Command and Conquer… Two decades ago, that name drew some attention. Say it out loud and inevitably there would be someone within earshot who knew what it meant and would give you a respectful nod, whether you were allies or foes. It was more than a game, more than a franchise, it was a dynasty, and it was glorious.
Fast forward to 2018 and those same iconic words will now be met with, "Say what now?" I don't think there is a single Command and Conquer fan who is under the delusion that this franchise isn't way past its expiry date. But why? But who's to blame for this? How is it possible that such a great name in the gaming industry has not only tumbled from its throne but disappeared completely into the dark abyss of history? Let's dissect the corpse of this once great giant and see if we can't find out.
a history of Command and conquer
I tried to keep this section brief but since it's not unthinkable to write an entire book on the history of Command and Conquer, I failed miserably and I apologize for that. If history was never your favorite subject then feel free to just skip to the conclusion at the bottom of the article.
Command and Conquer was launched by Westwood Studios way back in 1995, a time when we still used Intel Pentium 1 CPU's and you didn't know how you could possibly fill a 2GB hard drive. Before this, Westwood Studios had already tasted success with Dune and Dune II which had very similar gameplay mechanics. Command and Conquer: Red Alert followed in 1996 which was mostly just a reskinned version of the first game but with some improvements that sped up the flow of the game and made it so much more fun. This was also my favorite game in the franchise and one of the few games ever where I honestly can't remember how many times I've played through the campaigns. Red Alert's Counterstrike expansion also came with a hidden treasure. The game box contained a small card with some Morse code which, when deciphered, instructed you to press a combination of keys and click on one of the corners of the menu screen to be taken to a hidden campaign where you played a combination of the Allies and Soviets against giant ants the size of tanks. Have you ever heard of a game developer doing anything that cool?
These games absolutely dominated the RTS genre in the mid 90's and both Command and Conquer, and Red Alert would go on to spawn several sequels, each with at least one expansion pack.
The series' had different storylines. In Command and Conquer, the world was infected by an alien substance called Tiberium which spread across the globe and would later be revealed to create the platform for an invading alien race known as the Skrin. It also featured a mysterious character known only as Kane who would play a significant role in the events that followed. Red Alert, on the other hand, was set in post WWII where Albert Einstein invented time travel to go to the past and eliminate Adolf Hitler before he could rise to power. His plans succeeded but upon his return to the current time, instead of fighting Nazi Germany, the allied forces instead were duking it out with the red bear that is the USSR. The following Red Alert games all had similar stories and each time a new faction would rise up to take the place of the one that's been eliminated.
In 1997 Westwood released Command and Conquer: Sole Survivor, a game I hadn't heard of before doing my research for this article. This was a very early MOBA type game where you played as one of the units from the RTS games, although it wasn't nearly as advanced as the MOBA's of today.
In 1999 Westwood was bought by EA Games, then still known as Electronic Arts, which was awesome because EA had more resources at their disposal and more resources automatically translate to better games, or so we thought. It wasn't all bad at the start though because this was a time when EA still cared about the final product and had their developers take their time to create fantastic games. This trend wouldn't last as you'll see further on.
Next in line was Command and Conquer: Tiberium Sun in 1999 which continued the story within the Tiberium Universe. This was one game in the franchise I never owned and didn't get a lot of exposure to but the reviews back then were solid, even though it didn't seem to make as much of an impact as the previous games. The following year saw the release of Command and Conquer: Red Alert 2 which is rated by many as being the best in the series. In fact, I still see this title pop up when checking out lists like top 10 RTS games or top 100 games of all time. Personally, I liked Red Alert 2 but felt that it became too silly. Sure the original Red Alert had its oddities but at its core, it was mostly a semi-serious military RTS with some futuristic elements. Also, I felt the superweapons like the Iron Curtain and Chronosphere were overpowered, but this is just my personal opinion.
