by Sergio Brinkhuis
previewed on PC
There is something of a divide between the press and fans over when the last decent Command & Conquer game saw the light of day. The press has continued to grace the franchise with favorable scores while fans have been enraged by EA’s treatment of them. I’m in the “fan” camp myself and feel that everything went south the moment that EA started to tinker with the original formula. Perhaps it was because they wanted to modernize the series, or perhaps it was because they were hell bent on making it work on consoles, but the last good Command & Conquer game was Tiberium Wars and that came out six years ago. Since then, Blizzard proved that you can still be very successful with the old-school RTS formula and on PC only. EA caught on, somewhat, but is making the new Command & Conquer Free to Play.
Commanding the Web
Despite some misgivings about the new Command & Conquer being a Free to Play game, I went to the Gamescom hands-on session with an open mind. EA Bioware formed a completely new studio to build the game and word was that they had embraced the style of the original games and weren’t keen on making the same mistakes that were made with the more recent Command & Conquer games. The least I could do was giving them a chance to show me their game, right?
I found a PC to play on and immediately needed some time to adjust to the dark, gritty feel of the game. I was playing on a drab, brown map that seemed to be in perpetual dusk and thus was less than inviting. The graphics were equally bland, perhaps because they had been kept simple so that the game can be playable on a wide variety of systems. I can enjoy a game without it having great graphics though, so I set out to build my base and gather resources. Apparently someone had built up and then abandoned fully stocked supply depots all over the map and these were what I was supposed to be ‘harvesting’. Right…
Back & forth
I quickly got my barracks up to train some infantry so that I could plug the hole that was the only entrance into my base. Before long, my human opponent started testing my defenses and was quite successful taking them out too. It wasn’t until I could roll out tanks that I actually held my own and could start pushing back.
I was kind of surprised at how fast everything went. The new Command & Conquer is not meant for long, drawn out strategic sessions. Supply depots run out of supplies quickly and with maybe 16 or so on a map, I think experienced players will end up depleting all of them in an hour or two if neither player can get the upper hand before then. Buildings appear to be self-powering, in my eyes removing an important strategic element from the game but if the overall theme is to keep the game fast-paced it fits right in. Units are also faster. Soldiers moved around at great speed and tanks appeared to have the speed and agility of a small racing car.
The speed did take away too much from the struggle to win though. My opponent and I would regularly switch wearing the mantle of who was the most dominant. It wasn’t until I was able to make serious inroads in hampering his ability to gather supplies that the balance started to shift. I’m confident I would have won but my time ran out. I walked over to his screen, thanked him for the game and made my way to the next appointment.
No turning point
I left feeling a little disappointed though. There’s no denying that Command & Conquer is made for a Free to Play audience, with multiplayer in mind. It plays fast, doesn’t seem to require too much time to get the hang of and is all about quickly building a base and then steamrolling over your enemy. But it didn’t excite me. It felt like half a Command & Conquer. To be fair, there was only half an hour to work with and it is entirely possible that the final game adds so much that it feels complete. In its current form I can see it being a Free to Play hit, as those games tend to require fast and easy gameplay. Yet I don’t think we should get our hopes up too much that this will be a turning point for the franchise.