Non-Preview: Command & Conquer

I remember when we broke up, the first time, saying this is it I’ve had enough, cuz like, we haven’t seen each other [since 2001] when you said you needed space. (What?)

Oooooh, you called me up again tonight, and I went to a preview for the new Command and Conquer free-to-play and played about 30 mins of a game. It played like a Command and Conquer would play in the Frostbite 2 engine: i.e. prettily with explosions that go off like party poppers in your ears, but it’s no finely-balanced StarCraft at this point in the development process. But was C&C ever that? What am I doing here? Does C&C even have an identity any more?

This is a non-preview, a half thought, a small attempt at forming thoughts on a game I played 30 mins of at an EA event and didn’t have time to form an opinion on. Two things pull against each other: my sentimental side, my need to love and gather information and be optimistic and provide context; and my need to read what I actually think and feel about the things that are actually happening, which is just confusion embodied. Every game we play is fettered by the past, and every preview is only a tiny window onto something that you have already decided your stance on.

As an RTS fan, it’s hard to think of the words ‘Command and Conquer’ without having some sort of lost heartstring be tugged; by whom it is hard to see. And you have no idea how this string got there, and who the hell is pulling it. Stop pulling it, you bastard, I am trying to write another preview about a game that has nothing to do with you. I remember when we broke up, the first time.

Perhaps my personal heartstring was installed around about the time that Red Alert 2 wheedled itself into my friend Doug so much that he wouldn’t stop going on about how the kink in the Allied president’s phone cord was the same kink in the phone cord at the Soviet end, indicating that not only did they skimp on the screenwriter’s fee but the setdressing fee as well.

Everything about those cutscenes was bloody brilliant; that and the sheer ridiculousness were probably the main reason anyone still thinks of Command and Conquer fondly. I got bored of them just after this, even of Red Alert 3’s attempt at high budget off-piste schlock, and have seen everyone’s heart be constantly broken by C&C since. I imagine C&C fans permanently listen to Taylor Swift.

My 30 mins went like this: I ran out early with a few beefy tanks and some rocket launcher dudes and started blowing the shit out of someone’s base, but pretty quick I did that thing that I always do, which is get carried away with blowing the shit out of someone’s base whilst forgetting to expand and then grinding soldier production to a halt. I always do that. I think it might say something about me as a person. Does that say something about me as a person? Like maybe I am straight to home run with no second base and I should spend time around the third base to get anywhere with the guy anyway I am rambling

I don’t really know if it is an indication of how my build order was skewed or how the economy is tempered in this game, because it’s too early to really know. But the explosions were cool, I guess. In the game. Like they look in the trailers! Does that mean something?

Also: in light of the recent SimCity servers thing, how do I even know any of what I played was reflective of how I’d get to play this when it’s truly online? What if the service is shit and unplayable and all the pretty explosions make it slow down? What if I look like a PR shilling turd? Oh, Taylor. I’m happy, free, confused and lonely at the same time. I feel twenty two.

The worst thing about playing this Command and Conquer game at this time is that it’s in alpha, so early in the development cycle it’s actually impossible to tell you anything about this game but that it looks like a cute C&C in a shiny engine. I didn’t get an idea of the shape of this game besides it was like playing an old school stack-em rack-em army face-off, because the window of play wasn’t long enough. This felt like good, if a little slow, static base-building, with some adorable tanks and some cute little building construction animations. Even if I tried to explain to you about how the tanks played, the pathfinding, how picking up the supplies, dropping off the supplies, picking up the supplies, dropping off the supplies, picking up the supplies, and then dropping them off again actually felt I’d be either overemphasising their inadequacy because they’ll be fixed and efficient for the release, or I’d be overemphasising how important they will be to the balance of the final game. It’s like trying to evaluate how good a cake is before it’s stopped being a gloopy mess, and there’s no fucking icing on it yet and who wants a cake without icing get lost whatever I’m going to Tesco.

So he calls me up and he’s like, ‘I still love yooooou’ and I’m like, I’m just, I mean this is exhausting you know, like we are never getting Red Alert 2 back together. Like ever.

But again, this is alpha build, so there’s not much to report other than this game exists, in a form, in reality now. You go talk to your friends, talk to my friends, play the beta, talk to me. Maybe when I get to see you in all your changed form, in your finished glory, we’ll begin to see how much you love us. We’ll probably do a sweet review, and assess its progress into a fully fledged C&C specimen, and that will be how you know that it’s any good. But, ooooooh, Command and Conquer, right now your alpha pathfinding is dodgy and your physics is, well, under constructioooooooon. I knew you were trouble when you walked in so Alice and I made a gif.

[THIS IS MEANT TO ANIMATE I DON'T KNOW WHAT HAPPENED - SEAN]

I guess what I’m trying to say is: my sentimentality says yes, but my brain says boring. Anyone for a C&C Taylor Swift mash-up video? My heart is free-to-play, you can microtransact holding my hand for £3.50 whilst I wear a red beret. We’ll see how free-to-play love is after I build my second base.