Command and Conquer Remastered raises the bar for remasters. This is the definitive way to play these RTS classics, and they still hold up decades later.
1995’s Command and Conquer: Tiberian Dawn was instrumental in kickstarting the real-time strategy genre into popularity for the era. The prequel/spinoff Command and Conquer: Red Alert from the following year improved on many of its features and aspects, catapulting the series even further. Command and Conquer Remastered Collection has now brought these two classics together and has proved to be a joy to review, doing its utmost to push the bar for remasters higher. While the RTS genre has waned in attention and popularity in modern years, these two classic games still hold up well and the remaster is commendable indeed.
Command and Conquer is a top-down real-time strategy game. You control one of two factions per game, each with different units and buildings. You’ll then gather resources, build your base, and amass an army to defeat the opponent. Simple enough in concept, but there’s plenty of opportunity for deft maneuvers and tactical outplays. There’ll often be lots going on that demands your attention, so trying to put out all the fires and keep track of everything will demand a player’s skill. It’s for this reason that the Command and Conquer games still have an active fanbase more than two decades after its release.
Both games featured in this collection have been freeware for a long time, and multiplayer matches are still played via open source ports such as OpenRA. If nothing else, Command and Conquer Remastered could have simply provided a new coat of paint with official multiplayer servers and called it a day. Thankfully, this is not Warcraft 3 Reforged; the teams at Petroglyph, Lemon Sky, and EA have gone above and beyond to make this the definitive version of these classic games.
Included in the collection is every bit of official content created for every version of Tiberian Dawn and Red Alert. All the campaigns, expansions, secret missions, and console port exclusive content is present and correct. Everything’s collected in a convenient Mission Select option, so you can jump in at any point you’ve reached to try out branching paths. All told, there are about a hundred single-player missions across the two games to take part in. There’s even more maps to use in skirmish or multiplayer modes, and a map editor if that still isn’t enough.
On the remaster front, just about every improvement possible has been incorporated. The graphics have been overhauled and brought up to high definition without losing the details or charm of the original. I was afraid that the overhauled graphics would have that distinctly bland “mobile game” quality to them, but this is absolutely not the case. Plus, like the Halo: The Master Chief Collection, you can swap between the new and original graphics with a button press while still maintaining the improved resolutions.
Modernisation has been applied to the controls and sidebar layout, too. The original games still utilised left click to select and issue orders, but you can now change that to modern controls as you see fit. There are fully customisable hotkeys, even for accessing captured buildings and tech. The construction sidebar now more closely resembles that of later games in the series, dividing unit/building types into tabs and allowing build order queues. There’s also more gameplay information viewable from the tab, such as time to build, power consumption, unit strengths/abilities, and so on.
Improvements have been made to the game’s audio, too. Given how iconic the soundtracks for Command and Conquer are, each song has been remastered and brought up to high definition by original composer Frank Klepacki. Further, you can toggle to listen to the original low-fi versions if you so choose. There’s a customisable jukebox which includes OST versions, remixes, and bonus tracks by the Tiberian Sons cover band. Songs from both games can be listened in either, and the jukebox settings carry over between them. I’ve had my own jukebox open in the background while writing this review; the music is varied, but it’s all quite excellent.
To make this as definitive as possible, Command and Conquer Remastered comes with a bonus gallery. Every single player mission will unlock a bonus on completion, ranging from development photos, green screen takes, or alternative song mixes. I genuinely found them to be an interesting look at the behind the scenes process for both the original and remaster, so this was a welcome inclusion. So overall, this is a fantastic remaster that ticks about every box for content that could be delivered.
Even little details have been retained or touched up. The Westwood Studios logo video has been returned and brought up to high quality, despite the company going defunct early into the millennium. There’s a fully reimagined version of the original installation process on first startup, since Westwood put effort even into those. Full Steam workshop support is already integrated, with maps and gameplay tweaks ready to go even now. If ever a remaster was also a love letter to the original games and their fans, this would be it.
Of course, there are still imperfections. The original uncompressed recordings used for mission briefing cutscenes have been lost, as was documented in a prerelease video. So while there have been attempts made to upscale the compressed versions with some success, plenty still look blurry and indistinct. It’s better than it was in the 90s, but those not prepared for it may be in for a shock. Nonetheless, the cutscenes do what they need to do: give the campaigns a little more structure and presentation. It doesn’t take high definition to make Kane a fantastically charismatic antagonist, after all.
With all that said, these games are well over two decades old. Graphics and controls have been modernised and made more responsive, but the gameplay mechanics and mission design remain the same. Most of the idiosyncrasies and exploits of the original versions carry over here. Tiberian Dawn still requires buildings to be placed adjacent to existing ones, but placing lines of sandbags can overcome this limitation (as well as confound the AI). Harvester AI is still pretty stupid, and the enemy will bumrush you with everything they have if you so much as look at their harvester funny. Some missions see the AI outright cheat by having them place multiple buildings at once. And of course, the best strategy is still to capture and sell enemy buildings with an APC rush full of Engineers.
Resource collection is also slower in Command and Conquer: Tiberian Dawn when compared to modern RTS games. There’s only one universal resource — Tiberium, which is converted into credits — and a single harvester load amounts to 700 credits. Until the harvester returns and starts unloading, you’ll not be receiving any income. That said, a new Harvester is 1400 credits. Contrast that with a Medium Tank for 800, a War Factory for 2000, or a Rocket Trooper at 300 credits, all of which you can have building at the same time.
This means that some late-game missions can become a real war of attrition between you and the AI. You’ll be trying to deny or destroy their harvesters and trade efficiently from a less established position, so it can be slow going. Red Alert took some steps to address this, and it’s an improved game for it, but be warned. There’s a reason most later RTS games made the resource gathering incremental, as opposed to the build time.
I also experienced one consistent technical issue throughout my playtime. For whatever reason, there’d be a brief moment of stuttering and frame drops when a new unit animation played for the first time in a session. It happened in both games but was especially noticeable in Red Alert, making the early experiences irritating but gradually smoothing out. The other journalist I spoke to experienced no such error, though. I couldn’t find any solution through the settings, and it otherwise ran flawlessly at 60 FPS on my RTX 2070 Super. It’s a mild issue, but an obvious one, so hopefully it’s corrected by patches or is just an isolated instance.
For all the flaws and ways in which games have progressed, Command and Conquer Remastered is excellent. I personally grew up with both games, so I was looking forward to re-experiencing them again. There were any number of ways that this project could have failed to deliver, but the end result is a passionate love letter to two true classics of gaming history.
Fans of Command and Conquer or Red Alert should be quite pleased with how this came out. It might have a few dated mechanics that can turn off newer players, and the fundamental game remains unchanged from previous experiences if you didn’t care for those. Regardless, this is truly the definitive package for series fans, and newcomers wishing to experience the early days of the RTS genre should find plenty of enjoyment here.
Will this mean we can finally see a proper return of the franchise after the most recent and disastrous efforts? Time will tell. Sooner or later, time will tell. But until that time?