I was just starting out in the Military. I dropped in to visit a friend who wanted to show me an awesome new game on his shiny new 100Mhz IBM compatible. I was still chugging along on an Amiga 500, but he was pretty hyped, so I stopped to check it out. The game was Command & Conquer. It was VGA, it had full motion video cutscenes, and I was in heaven. I had missed out on Dune 2, so this would be my first introduction to the Real Time Strategy genre. Fast forward about 6 hours and I now owned a powerful Packard Bell machine running Windows 95 with a staggering 256 megs of RAM. The title was a breakout hit for Westwood. If you were hooked on the VGA version, the C&C Gold edition that came shortly thereafter really ratcheted things up a notch. An amazing feat from the same studio that brought you a CD version of Monopoly.
It is hard to follow an incredible title like Command & Conquer, but Westwood moved in a different direction, took a big risk, and introduced us all to Command & Conquer: Red Alert. Red Alert was a true refinement to what the original title had started. With better pacing, different unit structures for each side, a dash of humor, a unique storyline, and a little bit of Sci Fi, Red Alert raised the bar once again. Fans loved it and it spelled another victory for Westwood.
Looking back, it is hard to believe that there are over 12 titles in the Command & Conquer universe. It has been 10 years since the world was introduced to Westwood’s world of Tiberium, Soviet power, and even a shot at a First Person Shooter. Unfortunately, the Operating System world has moved on and many of the titles are no longer compatible with Windows XP. Electronic Arts, having long since acquired Westwood Studios, has decided to fix this issue by updating the previous titles and releasing a compilation called Command & Conquer: The First Decade.
First Decade contains Command & Conquer (Gold Edition), Command & Conquer Covert Ops,Command & Conquer Red Alert, Command & Conquer Red Alert: The Aftermath, Command & Conquer Red Alert: Counterstrike, Command & Conquer Tiberian Sun, Command & Conquer Firestorm, Command & Conquer Renegade, Command & Conquer Red Alert 2, Command & Conquer Red Alert 2: Yuri’s Revenge, Command & Conquer Generals, and Command & Conquer Zero Hour. It represents a culmination of the entire Command & Conquer universe, and comes on one Dual-Layer DVD for ease of play.
It is always difficult to grade certain sections of a compilation, the graphic section being one of them. The titles were fantastic at the time of their initial release, and they have aged pretty well, all except the FMV. Some cutscenes are fantastic – any Command & Conquer fan will vividly remember the first time they saw Joseph Kucan, the director behind all of the movies used in the Command & Conquer series – better known as Kain. Poor Seth, he never saw it coming. They are all exactly as they appeared in their initial releases, so don’t expect anything more than that and you won’t be dissapointed.
Similarly, the graphics in the individual games are also untouched. They still run at their default resolutions, whether that be 640×480, 800×600, or something you can select in the more recent titles. Again, as long as you suspend any expectations that this setting might be selectable, you’ll be just fine.
Sound and Graphics go hand in hand, and in this case that couldn’t be more true. Again, the sound and music is almost exactly as it was in the original titles. There does seem to be a few music tracks inexplicably missing, but all of the other sounds are present and as clean as they were originally.
The voice acting work is really great in the Command & Conquer. The cutscenes featured the aformentioned Joseph Kucan, James Earl Jones, Udo Kier, Kari Wuhrer, Ray Wise, Michael McNeil, and quite a few other actors and actresses of note. They made the long fights to get to the cutscenes worthwhile. As I played through some of the original titles, it made them worthwhile again.
The only title that really did not age well is Renegade. First Person Shooters are typically all about graphic flash, but in the case of Renegade I always thought the sound was off. The machine guns sound like a pack of Bic pens being dropped on a linoleum floor. The explosions are typically weak and the voice acting is outright painful. As I said before, however, it is exactly as it was in the original release, so you have to blame the original.Mouse and Keyboard – it is the staple of the RTS genre. If you have played any RTS title, you know exactly what to expect here. During my tests of the various games I did encounter some lag issues with Yuri’s Revenge. Reading the forums, EA is aware of the issue and is working to patch it, as well as the aformentioned sound issues. Other than that, the game control scheme is a progressively improving system from the first title till the last. While some people don’t like the change in Generals that removed the side panel system, that is a matter of personal opinion and thus will not affect the score.
