This collection is more than worth it
My first RTS was WarCraft II. Then came Age of Empires II and StarCraft. By the end of the 90s, I was a full-blown devotee of the genre. I played everything I could get my hands on: WarCraft III, Age of Mythology, Supreme Commander, Star Wars: Empire at War, Warhammer 40K: Dawn of War, Total Annihilation, the list goes on. I even played Aliens vs. Predator: Extinction on the Xbox, which…wasn’t great. But the one series I missed was Command and Conquer.
It wasn’t intentional; games were harder to come by then, especially as a kid with limited cash, and it wasn’t as popular with my local group as games like StarCraft. Maybe it was the setting, which felt closer to our own world. Maybe it was just bad luck, or the fact that nobody I knew owned any of the games, so I couldn’t borrow them from someone. For whatever reason, I never got into it. Command and Conquer Remastered was a chance for me to jump into the series origins and see how these games hold up if you aren’t wearing your nostalgia goggles.
The collection itself is expansive, including Command and Conquer: Tiberian Dawn, its prequel Command and Conquer: Red Alert, as well as all their expansion packs – one for Tiberian Dawn, two for Red Alert. It also includes the console missions from the PlayStation and Nintendo 64 releases of Tiberian Dawn, as well as the console cinematics from the PlayStation release of Red Alert: Retaliation. It’s an absolutely staggering amount of content. There are over 100 missions here, each accessible through the new level select system. This makes it easy to jump between campaigns, replay missions, play branching missions you missed, hunt for secret missions, and even load up custom games. If you’re into Command and Conquer, this collection will keep you busy for a long, long time.
"The games have been redrawn with support for 4K resolutions, and like many modern remasters, you can swap between the old and new graphics with the push of a button."
Aside from the sheer amount of content on display, the most notable thing about the remaster are the new graphics. The games have been redrawn with support for 4K resolutions, and like many modern remasters, you can swap between the old and new graphics with the push of a button. The updated visuals are some of the best you’ll find in an RTS remaster, making everything look better without sacrificing the game’s visual style. The developers are clearly proud of their work, and the new option to zoom in and out with your mouse wheel is a nice touch. Unfortunately, it’s not a complete home run. As good as the new visuals look, the lower-res units pop better against their backgrounds. They look worse, sure, but they’re actually easier to see, which is important in an RTS. I still preferred the new graphics overall, but it’s kind of a shame they’re not a complete improvement.
Another major change is the new sidebar. Just like the original, it sits on the right side of the screen. In the original games, everything was split into two columns, making it easy to click back and forth and build what you wanted. You had to scroll some to get to everything, but that was all. Now, troops, vehicles, buildings, and superweapons each have their own tabs. Switching between tabs can be tiring, even if you’re making good use of the hotkeys to do so, and there is no option to use the original sidebar if you want to. Your mileage may vary – community feedback seems positive overall – but I’d be lying if I said I liked constantly having to switch tabs.
The game’s sound design has been overhauled, as well. Original music and sound producer Frank Klepacki returns, and he went to the trouble of recovering the game’s original audio assets. There game’s music and sound effects have been remastered, though you can listen to the original, low quality tunes if you want, too. In addition, twenty tracks were re-recorded and mixed by Klepacki and The Tiberian Sons, and they sound amazing. There’s even previously unrelased tracks you can unlock by completing certain missions. All told, there’s over seven hours of remastered music from across the series here, and it sounds fantastic. Songs are accessible at any time through the game’s jukebox and you can make your own custom playlists if you like, too. Command and Conquer’s soundtrack absolutely shreds, and the obvious care taken here is greatly appreciated. My only complaint here is that going into the jukebox stops whatever track you’re listening to, even if you don’t pick a new one, which is a bummer if you’re listening to a track you like and don’t know its name. The game will jump to another track automatically, but it’s still kind of disappointing.
The FMVs, unfortunately, haven’t fared as well as the audio. The developers weren’t able to recover anything beyond what shipped with the games initially. Instead, they opted to run them through an AI upscaler, which brings them up to modern resolutions. The results are… mixed, at best. Some look utterly fantastic. Others look like they’ve been smeared with Vaseline. Still, I’m grateful for the effort. There are also bonus videos you unlock for beating missions that were apparently discovered in the basement of EA Los Angeles. These include green-screen tests, behind-the-scenes footage, and even photos taken t during the making of the original games. It’s fascinating stuff, especially from a preservation and archival perspective, and the videos themselves are of pretty high quality, to boot.
