Ever since I can remember, strategy games have bored me. I've never cared about reliving historic navy battles on my television, or cultivating spices while infiltrating futuristic dynasties. After all, console games are about kicking ass with fast-paced action and state of the art graphics. And then came Command & Conquer. My world has changed.
Command & Conquer for the Saturn (a conversion of the popular PC game), is a title that has earned a higher score than any console game we've reviewed to date. In other words this Saturn game has bested Nintendo 64 and Playstation superstars like Super Mario 64, Tekken 2, Die Hard Trilogy, and Tomb Raider. Hard to believe? Let me put it this way: Not only am I amazed that a strategic war simulation could be so captivating, but also that its score is so justified - Command & Conquer for the Saturn is an amazing title, one that I believe will be hard to beat in 1997 in terms of gameplay, value, and challenge on any platform.
Command & Conquer takes place in a futuristic world where two forces battle for global supremacy. Welcome to the realm of the peacekeeping Global Defense Initiative and the world terrorist organization, Brotherhood of Nod. It's common to pop in the first disc and start playing as GDI. The typical mission involves setting up a base, raising funds (by harvesting Tiberium), and building up enough manpower (in the form of commandos, tanks, engineers, etc.) to accomplish your objective, whether it's destroying a key weapon, taking out defense posts, or leveling the enemy's base. Your skills are tested throughout each mission as you try to force the offensive while developing your base and defenses. It's not uncommon to play the later missions ten to twenty times before accomplishing your objectives, and don't be surprised if you spend the better part of a day on some levels as you hone your strategy. Multiply this by fifteen GDI missions and you have a long way to go before you can claim ultimate victory. Sound exciting? Wait, there's more this is only the first disc. In a move that almost justifies a value score of "10" (almost), the second disc contains thirteen separate NOD missions. You can play as either immediately from the get go, but combined they make for the most value a Saturn game has yet to offer. (It's worth noting that the Playstation version contains a few bonus missions this version doesn't, thus robbing the Saturn of unequivocal victory in this category.)
The graphics in Command & Conquer are better than what you'd expect from a strategy game, and the storyline unfolds in between missions with full motion video and 3-D rendered cutscenes. Believe it or not, this enhances the game dramatically, giving players added insight into their missions while advancing the game's plot. It's also quite interesting to play the game through as one side then go back and play as the other. From either perspective the Brotherhood of Nod are clearly "the bad guys," but seeing it from their point of view is entertaining, to say the least. The soundtrack is a stunning Red Book audio combination of industrial techno and rock that makes for the best video game music ever heard (with styles sounding like everything from Filter, to Consolidated, to early 90s pop-dance sensation The Party).
The interface has been converted nicely from the PC. The sidebar for constructing the weapons of war is called up at the click of a button; and your forces are controlled with a simple point and click. This makes for smooth gameplay, which also works well when the missions erupt into a heated battle. The battlefields are large enough to make navigating the landscape a challenge, though it's easy to get a feel for them after awhile.
Command & Conquer is an incredible game on any platform, and it translates incredibly well to the Saturn. Some would argue that it should have multiplayer support, but unfortunately the console system itself is not equipped to handle such a feature (which makes it hard to hold this shortcoming against such a rich and lengthy title). With its mix of in-depth strategy, tactical action, and slick storytelling, Command & Conquer brings console strategy games out of the shadow they've lived in for so long. It's interesting to note that this conversion (not a port - it was fully re-created for the Saturn) is better than any first party title Sega has yet to produce. Saturn owners should savor this title as an example of the games they deserve to play on their system.