Real-time strategy has been a staple of PC gaming for years. Several of the PC's most popular RTS games have made their way to various console systems, but all of them suffer from the same basic flaws: lower resolution and shoddy control. Command & Conquer for the N64 almost manages to get around both of these problems, and while the resulting game is good, there are still a few little clunky things that get in the player's way.
The game's storyline, told through your mission briefings, is reasonably deep and pretty entertaining. While the full-motion video briefings of the other versions have been scrapped in favor of a slideshow of pertinent images, the audio is intact. So, depending on which faction you choose, you'll hear things from either a GDI (read: GI Joe-like good guys) or a Brotherhood of NOD (read: Cobra-esque bad guys) perspective. Each faction has its own worldview, its own various structures, and its own set of troops. Each faction does have different-looking vehicles and buildings, but do just about the same thing for their side. There are definitely differences, but the game is pretty balanced, so there really isn't any one super weapon on either force.
Like just about every other RTS game in the world, this game is a tale of resource management. To build more structures and train enough troops to roll over your enemies, you must maintain a positive cash flow. You earn money by harvesting Tiberium - a mineral that rises to the planet's surface, forming dangerously toxic fields full of cash. Harvest enough of it, and you can build everything from basic machine-gun troopers to complex flying machines, flame tanks, and death-dealing obelisks. Come up short, and you can sell some buildings for quick influxes of cash, but this is usually a last-ditch tactic. Just make sure nothing happens to your harvester, and don't attack until you've got enough military might to crush your enemy two or three times, and you should be just fine.
Those of you who have seen the other console versions of Command & Conquer are probably expecting this version to look the same as the other versions, complete with flat, blocky 2D sprites that are run in a resolution far too low to be discernable. But the terrain, buildings, and vehicles in the N64 version of C&C are done entirely in 3D, giving an all-new look to the game. This, combined with the expansion pack, lets you run in a higher resolution, which makes figuring out if you're looking at a minigunner or a grenadier a bit easier. If you still can't tell what you're looking at, the camera is slightly controllable, allowing you to zoom in or out a little bit. It would have been nice if the game ran at a resolution that would let you keep the map and building screen open at all times, since constant monitoring of your radar map is a key tactic in the game. Without the expansion pack, you're limited to the standard medium resolution. It looks nice, but it's a bit too blocky for my tastes. The game's speed and frame rate vary slightly throughout the game, depending on how much action you've got on the screen. At the beginning of a level, when you don't really have anything uncovered, scrolling is incredibly speedy, almost to the point of being too fast. When you get into major confrontations with the enemy, and structures are blowing up left and right, the frame rate sinks quite a bit, and the game's control suffers as the frame rate gets choppier.
Aside from the frame rate problem, the game's control is well thought out and is definitely the best implementation of RTS-style control on a console controller to date. The C buttons are used to assign and recall various teams. So you can assign your attack force to the top C button, your engineers to left C, and so on. The analog stick lends itself well to controlling your pointer, though it's not quite as precise as a mouse on any of the control speed settings, so you'll occasionally miss moving targets until you've gotten used to the touchy feel of the cursor. The game features plenty of unit speech, and the music from the original version of the game has made it to the N64, though it doesn't sound quite as good. Keeping the audio from the PC version's briefings was a great idea, as text and still images wouldn't really convey the urgency of the game's various missions.
Both campaigns from the original game are in this one, and there is a collection of pretty tough special ops missions that can be played separately from the main game. You can save your game at any time, though there are only two save game slots, so if you're the type of person that likes to save 20 different times to try different tactics, you'll be out of luck. The game doesn't feature any kind of multiplayer element, but considering that the only viable option would be a split-screen mode that would ruin any kind of surprise attack that you or your friends may plan, it's probably for the best that no time was wasted on a multiplayer mode. The single-player game is definitely strong enough to keep you interested, at least through both sides of the main campaign, though only hard-core players will remain onboard for the tough special ops missions.
If you can handle clicking and dragging with the analog stick and the A button instead of a mouse, Command & Conquer is an improvement over the original game. The graphics give the game a surprisingly fresh look, and the excellent control scheme keeps the game from becoming as frustrating as the PlayStation and Saturn versions of C&C.