Well, that brought me back.
EA Games has remastered Westwood Studio’s Command & Conquer (1995) and Red Alert (1996). They weren’t the first in the Real-Time Strategy game genre – that goes all the way back to 1952 with the RAND Corporation’s “Casey” simulation and the war games that followed. But, together with Blizzard’s Warcraft II, they defined what the genre would be going forward. Look at any RTS game today, and you will find Command & Conquer and Red Alert in its DNA.
As for me, the games bring back some very good memories. I never really played Command & Conquer – I was a Warcraft II man – but Red Alert hooked me big-time. I remember working on my first university degree and living a shoestring existence off a student loan while spending a large chunk of my free time at Digital Gamer, a sort of LAN gaming café. Knowing how much I liked Red Alert, the owner, Malcolm, got a used copy for me, leaving me blowing up Soviet tanks at home and chatting about the game over chocolate bars and soft drinks at the ‘Gamer.
The two games are set in an alternate history. Command & Conquer takes place during a war in the near future over a resource called Tiberium. Red Alert was its prequel, in which Albert Einstein goes back in time and kills Hitler, creating a new timeline in which World War II is fought against the Soviets. Along with the building and fighting actions were full-motion video cut scenes, taking full advantage of CD-ROM technology.
A lot of both games has aged well, which isn’t too much of a surprise. The gameplay remains streamlined and intuitive, with some new quality of life improvements that can be toggled on and off. The missions are challenging, and a good way to pass some time while waiting out the pandemic. If one just wants to hop in and play a map, there’s a skirmish mode that offers both single and multi-player action. It’s all par for the course today, but that type of multi-player was new back in 1995-1996 – and both games had it.
Some of it has not aged well. The cut-scenes in particular, while groundbreaking back in the mid-1990s, are a combination of FMV actors against a CGI background, and even remastered the disconnect between the two is quite distracting. Then you have some of the production design, particularly in Red Alert. The Allies’ special operative Tanya (Lynne Litteer) is wearing the sort of midriff-baring body armour and gun-belts that look like something out of a Z-grade action movie, and it’s all pretty ridiculous, particularly when she declares in one cut scene that being a civilian is why she doesn’t get killed (actually, she doesn’t get killed because she’s got plot armour – you fail a mission if she dies during it).
But, I’m glad they didn’t change any of that – Command & Conquer and Red Alert were games of the 1990s, and the world of 1990s computer games was like that. If we are going to remember them, it should be warts and all, silly costumes and dialogue notwithstanding.
That said, this remaster is still in beta (at least as of the time of writing this), and there are places where it shows. This was particularly obvious in Red Alert, where scrolling using mouse movement only worked when scrolling up or to the left, at least on my computer. But, this is an early release, so there is a reasonable expectation that these kinks will be ironed out before long.
I must admit, though, that the trip down memory lane only lasted a couple of hours before I decided it was time to close it down. With the exception of Command & Conquer, I’d done it all before, you see. Nostalgia is a bittersweet emotion – that fondness is combined with an understanding that the moments behind those wonderful memories are long gone. But that’s fine. I’ve got my memories, and they are evergreen. Now these games can be discovered by everybody else.
I am very happy that Command & Conquer and Red Alert have received the remastering treatment – they’re damned good games, and they deserve it. There’s a reason these games helped define an entire genre, and now everybody can see it for themselves.