There’s a number of other improvements, including skirmish mode and difficulty options for Tiberian Dawn, a map editor, mod support, and customizable hotkeys. There are even gameplay improvements like shift-selecting and double-clicking units, unit queuing, and the option for a more modernized control scheme that lets you do crazy things, like tell units to move with right click instead of left clicking. EA has even released the games’ source code to the community. What it adds up to is that this is the definitive versions of these games. This is an excellent remaster, right up there with Age of Empires II: Definitive Edition and StarCraft: Remastered, and leagues ahead of WarCraft III: Reforged, which is still struggling to implement features from the original game.
"Remastered is faithful to these games to a fault, and there are many faults here, many of which stem from the age of the games themselves."
If there’s a problem with this collection, it lies within the games themselves. Remastered is faithful to these games to a fault, and there are many faults here, many of which stem from the age of the games themselves. Unit pathing is awful, particularly in Tiberian Dawn. You’ll have to constantly check on your units to ensure they’re not killing themselves by walking over a Tiberian field into an enemy army, or halfway across the map to harvest resources when there are patches right next to your base. Sometimes, units will refuse to move at all, or you’ll have to click multiple times if you want them to do something like change direction.
This is a problem during the campaigns, which doesn’t have difficulty spikes so much as difficulty mountains. Some missions are absurdly easy; others are ridiculously hard. When the optimal solution to a mission is to load an APC full of engineers, suicide rush it into a base so you can capture as many buildings as you can, and then sell them for cash, it’s fair to say that there might be room to reflect on what went wrong during that mission’s design. Don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of excellent missions, too, particularly the ones with unique elements or that focus on stealth, but several of them simply aren’t fun to play. Many of them ask you to kill everything on the map, so it’s not uncommon to spend time watching your army traipse around to find the one rocker trooper or SAM site you missed.
Red Alert handles most of this stuff significantly better than Tiberian Dawn does but both games have these issues. I don’t want to criticize them too heavily because the games are 24 and 25 years old, and they do still have some very fun moments. That said, RTS design has improved substantially in the last few decades. As old as they are, games like StarCraft and Age of Empires II are much easier to go back to today than Tiberian Sun and Red Alert are because they play better, and that’s doubly true of something more modern, like WarCraft III or the later Command and Conquer games. I know because I loaded them up to check.
"If you already love these games, picking up this collection is a no-brainer, but it’s harder to recommend to everyone else."
This is also true of the game’s multiplayer, which supports the enhanced graphics and features custom games and ranked play. The matches I played worked fine, but these aren’t particularly deep games. They don’t have move and attack options, formations, or any of the modern features we associate with the RTS genre. There’s room for shenanigans, sure – loading up and entire APC with engineers and stealing an enemy’s base out from under them works here, too – but if you’re coming from more modern games, you might be a bit let down.
The collection also doesn’t work perfectly. I ran into one bug that crashed my game whenever I loaded a certain save file, meaning I had to replay that entire mission from the start. The new unit queuing feature also turned itself off several times, despite the game telling me it was on, and I had to toggle it off and on several times until it worked.
Don’t get me wrong, this is an excellent collection, especially for its $20 price tag, and one of the best remasters of an RTS game you’ll ever see. The issue isn’t the work Petroglyph has done here. The studio is made up of folks who worked on these games, and the love and care put into this collection it obvious. The issue is the games themselves. They’re not bad by any means, but they are exceptionally dated, often in ways that makes them frustrating to play. If you already love these games, picking up this collection is a no-brainer, but it’s harder to recommend to everyone else.
Even with these flaws, however, this is a remarkable collection that longtime fans will surely enjoy. EA has done a very good thing here, both in terms of releasing the source code for these games and in creating a collection that serves both as the definitive version of these games and an archive of an important part of Command and Conquer’s history. If nothing else, I can’t help but hope this collection does well so that other games in the series like Tiberian Sun and Red Alert 2 get this treatment. This is an excellent remaster, but the games inside aren’t for everyone. If you can put up with the niggles, this collection is more than worth it. And if nothing else, it proves that all these years later, Command and Conquer’s still got it.
This game was reviewed on PC.
Absolutely loaded with content. Excellent sound design and soundtrack. Many missions are still fun to play. New graphics look great. Lots of bonus features. Multiplayer works well.
Poor unit pathing. Some FMVs look pretty bad. Some missions are poorly designed. Some bugs. Th new graphics don't pop as well as the old ones.
Command and Conquer Remastered Collection is an excellent effort and the definitive version of these games, but these games feel every second of their age.