The incredible success of Blizzard's Starcraft saw, the Command and Conquer RTS games no longer being the favorite son. So instead of a head-on battle, EA tried outflanking Blizzard by releasing their first Command and Conquer based FPS named Renegade in 2003. I had some fun with Renegade but ultimately it was a mediocre shooter that borrowed most of its concepts from other popular games of the time. There's a reason you see games like Call of Duty, Doom or Battlefield releasing sequel after sequel while the world is still lacking a Renegade 2. It's heartbreaking that Renegade wasn't better because this was the last game the original Westwood team had their hands on before being dissolved and renamed to EA Los Angeles.
During the transition from Westwood to EA LA, several projects were started only to be canceled before release. These titles included Renegade 2, Command and Conquer: Continuum which seemed to be an MMO of some sort and Command and Conquer: Tiberium Incursion, another RTS. The sheer number of projects being canceled indicated that EA was simply expecting too much from their developers, a point emphasized by the fact they were now expanding the Command and Conquer universe into 3 genres. The pressure became too much for most and a large portion of the original team from Westwood Studios left EA to form Petroglyph Studios which was soon after bought by Lucasarts. Lucasarts you might know, hold the license to the Star Wars franchise which allowed Petroglyph Studios to produce Star Wars: Empire at War, a game I never played but am yet to hear a negative comment about.
2003 wasn't a completely dry year for EA though and we did eventually get another RTS in the form of Command and Conquer: Generals. Looking back though, it might have been better if this one got canceled too. Gone are the cool storylines and imaginative weapons, now you're just the civilized world against those damned terrorists, which would have been fine, had the game been any good. This was the first 3D game in the series but despite launching a full year after Warcraft 3, it simply couldn't compete visually, or anywhere else for that matter. Despite featuring 3 factions, the campaigns were too short, and the units felt completely unbalanced. A prime example would be China's Overlord Tanks, build a couple of those babies and they might just as well bring up the "Mission Accomplished" screen.
Tiberium Incursion would later be revived and launched as Command and Conquer 3: Tiberium Wars, but due to the corporate nonsense getting in the way, it took another 4 years before this title was allowed to leave the nest. Despite events in Tiberium Wars occurring around 100 years after the timeline of the original game, Kane was still around and looking like he ate Dorian Grey and absorbed his powers of youthfulness. Tiberium Wars may not be my favorite game in the franchise but it was in my mind the most accomplished. The visuals were stunning, campaigns challenging and the factions were vastly different albeit well balanced. 10 years later and Command and Conquer 3 still has an active online community with rumors of prestigious tournaments to be held in 2018.
Of course, now that EA saw how profitable these games could be, they got greedy and so the downward spiral of this once majestic bloodline began. Two more Command and Conquer projects got canceled, the first simply named, Tiberium which was supposed to be a spiritual successor to Renegade. Tiberium was said to copy quite a bit from Star Wars: Republic Commando and the word on the street is that the cancellation was mostly to avoid lawsuits. Project Comacho was the other game doomed to die a lonely death and was reported to be a hybrid RTS, FPS game set in the Generals Universe.
One game that did make the cut this time round was Command and Conquer: Red Alert 3. I enjoyed Red Alert 3 for about a week before it all just became too much. The over the top silliness that started with Red Alert 2 was even worse now. I mean, you could literally launch attack bears out of a cannon from the sea into enemy territory, or sink submarines with mind-controlled dolphins. I'm surprised they didn't add an animal rights march in the game and task you with killing the protestors. The entire concept around building bases in water also didn't work for me and agent Tanya Adams who had always been a major badass in the series was now portrayed by an overly exposed Jenny McCarthy. I'm all for adding silly elements in the name of fun but I just couldn't take this game seriously and ultimately it felt like a major step back from Command and Conquer 3.