How do you sum up the gameplay of some of the most groundbreaking RTS titles ever made? Command & Conquer was revolutionary. Red Alert was evolutionary. Red Alert 2 was once again revolutionary. Tiberian Sun was evolutionary. While some believe that Renegade was the moment where the game ‘Jumped the Shark’, it is still something that every Command & Conquer fan should play, just to experience the universe at the ground level. Generals once again sought to revolutionize the universe with the world of Command & Conquer, but set in the current timeframe with a fictional three-way global conflict.
Going back and playing the original titles really showed just how far we’ve come. The older titles play a bit slower with more of a grind to reach the apex of your readiness to assault. Titles like Red Alert kicked up the speed quite a bit with Sci Fi units and a more campy storyline. Tiberian Sun moved back to a more serious storyline, but pushed the series quite a bit into the future. Renegade put players in the vehicles and scenarios that they had played from 10,000 feet. Red Alert 2 brought us back to more modern times, but kept the heavy Sci Fi flare by adding psychic energies to the mix. Generals brought the series very close to home with a political environment not unlike our current one. The games are so diverse and evolutionary that you would simply have to judge them all seperately. Most people have a favorite title, and this compilation is made for them – they can play their favorites on a modern system with ease, and other than a few issues with missing multiplayer options that are supposedly being patched, it is all intact. If you enjoyed the Command & Conquer titles before, you will enjoy this trip down memory lane.
The whole point of this compilation is nostalgia. If you enjoyed these games when they were first released, or if you missed any of the expansion packs, this is your opportunity to enjoy them on your modern system without 3rd party programs, registry hacks, boot disks, or any other trouble beyond that of the normal installation. Speaking of nostalgia and installation – there is something missing from the game. Early Command & Conquer titles had lengthy installation sequences that really added to the game. These have been replaced with a generic install system that you might see when you install Microsoft Office. It may seem like a small thing, but it really does make the experience incomplete.
The bonus DVD included in the package features interviews with Louis Castle, one of the co-founders of Westwood Studios. You get to hear a little bit about how Westwood was formed, titles outside of the Command & Conquer universe such as Temple of Apshai Trilogy, Eye of the Beholder, Dragonstrike and what is considered to be the birth of the strategy genre, Dune 2. If you want to see where the Command & Conquer universe came from, the DVD takes you through its history very nicely showing how all of the elements of the games came together. A few programmers, producers, and even a few fans get into the mix as they talk about their favorite parts of the Command & Conquer universe.
If I had a wish list for this DVD it would have been high-resolution versions of the game cutscenes. Sadly, that feature wasn’t included. You do get a look at some cool fan-supported things like the Temple of NOD Case mod. The feature called The Future states that there are always opportunities in the C&C universe, and that EA is watching carefully. I’ll be ready for the announcement at E3 fellas – I’ll bring my note pad. There are 6 fan-made videos that are quite a bit of fun to watch. Fans are just crazy! Rounding out the features, you also get a trailer for The First Decade, and quite a bit of concept artwork.
My biggest concern currently is that this compilation will never truly be finished. On the back of the box there is a warning that multiplayer is not guaranteed and may be discontinued. Currently, fans are hacking in multiplayer until EA comes up with a patch solution, but the whole objective of this DVD was to make it easy for all of us C&C fans to walk down memory lane – if multiplayer has to be jammed in with hacks and 3rd party applications, it defeats that purpose for the multiplayer side. I want to recommend this product, but it is difficult to do so without a warning that it may never be patched.There simply isn’t a better compilation of Command & Conquer material. You could buy each game individually and set up the appropriate hacks to make them work, but you can bet that EA won’t be patching those – this compilation is where your future support lies…hopefully.