you need to deploy your forces wisely, but I wish that in those particular missions, the fog of war would disappear more quickly. Well, nothing that quick saves can't fix.

The Bottom Line

Even twenty years after the game's release, the original Command & Conquer remains very fun to play. It isn't the best RTS ever nor the best C&C game in the series, but it is still well worth checking out. The game itself is freeware and be sure to check the web for the unofficial patch created by Nyerguds that makes the game fully playable on modern systems in widescreen resolution. And be sure to check out the other games in the series (which I also plan to review in the near future). Now it's time to choose your side. Will you join GDI and fight to maintain our Western way of life? Or will you join the Brotherhood of NOD in order to help Kane create a new world order based on Unity, Peace and eternal Brotherhood?