Command & Conquer: A Retrospective

The Command & Conquer series of games can be traced back to the very beginnings of real-time strategy. What better time than now to take a look back at the series?

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The Command & Conquer game series has been around for nearly 15 years--arguably longer if you care to trace the game's roots back to the very beginnings. The series has come to be associated with both modern strategy games and the classic real-time strategy games of yesteryear, which saw their first days with games like Herzog Zwei for the Sega Genesis and Dune II for home computers. And Dune II, a game based partially on David Lynch's motion-picture interpretation of the classic Frank Herbert novel, begat Command & Conquer. This started a chain of events that led to modern real-time strategy as we know it, including building bases, harvesting resources, climbing the tech tree, and commissioning armies. And from there, we've seen more than 10 years of Command & Conquer and all that we've come to associate with the series. Tanks, harvesting Tiberium resource crystals, fast-paced online multiplayer, commando units, top-level superweapons, tanks, electro-squids, tanks, actor/director Joe Kucan as series villain Kane, parachuting Soviet attack bears, tanks, robo-dolphins, former pro wrestling champion Ric Flair, former Dr. Frank-N-Furter Tim Curry, and perhaps most importantly of all: tanks. And now that nearly 15 years have elapsed since the first Command & Conquer game, what better time to recap the history of this long-lived series? Let's take a look. Part one of our feature will cover the series up to 2001, while part two will cover more-recent entries in the series.

Command & Conquer (PC | PS | SAT | N64)

The original Command & Conquer, in all its DOS-based glory.
The original Command & Conquer, in all its DOS-based glory.
No Caption Provided
Developer:
Westwood Studios
Publisher:
Virgin Interactive
Release Date:
Aug 31, 1995

The original Command & Conquer from 1995 started off the series and its trademark "Tiberium" storyline. It was set on a near-future Earth torn apart by war between the Global Defense Initiative--an organized military faction known for its sturdy tanks--and the Brotherhood of Nod, a formerly secret society that tends to use hit-and-run tactics and stealth rather than full-scale assaults. Command & Conquer set the stage for the series--the war between the two factions, the energy-rich Tiberium crystals that were harvested as resources, the asymmetry between the two factions and their armies, the enthusiastically acted live-action cutscenes, the engineer units that could take over enemy buildings, and arguably the first "hero unit" to appear in real-time strategy games. The wisecracking commando was both a powerful antipersonnel sniper and a demolitions expert who could blow up enemy structures with C4 charges. Command & Conquer would later be expanded twice with two different follow-up products: the Command & Conquer: The Covert Operations expansion pack of 1996 (which added 15 much-harder playable missions) and the unusual single-character, multiplayer spin-off, Command & Conquer: Sole Survivor. The original game also later made appearances on the Sony PlayStation, the Sega Saturn, and the Nintendo 64.

Command & Conquer: Red Alert (PC | PS)

The beginning of the Red Alert saga. Pictured: Red buildings.
The beginning of the Red Alert saga. Pictured: Red buildings.
No Caption Provided
Developer:
Westwood Studios
Publisher:
Westwood Studios
Release Date:
Oct 31, 1996

While the relatively straightlaced Command & Conquer was a war story, 1996's Red Alert went off to explore speculative "What if?" fiction by proposing a war-torn future Earth where a time-traveling Albert Einstein attempts to rewrite history by removing Hitler from the picture, only to instead end up replacing the Nazi regime with an all-powerful Soviet Union. The conflict, then, was between the Soviet forces and the Allied forces and evolved Command & Conquer's gameplay with new units, such as Soviet submarines and attack dogs--the latter being the first animal units to appear in a Command & Conquer game, a precedent that many Red Alert fans will appreciate. Red Alert was also the first game to feature the female Allied commando Tanya, who became a recurring character in the Red Alert universe and was typically played by a young actress wearing a halter top, in this case, actress Lynne Litteer. Red Alert also had two expansion packs, Command & Conquer Red Alert: Counterstrike (which added new maps, including a secret mission that pitted your soldiers against gigantic ants) and Command & Conquer Red Alert: The Aftermath (which added new units like the chrono tank and the Tesla tank), both released in 1997. The two expansions were also compiled into the PlayStation game Command & Conquer Red Alert: Retaliation. The original Red Alert also made an appearance on the Sony PlayStation.

Command & Conquer: Tiberian Sun (PC)

Tiberian Sun's new isometric perspective.
Tiberian Sun's new isometric perspective.
No Caption Provided
Developer:
Westwood Studios
Publisher:
Westwood Studios
Release Date:
Aug 24, 1999

1999's Tiberian Sun was a sequel to the original Command & Conquer and picked up with a new conflict between the GDI and Nod some 30 years after the original game's war. It also placed Hollywood actors in the commander's seat--the GDI commander (your character) was played by The Terminator supporting cast member Michael Biehn (who reported to a general played by none other than James Earl Jones, better known as the voice of Darth Vader from the Star Wars motion pictures), while the Nod commander was played by actor Frank Zagarino. Though Tiberian Sun offered visual improvements in the form of a new isometric perspective and raised terrain, the game was delayed and features were cut prior to its release, leaving a game that was very similar to the original, but with unfortunate performance issues. Tiberian Sun went on to receive an expansion pack in 2000's Command & Conquer: Tiberian Sun Firestorm, which added a new, heavily story-driven single-player campaign for both the GDI and Nod.