2009 saw the cancelation of yet another game, this time named Command and Conquer: Arena. Early reports had this as a free to play game but the screenshots released were near exact replicas of images taken from Starcraft 2. It was later revived after a single player campaign was slapped on to try and justify the premium price tag and we were introduced to Command and Conquer 4: Tiberium Twilight. Oh, where do I start with this one? This is one of those cases where children try to compare something to the worst thing they can imagine, like a smelly gym sock, only to then go a step further and compare it to the sweaty feet that created the smelly sock. Oh no wait, it's the brown fungus between the toes of the sweaty foot, inside the smelly sock, etc. That, my dear friends, is Command and Conquer 4: Tiberium Twilight, the fungus between the toes of a very unhygienic EA. Not only did they throw out the entire formula we loved about the Command and Conquer RTS games and provided us with what was essentially a glorified game of rock, paper, scissors, but the texture quality was so low that everyone suspected it was initially built for a mobile platform and then ported to PC in a sloppy last-minute attempt to cash in. This theory was all but proven when they later released a mobile version which supposedly ran better than the one available for PC. Have a look at the below gameplay video and tell me this isn't a disgrace to the Command and Conquer name.
After this abomination, I prayed EA would just put the franchise to rest with what little dignity it had left but no, rumors of Generals 2 started making the rounds. It was said to focus on online play with single player mission packs available as DLC, oh goody. Thankfully this was also canceled. My sigh of relief was short lived though because not long after, they did the unthinkable and brought out a Command and Conquer game that was worse than even Tiberium Twilight. Ladies and gentlemen, meet Tiberium Alliances, a browser-based game that played very much like one of those Clash of Clans ripoffs meaning that you have incredibly long waiting times which made the game boring as hell unless you were willing to open your wallet and send all your hard earned monies to EA. A Red Alert themed reskin of this game was announced but thankfully the feedback was so negative that it was thrown onto the scrapheap along with so many others.
Here we are, in 2018. Command and Conquer is a relic, a name we haven't thought of with positivity in a decade. A name we wish would die a silent death, but yet again EA had to trample on the remnants of the Westwood legacy. The E3 conference is an event where wondrous things happen and games the world has anticipated for many years are officially announced. One announcement at this year's E3, that I'm sure not a single one of the 7 billion people on this planet thought we needed was Command and Conquer: Rivals, an RTS for the mobile platform. Hold my coffee while I attempt to contain my excitement. They even went as far as getting professional Starcraft 2 player, InControl, to play a demo match on stage. Nothing they could do, however, could change the fact that they are making a freaking mobile RTS piece of rhinoceros feces, and slapping the Command and Conquer name on it to try and make it look appealing. The below meme perfectly sums up my thoughts on Command and Conquer: Rivals. If you were born after the 80's, ask your parents to explain this one to you.
Here's the E3 trailer for Command and Conquer: Rivals. Just keep in mind, the game doesn't look anything like what's depicted in the trailer so don't be fooled by that awesome soundtrack.
Command and Conquer: Rivals – Official Reveal Trailer
RIVALRY WITH BLIZZARD
There may never have been an official rivalry between Command and Conquer and the RTS games from Blizzard, but there's no denying that these two franchises have been each other's main competition for decades. In the 90's Westwood dominated the RTS genre and no one, I repeat, no one could produce anything that came close to Command and Conquer. Blizzard tried to compete with Warcraft: Orcs and Humans and Warcraft II: Tides of Darkness and while they were great games in their own right, they simply couldn't match the offerings from Westwood.
Warcraft had a very annoying limitation that only allowed you to control 9 troops at a time which meant that your keyboard didn't have enough control group assignments available for you to properly manage your army. Even in Starcraft and Warcraft III: Reign of Chaos, this limit never went higher than 12. Command and Conquer had no such limitation, even with the first installment of the series you could select as many units as you liked and commanded them as a group. You could also double-click a unit to select all military units on screen, which seems rather rudimentary nowadays but was nothing short of revolutionary in the mid 90's.
