Monday, June 29, 2020

(Very Imprecisely) Command & Conquer

I am desperately someone who needs to get their eight hours of sleep in.

I can do a sleepless night every once in a while. Maybe two days in a row with only six hours. But anything more and I'm a zombie, simply bouncing from one stimuli to another until I eventually crash on the closest horizontal surface.

Sleep has eluded me this week. No particular reason. Sometimes it's an overly vivid dream that wakes me up and keeps me from falling back asleep. Other mornings, it's the sun, the great enemy, that overcomes our shade's defenses and launches it's dazzling assault into my eyeballs. Occasionally, it's our corgi, who finds the exact geometric shape necessary to take up as much of the mattress as possible.

So my ability to game has been compromised as my ability to form a coherent thought has gradually slipped away day by day. It doesn't help that most of my gaming has been of the hard as nails variety. Namely, the recent Command & Conquer remaster.

The game opens with a cinematic showing the computer inside the game itself, which is used as a conceit for the UI, as getting a graphical and audio upgrade. Apparently, the GDI and Nod Forces in game were using a Sound Blaster Pro in their computers: good choice.

The level of graphical spit shine is everywhere. In the UI, in the gameplay, and in the upscaled cinematics. C&C was an excessively ugly game, understandably so as it was pushing the infancy of the RTS genre and the use of live action FMV in just 1995. 

 I had played bits and pieces of the original back when it was newish. The original PC version was available at our local library, hidden amongst the edutainment and productivity software. I also recall having rented it for the PS1 at the local Blockbuster and hating having to control an RTS with a controller. Somethings never change. I had played more of the game in the mid to late 2000s. I own the complete collection of C&C games from a physical box I bought back in college and whose product keys curiously worked in the Origin gaming platform.

The game had become largely incompatible with modern versions of Windows, and the poor AI pathfinding and just straight up buggy micro control eventually made the game unplayable to me. So I was understandably excited with the release of the Remaster which came paired with a measly $20 price tag and some glowing reviews.

The problem, of course, is that while the graphics have been gussied up, the developers didn't bother actually fixing any of the gameplay.

The AI's hare-brained pathfinding remains as is. Moving units from one place to another is a roll of the dice on how and if they will actually get there. Attacking is also incredibly imprecise. Focus-fire is a thing, and usually works, but general orders to attack or defend an area functionally don't work. As often as your units attempt to kill something, they will just as often not do anything at all, or actually kill themselves. Friendly fire is a thing in this series, and your grenadiers don't particularly differentiate between enemy forces and your own. If your own units and are somewhat near an enemy the grenadier wants to attack, a virtually certainty consider the poor pathfinding, then all of it's getting blown up.

It ends up making the graphical upgrades somewhat pointless. Most people are going to play this package for an hour or two and bounce off it. EA is going to see a huge number of Steam Refunds here, the crust shows itself early and often. There's very little control here, as a commander you're mostly reduced to flailing your arms to command the dumbest soldiers on alternate earth. It's a bit like playing the first Street Fighter game, the genre as we understand it is too primitive here to enjoy. It's just not a fun time. Online play is going to dry up immediately, whose going to play this once the novelty wears off?

There is mod support. Perhaps the player base will fix what the developers neglected to.

It's perfectly understandable that the development team kept a hands-off approach. The graphical and netplay updates were probably more than enough for a small team to handle. And EA never marketed this as an overhaul, just a graphics upgrade.

But it would have been nice for the first big RTS game to have gotten a proper re-release. Lord knows the RTS genre could have used it. But considering how underwhelming the reception for both the good Starcraft re-release and the not-so good Warcraft III re-release got, it's not surprising that EA didn't commit a lot here.

Maybe now that I've gotten a decent nights sleep I'll throw myself back into C&C's grinder of a campaign. Or I maybe I use my newfound energy on something a bit less archaic.

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