Command & Conquer: Red Alert 2 (PC)

Attack dogs rushing the Eiffel Tower? This must be Red Alert 2.
Attack dogs rushing the Eiffel Tower? This must be Red Alert 2.
No Caption Provided
Developer:
Westwood Studios
Publisher:
EA Games
Release Date:
Oct 21, 2000

By the end of 1999, Electronic Arts had acquired Westwood Studios, the original developer of the C&C series, and was credited as the publisher for subsequent Command & Conquer games, such as 2000's Red Alert 2. The sequel to Red Alert picks up after the defeat of the Soviet Union, as rebuilding efforts in the Eastern Bloc are revealed to actually be the plans for an invasion of America by a revitalized Soviet army. The single-player campaigns for each side offered distinctly different experiences, and each faction offered different gameplay (the Allies were a slower, stronger faction, while the Soviets were quicker but not as well-suited for longer sieges). However, Red Alert 2 is perhaps more memorable because it was the point where the Red Alert series went from the philosophical exploration of alternate history to full-on wacky, featuring such controllable units as telepathic giant squids and sonar-attacking dolphins, as well as over-the-top cutscene performances from actors such as the "new" Tanya, Sliders star Kari Wuhrer, and character actor Udo Kier as the psychic Yuri. Red Alert 2 received an expansion with 2001's Command & Conquer Red Alert 2: Yuri's Revenge, in which Yuri returned to conquer the world by way of psychic domination, forcing the Allies and the Soviets to work together to combat this new threat.

Stay tuned for day two of our retrospective, when we cover C&C's progression into 3D graphics and…first-person shooters?

Leave a comment and share your favorite memories of the Command & Conquer series with us.

Part two of our look back at the history of Command & Conquer picks up in the year 2002, when the series moved on from Red Alert 2 into the exciting world of 3D graphics. If you haven't already, be sure to check part one of our retrospective before diving into part two.

Command & Conquer: Renegade (PC)

Ever think you'd be doing THIS in a Command & Conquer game?
Ever think you'd be doing THIS in a Command & Conquer game?
No Caption Provided
Developer:
Westwood Studios
Publisher:
EA Games
Release Date:
Feb 25, 2002

Renegade was the first and, to date, only Command & Conquer game that wasn't a strategy game, and so far it's the only first-person shooter to take place in the C&C universe (sadly, the second planned shooter, Tiberium, was canceled in 2008). 2002's Renegade took the C&C commando--a soldier that had always been powerful but had always appeared as a tiny character on a big real-time strategy map--and made this soldier the hero of his very own action game. The single-player game pitted your GDI commando character, Nick "Havoc" Parker, against the forces of Nod, while in multiplayer, you could play as either a GDI or a Nod soldier in team-based battles. The game did a great job of creating an authentic C&C experience on the ground, since it reused numerous classic C&C sound effects and modeled many of its levels after actual C&C buildings. Unfortunately, Renegade never received an expansion pack, nor did it go on to make an appearance on any other platforms.

Command & Conquer: Generals (PC)

Generals left Tiberium and the Soviets behind in favor of a different fictional world war.
Generals left Tiberium and the Soviets behind in favor of a different fictional world war.
No Caption Provided
Developer:
EA Pacific
Publisher:
EA Games
Release Date:
Feb 10, 2003

Even though the Command & Conquer games had generally been successful, the creators of the series who remained with EA after the publisher fully assimilated (and shut down) Westwood Studios decided to take the series in a new direction after Red Alert 2. Westwood, and the studio that later emerged from the shutdown, EA Pacific, produced 2003's Command & Conquer: Generals, a real-time strategy game that chronicled a war between three asymmetrical forces based on political factions that could (somewhat) plausibly go to war with each other: the USA, China, and a terrorist faction known as the Global Liberation Army, or GLA. Visually, Generals was one of the best-looking games of its time, being the first C&C real-time strategy game to use 3D graphics (though it had been preceded by another, similar Westwood game, 2001's Emperor: Battle for Dune, which also featured 3D graphics), and it shipped with editing tools. The gameplay was also updated with more-intuitive interface and building options, and defense was deemphasized (buildings and other defensive structures weren't very powerful) in favor of fast, aggressive offense. Generals' most distinctive new feature was its "powers" system, which let you gain experience in battle and spend that experience to purchase tiered powers that could be called into the game, such as airstrikes and artillery strikes, on up to top-level superweapons. Unfortunately, the Chinese government (the real one, not the one in the game) didn't take kindly to the game's portrayal of the People's Liberation Army and later banned the game. Generals would go on to receive an expansion pack later that year with Command & Conquer: Generals Zero Hour, which added new units, new powers, and nine different subfactions to play as.