One other area where Command and Conquer completely overshadowed their Blizzard counterparts was their in-game cutscenes. Today, Blizzard are industry leaders when it comes to cinematics but this certainly was not the case in their early days. Westwood Studios had a different approach though. Instead of having an art department push out mediocre cutscenes with the limited technology available at the time, they instead filmed full motion videos using professional actors. They used unknown actors for the first few games but eventually, you'd see many familiar faces in your favorite Command and Conquer game including James Earl Jones, Tim Curry, J.K. Simmons, Jenny McCarthy, Gina Carano, George Takei, Michael Ironside and many more. Fun fact, Joseph D. Kucan who played Kane, was initially part of the production team and only stepped into the role of the mysterious Kane because no one else was available. He now owns his own movie production company.
Then we get to the soundtracks. Blizzard's games weren't lacking in the sound department as such, the quirky responses from units when you repeatedly clicked on them was undoubtedly cool, but their soundtracks weren't particularly memorable. However, all the tracks included with Command and Conquer were legendary, the best of the bunch being Hell March, a track they reused in several of their games. And since I'm such a nice guy, I'll share the awesomeness with you below.
In 1998, Blizzard launched a little game called Starcraft. During development, we heard rumors of an "orcs in space" RTS being put together by the lunatics at Blizzard so obviously this game was mocked by the entire community. Trust me when I tell you, no one is laughing anymore. Starcraft completely revolutionized the industry and turned the RTS genre into the competitive e-gaming behemoth it is today. Turn to 2018, and the only RTS' anyone still talks about are Starcraft: Brood War and Starcraft II.
It was due to the success of this "orcs in space" monstrosity that EA decided to purchase Westwood, so they too could get a slice of the RTS pie. Unfortunately, the incredible pressure from EA on their developers led most of the original Westwood crew to jump ship. Those who remained were not happy and frequently complained on public forums about the stressful working conditions at EA. In 2008, one such developer went on record to say that they constantly work with impossible deadlines, stating that they are only given 11 months to bring a new RTS game into production, whereas Blizzard's teams got 3-6 years. Red Alert 3 took the longest of the Command and Conquer RTS games to make and even that was released in a mere 18 months, at which time their teams were being split up to work on PS3 titles as well. It's no wonder then that so many of the Command and Conquer games got canned.
The tight deadlines saw a major decline in the quality of Command and Conquer games, which was never as apparent as with Command and Conquer 4: Tiberium Twilight. Tiberium Twilight was launched the same year as Starcraft IIbut the latter outshone Tiberium Twilight in quite literally every possible way.
Thanks to games like DOTA II and League of Legends who form the foundation of the MOBA genre, the time of the RTS is slowly coming to an end. Could it then be that Command and Conquer is no longer popular because it's part of a dying genre? Perhaps, but why then is Starcraft II still so going strong? Besides, Command and Conquer dabbled with other genres too, so that can't be the only reason.
You also can't blame the developers since those who formed Petroglyph Studios have created some stellar games while not under the watchful eyes of EA.
Perhaps then the Command and Conquer franchise simply isn't appealing anymore. A valid theory, until you look at other franchises owned by EA like Need for Speed and Medal of Honor, who were once leaders in their respective genres and have in recent years produced more duds than successes. Am I the only one noticing a pattern here?
The only plausible conclusion I can draw then is that EA, is the villain in this, admittedly long, tale. EA's dedication to making a quick buck instead of enriching the industry with noteworthy games has caused the downfall of numerous great names. Their shameful approach to microtransactions even put a black mark on the Star Wars franchise when they launched Battlefront II not too long ago.
So it is with great sadness that I respectfully request we finally put the Command and Conquer name to rest. Perhaps then some of us can reminisce on the good ol' days of mobile construction vehicles, Tesla coils, and Mammoth Tanks. For those of you who feel a case of onset nostalgia, I have some good news for you. CNCNet is a fan-driven website where you can play the older Command and Conquer titles for free. You're welcome.
As for EA. I think the gaming community spoke loud and clear during the Battlefront II microtransaction controversy to let them know that we won't stand for their despicable business practices anymore. Time to redirect their focus from their wallets back to where it belongs, the games. Only then can EA and every name they represent, become great again.