Tech

Command & Conquer Remastered Collection review: Loving the smell of Tiberium

  • Welcome back to Westwood's classic RTS series in this week's new Remastered Collection. EA / Petroglyph
  • Let's start this article with a dive into the game's full-motion video selection. Some of the original footage is pretty darned grainy, in spite of AI upscaling techniques. EA / Petroglyph
  • Mission briefings before every mission. C&C didn't mess around back in the day. EA / Petroglyph
  • Remember the weird opening-cinema sequence, complete with unnecessary channel flipping? Ah, the '90s. EA / Petroglyph
  • I'm still creeped out by this fake kid's channel. EA / Petroglyph
  • CGI combat, engage. EA / Petroglyph
  • After completing each mission in the game, you'll unlock behind-the-scenes clips from the original video team. (This screen hides most of the goodies you can expect to find.) EA / Petroglyph
  • In fantastic news, when you first boot either game in this new package, you'll be greeted with a familiar video sequence. EA / Petroglyph
  • Check your graphics. EA / Petroglyph
  • Check your sound card. EA / Petroglyph

Game Details

Developer: Petroglyph, Lemon Sky
Publisher: EA
Platform: Windows 8/10
Release Date: June 5, 2020
Price: $20
ESRB Rating: T for Teen
Links: Amazon | Official website | Steam

The strategy, the explosions, the FMV sequences, the ripping guitars, and the Kane-fueled cheese—they're all back. The original 1995 game Command & Conquer: Tiberian Dawn and its 1996 prequel Red Alert have returned in today's launch of the C&C Remastered Collection on Windows 8/10 (Amazon, Steam, Origin). In good news, the package is right for the price: $20 gets you both original games, all of their expansion packs (one for C&C:TD, two for Red Alert), and each game's console-exclusive content. The complete package has been aesthetically touched up for the sake of working on modern PCs.

I've spent the past week tinkering with Command & Conquer: Remastered Collection to break down exactly what to expect and how you should temper your real-time strategy expectations. Despite a few quality-of-life tweaks, the package is otherwise faithful to the originals—almost to a fault—while its compatibility with modern PCs is mostly good enough.

From 400p to 2160p, but not without issues

The package's biggest selling point is a new coat of high-res paint. Every single asset and map element has been redrawn, and like other recent classic-game remaster projects, this one includes a handy "graphic-swap" button. By default, tap the space bar at any time during single-player modes to switch from the original 400p assets to a new, 2160p-optimized suite of units, buildings, and terrain. Here, enjoy an after-and-before gallery of both zoomed-in units and full battleground scenes.

  • The game's default, zoomed-out perspective, with updated graphics. (Most of the other images are of super-zoomed units.)
  • The same scene, with original lower-res graphics.
  • A tighter zoom on those buildings, new graphics.
  • The same scene, with original lower-res graphics.
  • A peek at Red Alert's first Alliance mission. Thanks to the higher resolution, you might recognize the historical figure we're rescuing there.
  • The same scene, with original lower-res graphics. We swear that one fuzzy sprite is Albert Einstein.
  • A tighter zoom on some Soviet vehicles from Red Alert. This includes a submerged submarine on the right.
  • The same scene, with original lower-res graphics. Now the submarine looks like someone tossed a padded microphone in the sea.
  • Some Nod vehicles from C&C:TD, with updated graphics.
  • The same scene, with original lower-res graphics.
  • Some Nod buildings, remastered.
  • The same scene, with original lower-res graphics.

Should you wish to admire the higher-res, 2D art in this new package, especially if you run at resolutions lower than 3140*2160, the combined development forces at Petroglyph Games (made up mostly of Westworld veterans) and Lemon Sky Studios have added a mouse-wheel zooming option. This also lets you tighten the view to match the game's original, cramped perspective, as opposed to the much wider default view (apparently the same as the "C&C Gold" version from 1997).

ratio?

While both games in this remaster support any arbitrary screen resolution you might throw at them, ultra-wide ratios are currently left in the cold. Even though many pre-game menus will fill the whole screen, live gameplay is limited to a 16:9 ratio. The developers didn't even have the courtesy to fill the ultra-wide interface's black bars with, say, the radar mini-map that you can purchase in a given mission.

Returning to the source material with a jump in resolution seems like the obvious move for an RTS remaster, especially for those seeking better unit visibility during manic, eight-player skirmishes. But as polished as this new package looks, the visual overhaul comes with three issues, which range from nitpicks to legitimate concerns.