Command & Conquer 3: Tiberium Wars (PC | X360)

Tiberium Wars was the long-awaited return of the Command & Conquer series. It was also a great game in its own right.
Tiberium Wars was the long-awaited return of the Command & Conquer series. It was also a great game in its own right.
No Caption Provided
Developer:
EA LA
Publisher:
EA Games
Release Date:
Mar 26, 2007

Then, for a long time, nothing happened. No, wait…that's not true. In 2001, Electronic Arts acquired the rights to the Lord of the Rings films, which led to the team at EA LA moving away from Command & Conquer in favor of creating the Battle for Middle-earth strategy series--a series that distinguished itself not only with solid, Tolkien-inspired gameplay, but also by appearing on consoles with The Lord of the Rings, The Battle for Middle-earth II for the Xbox 360. By the time 2007 came around, it seemed like Command & Conquer 3 couldn't come out fast enough, but this new game was planned for release on both the Xbox 360 and the PC. Tiberium Wars was a return to both C&C (complete with full-motion video cutscenes starring the likes of Michael Ironside and Billy Dee Williams) and the Tiberium storyline; once again the GDI and the Brotherhood of Nod (spearheaded by the miraculously young-looking Joe Kucan in the role of Kane) returned to do battle in a game that was intended to focus much more heavily on story and blur the lines between the traditional "good guy" GDI faction and the traditional "bad guy" Nod faction using themes of social welfare and environmentalism. And as it turned out, the story wasn't just about GDI fighting Nod anyway, since Tiberium Wars introduced a third faction, the Scrin--a race of invading aliens from outer space who had a vested interest in the increasing spread of the energy-rich, but highly toxic, Tiberium crystals across the face of the Earth. In addition to featuring an in-depth single-player campaign, Tiberium Wars featured online multiplayer play along with community-focused tools, such as match replays and a telestrator, similar to the tools used by American football commentators to explain instant replays. Tiberium Wars was supported with the 2008 expansion Kane's Wrath, which appeared on both the PC and the Xbox 360 and which, like the Zero Hour expansion for Generals, added playable subfactions, along with a new campaign.

Command & Conquer: Red Alert 3 (PC | X360 | PS3)

Do not adjust your monitor. That is, in fact, actor Tim Curry, and yes, he's giving you a mission briefing in a Command & Conquer game.
Do not adjust your monitor. That is, in fact, actor Tim Curry, and yes, he's giving you a mission briefing in a Command & Conquer game.
No Caption Provided
Developer:
EA LA
Publisher:
EA Games
Release Date:
Oct 28, 2008

Once C&C returned with Tiberium Wars, it only made sense (or did it?) to revive the Red Alert series to once again pit the Soviets against the Allies. And while Tiberium Wars played things relatively straight, Red Alert 3 was completely over the top, offering a scenery-chewing cast for its live-action cutscenes that included the likes of Tim Curry (of The Rocky Horror Picture Show fame), George Takei (of Star Trek fame), and Jenny McCarthy (of Scary Movie 3 fame) as Tanya. The gameplay was also similarly crazy--like in the previous games, there were still attack dogs and robo-dolphins, along with ground-burrowing samurai and shrink-ray helicopters. Yet the game itself had several interesting features, including a new story in which the Soviets and Allies found themselves besieged in midbattle by the Empire of the Rising Sun, a faction based on Imperial Japan gone wild with transforming robot mechs and a psychic-powered schoolgirl commando. The gameplay was also much more focused on amphibious conflicts--many units and structures could function on land as well as at sea--and because of the slightly slower gameplay pace, and the fact that most units had a secondary ability, and the presence of two-player campaign cooperative play, Red Alert 3 offered a surprising amount of depth for a game where you could fire parachuting attack bears out of a cannon. (No, seriously, that's in the game.) It also offered the replay and telestrator community features of Tiberium Wars. The game hit the PC and the Xbox 360 and was the first Command & Conquer game to appear on the PS3, in March 2009. Red Alert 3 was later supplemented with 2009's Command & Conquer: Red Alert 3 Uprising, a download-only PC expansion that focused on single-player challenges and featured even more on-camera talent, such as actor Malcom McDowell and multi-time world champion pro wrestler Ric Flair, to appear in the game's cutscenes.

And that's the story so far--the story of nearly 15 years' worth of strategy, tanks, and women with bare midriffs blowing up buildings. But that can't be the end of the story, can it?

Leave a comment and share your favorite memories of the Command & Conquer series with us.

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