My love for the Command & Conquer series extends way back. As a kid in the early 2000's, whenever I had free reign of the family computer, some combination of Tiberian Sun, Red Alert 2, Renegade, and Generals was often in my rotation. The possibility of a “competitive scene” surrounding them never really occurred to me, however.
Ask a bunch of people what the first thing they think of is when asked about competitive real-time strategy games, and one entity is going to absolutely dominate the field of answers: Blizzard. They had Brood War in the 2000's, they had StarCraft II at the start of the 2010's, both of which alone dwarfed the attention to pretty much every other game in the genre. Arguably even more importantly, they had WarCraft III, which also had a bit of a pro scene from what I recall, but was far more noteworthy for being the seeds of Defense of the Ancients, which eventually sprouted into the whole MOBA genre.
Westwood Studios’ and later EA’s C&C games, in comparison, never truly entered into the competitive multiplayer fray in such a way, even when they outright tried for that stature with the latter Command & Conquer 3 and Red Alert 3. For the longest time, I was perfectly fine with that state of affairs. I didn’t need C&C to be a hardcore competition.
It fulfilled, in fact, the complete opposite of such a purpose., acting as my “casual” game, so to speak. When I wrote a long while back about the occasional appeal of having less “game” in my games in light of Extra Credits doing an episode on that topic, I brought C&C up specifically in that vein:
[T]oys and sandboxes have always been more my style. It has been that way since first messing around with computer programs for Conway’s Game of Life. It was the driving force behind playing Roller Coaster Tycoon games, where the main appeal to me was trying to see how crazy and awesome I could
destroybuild all these different roller coasters, rather than attempting to run a theme park. I approached the Command & Conquer series—especially Red Alert 2—this way, too, mostly going to Skirmish mode, turning the AI difficulty all the way down, and just building ridiculous armies full of crazy technology and enjoying the destruction they’d leave in their wake.
Starting just a couple of months ago, however, I have been newly appreciating Command & Conquer on slightly different terms.
It had been a long, long time since thinking about—let alone playing—anything C&C-related. However, that started to change the moment I realized that Spotify, to my surprise and delight, was a treasure trove of video game soundtracks. That quickly led to finding out that the selections on offer included a bunch of Command & Conquer installments. Bingo! One addition of Frank Klepacki’s classic soundtrack for the original game to my library later, and it successfully sunk its hooks gently into my mind. That slowly, but surely, led to a desire to read and watch stuff about the games. Even without playing it, I was getting into the series all over again.
That eventually led to me, possessed with a wholly new interest in multiplayer C&C, coming across the goldmine of commentated game replays from YouTube channel Spartacus TV. Spartacus’ specialty is partially Command & Conquer 3: Tiberium Wars, but the vast majority of attention goes towards its expansion, Kane’s Wrath. And I’m hooked! I’ve fallen into the rabbit hole of watching high-level C&C3: Kane’s Wrath competitive play, and it’s been far more enthralling than I could have ever imagined.
The C&C3 scene is magnitudes smaller than StarCraft for sure, but evidently, it’s nonetheless got a collective of players who are dedicated to upholding its mantle after its release more than a decade ago. That kind of passion is heartening, and when seeing the kinds of matches that can result from that sort of attitude—especially with Spartacus’ analysis digging a bit deeper into the impact of the moment-to-moment—also pretty mind-blowing.
Command & Conquer 3 is a significantly slower game than StarCraft II, by which I mean the units literally move and react slower. Thus, while micro is still important and necessary, it does not define the whole game to nearly a degree of almighty importance like the deathball footsies of SC2. More advance decision-making with unit choices and army positioning comes a bit closer to the forefront instead, and it means that fights in C&C3 end up actually resembling clashes between armies, something that I especially appreciate as a spectator.
Building management also gets pushed to a much higher degree of importance. As buildings get planted onto the field instantaneously, combined with the fact that they tend to fall a lot slower than they would in SC2, it’s wholly valid to do things like build emergency defensive structures to deal with base harassment, for example. The fact that structures can be later sold for slightly less than the construction price adds in a whole new risk-reward dimension to the question of keeping buildings (e.g. those emergency defenses) around.
Then there is the principal base builder: The MCV, a unit which can be deployed into the Construction Yard structure, but can then also pack back up into an MCV to get deployed elsewhere. Moving around the MCV, which thereby moves around the area where things can be built, is therefore the primary way to make expansions or go back to reinforce already-established bases. These things complicate gameplay in a compelling way.
And it can also lead to crazy shit like offensive base pushing, i.e. stationing an MCV close enough to some of the opponent’s structures to apply major pressure. In such close proximity, units can be pumped directly onto the front lines. And defensive structures can also be built on the front lines as well, meaning that Watchtowers and Obelisks of Light can be used offensively to attack the other buildings. It’s fucking bananas!
I’ve been thoroughly entertained by all of these matches. It even kind of makes me want to give C&C3 a spin once again, even if just to fight some skirmishes against the AI and see if I could do some of this zaniness for myself.