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SummaryA fast paced, brilliantly designed game that has stood the test of time
The GoodEverything about this game screams quality. With the multimedia revolution in full swing, Westwood went crazy on the production values and produced an expensive, lavish, and polished game miles ahead of anything else available at the time. It was the first real-time strategy game to ship on multiple CDs, and that should tell you something.
I won't use the phrase "multimedia showcase" in case I scare anyone away, but it can't be denied that lots of emphasis has been put into the game's presentation. When you install the game and boot up you get treated to an awesome FMV intro that sets the scene for the conflicts that follow, and this ostentatious, no-budget-in-sight design is found throughout the game. Fortunately, this isn't all Command and Conquer has going for it, underneath all the flash is solid gameplay and some of the best design yet put on a disk. C&C is an awesome game and one of the genre's great classics.
The plot is a sci-fi treat, consisting of a futuristic war between two factions over a rare element called Tiberium which is kind of like the Spice in the Dune series of books. The NOD are a neo-fascist army of terrorists who want to control the world's Tiberium supply, and opposing them is the Global Defense Initiative (kind of like the UN of the future). The story doesn't play a huge role in gameplay (your mission objectives usually boil down to "those pesky GDI have set up camp on our territory! GO! KILL!") But is nevertheless a well-written and entertaining piece of work, containing gimmicks such as time travel and split realities and enough pseudoscience to add a small modicum of credibility to C&C's unlikely future world. The writers behind the game deserve credit for doing this without sending it into cheese land.
The basic gameplay are rather similar to Westwood's first RTS outing Dune II, in that it's centered around harvesting minerals and building troops, but C&C is much more intense and fast. There's so much action going on here you could seriously get carpal tunnel syndrome playing this game. But even more importantly, a clean interface and smart design make the game much more centered around strategy, and ironically this was the thing most missing from strategy games in the early nineties.
The game strikes a perfect balance between base-building and fighting. You have to collect Tiberium (the game's primary resource) using special harvesters and then return it to refineries for processing. You also need energy stations to power your buildings, and since you have a fixed supply of it you can't just harvest all the Tiberium you can find, whack down thirty factories and start cranking out tanks like mad. This is a great idea and evens the playing field between skilled and unskilled players, because even if you are harvesting more Tiberium than your opponant you'll still be hamstrung (to a limited extent) by his energy needs.
C&C introduced the idea of an interlocked tech tree, where all functions in the game are dependant on something else. If you don't have a refinery you can't process any Tiberium, and if your storage facilities are destroyed you lose all the Tiberium you collected. This opens the strategic window and gives you a lot of options you didn't have in previous games. You don't need to destroy the enemy's army to win, a controlled series of strikes against storage facilities will cripple his ability to fight.
Like Dune II, the two factions have numerous units at their disposal that perform similar functions but are different enough to make playing as a different side seem like a whole new experience. The GDI have powerful tanks and vehicles, while the NOD have stronger airborn weapons and footsoldiers. Late-game battles become absolutely crazy, with both sides fighting over scraps of Tiberium, launching surprise attacks everywhere, calling in airstrikes etc.
Westwood even listened to their fans and fixed the myriad of problems that plagued the Dune II. You can move more than one soldier at a time (an amazingly simple feature that no-one else had thought to implement before) and unlike Dune II you can place buildings anywhere you want instead of only on pre-build concrete slabs (why the hell did they even include such a retarded feature?). Has the enemy got tanks in place that are stopping you from launching a ground offensive? Maybe you can sneak past using transport helicopters. The plethora of options available makes it very replayable next to myopic strategy games like Warcraft and Dune II.
As you'd expect, the graphics are superb. They actually created 3D models of the buildings and units and then converted them to 2D sprites, giving the game a lifelike, perfectly proportioned feel. And one of the defining features of subsequent Command & Conquer games would remain the use of live action full-motion video cutscenes that play between missions and serve to both further a typically epic storyline as well as provide the player with their objectives for the next level through mission briefings. And the music is pure genius, consisting of industrial metal tracks and bombastic rock songs. As a composer of video game music, Frank Klepacki is up there in the Bobby Prince and Yosunori Mitsuda class.
The game also has a strong selling point in its multiplayer, mostly thanks to its support of IPX emulators like Kali. C&C was the first game to allow more than two players, and team games of C&C are adrenaline in its purest form.
The BadC&C is a great game and quite close to perfection. What does tick me off is how Westwood ended up prostituting their license, resulting in billions of pointless sequels, add-ons and media tie-ins that all but killed the franchise. Kind of like what happened to Tomb Raider, but with fewer boobs.
At least the new C&C game is good, by all accounts. I'll have to check it out.