A recurring issue game remasters face is they have to compete with the upscaling process that goes on in your own brain. Our minds have an annoying tendency to ‘touch-up’ old memories, overhauling them with HD textures and support for 1080p. This can make encountering an actual remaster on oddly disorienting and even deflating experience. Your brain says “But that’s what it looked like in 1995!” when actually most games from 1995 look like the tread of a shoe filled with grit.
The Command & Conquer Remastered Collection gets around this by showing you the old game first. When you assault your first beachhead as the GDI in C&C, or storm a remote village as the Soviet Union in Red Alert, the Remastered Collection shows you the gigantic smear of brown and green Command & Conquer actually was. Once the initial chaos dies down, it tells you to press Space, whereupon the twitching squares representing your soldiers seamlessly transition into crisp, high-definition sprites.
It’s a slick little trick in what is a slick little package, one that updates Command & Conquer’s creaky old visuals while remaining true to the original art style and leaving the games underneath largely intact. This latter point is potentially a gamble for developers Petroglyph games. Can a 25-year-old RTS stand up without any mod-cons or innovations that have seeped into the genre over that time?
We’ll get into that later. First, we should discuss what the remaster does for Command & Conquer. The Remastered Collection includes overhauled versions of both the 1995 original, and the 1996 spinoff C&C: Red Alert. It also brings together all the additional content from different versions of the game, such as extra missions and exclusive FMVs from the PlayStation port of Red Alert.
All of this has then been upscaled in a precise and delicate fashion. Petroglyph was clearly keen to preserve the spirit of the original games. Every little detail on units and buildings has been carefully overhauled, right down to how the flags on GDI barracks flutter in the breeze. Unlike the recent remaster of Age of Empires, Petroglyph has decided against introducing new tech like water shaders. It’s all about making the game look playable on a HD or 4k screen, rather than making it look modern.
While the game itself looks great, the same sadly can’t be said for the iconic FMVs. This isn’t really Petroglyph’s fault—the original copies of these videos were lost when EALA shut down. An attempt has been made to upscale the videos using AI algorithms, but the results are mixed at best. Some videos look relatively clear, while others look grainier than a wheat field. They’re still fun to watch, of course, one of the better uses of FMVs in the mid-nineties, but it’s a shame they couldn’t be preserved to match the quality of the game itself.
Beyond the visual, the Remastered Collections includes a completely remastered soundtrack for both games, as well as the original “classic” tracks. These can be curated into your own unique playlist via the new Jukebox feature. If you want to play Target/Mechanical Man on repeat 300 times, you can absolutely do that. Meanwhile, multiplayer support has been comprehensively updated, adding both custom lobbies and a matchmaking system, alongside a map editor for creating your own scenarios. Finally, there are some small but important quality-of-life changes, such as a zoom function that lets you see more of the battlefield, and a tweaked sidebar menu that no longer requires you to scroll through units and buildings.
From a cosmetic and general functionality perspective, the Remastered Collection is a great update. But so was the Definitive Edition of Age of Empires, and it couldn’t hide the fact that the game itself had aged like a packet of ham in the midday sun. Does Command & Conquer suffer the same fate? Is it destined to linger cherished but unplayed in the archival depths of your Steam library?
Honestly, I don’t think so. While elements of it have undoubtedly aged, on the whole Command & Conquer remains extremely playable. A major contributor to this is simply that Command & Conquer plays fast. Missions often throw you straight into the action, with many wrapped up in just 5-10 minutes and few lasting longer than 15. This means you rarely have time to dwell on the relative simplicity of its construction trees or its ‘build & rush’ strategy.
The campaigns themselves are also extremely well designed, doing a lot with relatively little to make each scenario a distinctive tactical challenge. In one GDI mission, you need to locate a heavily damaged allied base, repair it, and then use it to oust Nod from the region. Red Alert’s scenarios are even more memorable, with the Soviet Campaign ranging from razing villages that have offered resistance against you, to chasing down an enemy spy with a pack of attack dogs. One aspect of Command & Conquer I’d forgotten about was how campaigns branch off, often letting you choose one of multiple objectives to pursue. This approach to campaign design was way ahead of its time and helps keep the game feeling fresh today.
Like I said, not everything about Command & Conquer has aged so well. Selecting units can be fiddly, with your army often leaving stragglers in its wake, while unit pathfinding is best described as creative. The need to destroy every building in an enemy base also dates the experience, although this proved less arduous in practice than I had imagined it to be before playing. Lastly, the difficulty can fluctuate wildly, with some of the mid-campaign GDI missions being particularly punishing. Then again, you can negate this simply by playing on Easy. If you want to take a tour of a classic without risking cutting yourself on its sharp difficulty curve, that’s entirely possible.
Command & Conquer may be an old game, but it isn’t a clunky one. If anything, its simple yet propulsive mechanics and intense, fast-paced missions are refreshing in an age where strategy games need to eat your entire life to be considered worthy of the genre. The Remastered Collection does a fine job in bringing those qualities to the fore, and I sincerely hope Petroglyph gets the green light to give the other Command & Conquer games the same treatment.