The first is an apparent reduction in color-specific visibility. Both flavors of the C&C:TD campaign (GDI, NOD) open with your enemies having largely similar unit colors to your own, and worse, their health bars aren't different colors for each faction. Instead, they're all colored based on how healthy each unit is (green for healthy, red for wounded), and the health bars' coloration is very loud and obvious compared to the "gritty" color of the campaign's desert, forest, and snow backdrops.

As it turns out, the original games' blurrier, lower-res units pop better in terms of their specific coloration; it's easier to tell which squad each mush of old-school pixels belongs to even when zoomed out, since it averages out to match the squad's color, whereas you'll need to zoom in to get a clear view of the newer, finer-painted units' allegiances. Your opinion may vary on this, but if you see things the same way I do, you don't get much recourse at launch. C&C:RC doesn't include toggles to change those health bars' colors to match the squads, which would severely help. Additionally, online multiplayer doesn't support the series' old-school, low-res graphics. You can only play online in high-res mode.

Sidebar gripes and a matter of taste

My second issue is with the newly designed sidebar. Just like in the original games, it sits flush on the right side of the screen, but this new interface splits all building options into tabs: buildings, troops, vehicles, and super weapons. Back in the day, all of those were split into two columns, so you could point your mouse over the menu and go back and forth between triggering new buildings and queueing new soldiers or vehicles.

  • In good news, you'll no longer have to tap a "scroll" button to see all of these options at once. In bad news, you'll have to tap a whole new button to switch between these buildings and your troop options.
  • Original interface, for comparison. Notice that you can more easily queue troop and building creation simultaneously with this side-by-side scroll.

Now, players face a new trade-off: you don't have to click the "scroll down" buttons to expose more units, which is good, but you do have to tap a button to switch between each tab, which is bad. At today's modern, higher resolutions, the original interface could very well have been extended to show more units at once, which would have arguably been the best of both worlds. But Petroglyph and Lemon Sky have removed the old sidebar as an option altogether, as if destroyed by a GDI ion cannon. The only consolation at launch is a series of brand-new keyboard shortcuts to switch between these tabs. The community's response to this announced change was mostly positive, so you may also appreciate it—especially since it resembles the interface of later C&C games—but I don't personally think this is an improvement.

And my final nitpick about the new graphics is one of taste: the original games' units never lent themselves to remarkable articulation or expansion. The before-and-after results from 2017's StarCraft Remastered are more enticing because their original designs were already full of sci-fi and fantasy flourishes, including bold unit designs, ridiculous sizes, and colorful landscapes. The C&C series sticks mostly to boilerplate jets, tanks, bikes, and Humvees, all drawn against "realistic" backgrounds. Remaining faithful to this aesthetic was certainly the best call, but it didn't leave C&C's remastering team much room to blow non-fans away with this update; Red Alert 2 remains a prettier 2D option, even with its 768p-maximum resolution and serious issues running in Windows 10.

In spite of these nitpicks, I prefer playing with C&C:RC's tasteful new graphics over the original pixel art—especially when everyone in an online skirmish picks bolder primary colors for their units, which helps quite a bit. And the C&C:RC package is careful to update its new units' animation frames in appropriate fashion. They all include more frames of animation,but not significantly more, and interpolation is wisely applied to make sure the small soldiers and vehicles animate in a way that looks like badass GI Joe characters waging war, not silly little puppets.

Ladders, private matches, and cross-platform hoops

  • Let's do the options-and-menus song and dance. Start by picking which of the two EXEs you'd like to load (or jump into the map editor).
  • Pick any, all, or none of these QoL toggles for controls.
  • The tooltip mentions a welcome return for a classic series actor. You can also revert all audio to the same, tinnier sound effects found in the original, if you want.
  • You can map the dickens out of this game's shortcut bindings.
  • Hopping from mission to mission is a breeze thanks to a new menu. You'll have to unlock progress in the primary campaigns, but all other maps are unlocked from the jump.
  • Notice the wealth of options for private skirmishes.
  • In Red Alert, faction choice matters, as it adds certain perks on top of the Soviet/Alliance distinction.

Returning to the "faithful, even to a fault" sales pitch: If either Petroglyph or Lemon Sky applied a significant unit-balancing update to this RTS classic, it's not saying, and my testing thus far hasn't revealed any reason to assume that debates over GDI versus Nod or Allies versus Soviets will be settled anytime soon. To clarify, the collection puts C&C:TD and Red Alert inRead More – Source