Command and freakin' Conquer. I would consider this game to be the DOOM of real-time strategy games. C&C may not have been the first game of its type, but it was certainly the first to make the impact that it did. A contemporary setting, full-motion cutscenes, fast-paced gameplay, and gorgeous digital audio all came together to create an experience that not only launched the RTS genre into the mainstream, but found itself clogging up college networks everywhere.
Even without the historical context provided by being born any significant amount of time before the game's release, I can still confidently go on and on about the times I had playing C&C whenever I could. From the awesome installer and setup program to the memorable unit sound bits, this classic has embedded itself deeply into my psyche to the point where the Commando unit's "Yo" produces an almost Pavlovian response. To put it into perspective, even though this isn't necessarily my favorite game in the series, it's the only one that I've played all the way through.
To quite a few PC gamers, C&C doesn’t need too much explanation, however I'll give a brief rundown and then explain a couple of things that really stand out to me.
The game is set in the 1990's and features two factions, the Global Defense Initiative and The Brotherhood of Nod, both fighting over the extremely valuable alien substance known as Tiberium. While Nod is a terrorist organization with a highly charismatic leader that wants to control Tiberium and utilize it to accelerate human evolution, GDI is the UN's response to Nod and its extremist activities.
Gameplay-wise, the player is given a top-down perspective of a battlefield and is tasked with a set of objectives laid out by a (for the time) very well-produced FMV before each mission, a feature that this game pioneered in the early PC game space. The mouse is the primary interface, moving the view around the map, selecting units to give orders to attack or move, and selecting which buildings to construct and where to place them. Unlike games such as Civilization, orders are given in real-time rather than in turns, which forces players to think on their toes rather than take their time with a glorified game of chess.
While this formula wasn't exactly new, with Westwood's own Dune series having the same basic gameplay, the setting and theme of a terrorist threat largely contributed to this new franchise's popularity, with many quality of life improvements rounding off the package nicely. Released during the Gulf War, C&C appealed to American gamers in a very topical way on top of adding features such as the selection of multiple units at a time.
In my opinion, the game's biggest strength is its stellar soundtrack by artist Frank Klepacki, a legend in the industry who would also compose tracks such as the classic Hell March in the follow-up. The pounding industrial electronic rhythms accompanying C&C's gameplay are an incredible compliment to the action and work surprisingly well to put your mind right there in the firefights, despite the original DOS release's low resolution graphics. This is one of the few OST's that I have loaded on my phone so that I can just listen to tracks like Act on Instinct or Mechanical Man whenever I want. I'm serious, go look them up and listen for some delicious tunes oozing with 90's character.
One more thing I'd like to point out and that I noticed while replaying the game for this review is how well the two factions' first missions introduce them and establish their differing ideals. GDI starts you off by commanding a small strike force to take a beach head and establish a base to weed out insurrectionist forces hiding in the forest, while Nod's first mission is a rampage through a desert canyon and small civilian village to assassinate a powerful figure that doesn't "agree with" their agenda. I had never noticed this before, but it goes so far to provide a strong first impression and differentiate the two factions even without the unit and structure diversity you see in more modern games of the genre.
Even if Command and Conquer isn’t perfect with sometimes poor pathfinding, flaws in the AI, low-res visuals, and cheesy voice acting, it has still aged well compared to the vast majority of games from the mid 90s. Regardless of the fan patches to allow the Windows 95 version to run even on Windows 10 and the fantastic open source recreation within the OpenRA project, I almost couldn't stop playing the DOS version because it feels so good that it's borderline dangerously addicting.
With a freeware release and many ways to play, I recommend you download this game and give it a try, if not for the endless replayability with multiplayer (CNCNet and OpenRA still have players) and community maps, then just to experience one of gaming’s most important titles.