What year is it? I’m celebrating that, in a months’ time I’ll be sitting down and playing a Spyro the Dragon game (or three), theres a ew Tomb Raider and a new DOOM on the way, and now I’m looking at Command & Conquer again. I feel like I’ve stepped into a wormhole and I’m eight years old again. These games were mainstays of my childhood and the original PlayStation generation.
No, this isn’t “Zimbabwe is so far behind on tech that PS1 era is current for us”, that’s not true at all, as evidenced by the fact that I’m typing this on a Razer Phone and that the Command & Conquer in question is “Command & Conquer Rivals”, a new mobile game published by EA.
Actually, that makes it weirder. I’m playing An EA title and enjoying it, this really does feel like a time warp.
Look, all joking aside, join me after the jump.
As a bit of backstory, I’ve been playing a lot of a MOBA called Vainglory, and been talking with a couple of the Devs, one of whom recently left Vainglory to work on Command & Conquer Rivals. Impressed with his previous work, and having loved the original C&C games, I decided to check it out and got myself into the Early Access.
Immediately, I shuddered a little at the realisation that it was published by EA, who have a history of their mobile games being ridiculously gated behind in app microtransactions. I haven’t fully forgiven them for the travesty that was the Dungeon Keeper mobile remake…
So it was that, as the app loaded and installed, I immediately looked to the shops and what real world money could get you. It’s actually not all that much, and the Devs have immediately nailed down on this concern by talking about their fairness policies. Essentially, yes, you can buy super powerful units and level things up to an overpowered state, but your unit strengths are capped in certain tiers until you progress. As long as I’m in lower tiers, my Free To Play units that I’m gradually levelling will be equally matched against an opponent who has pushed his all to level 12. Sure, when I advance to the next tier, that same opponent is going to have a lead as his units are still above the cap (and dropped to it) whereas mine are going to be just above the previous tier cap, but it’s not huge.
That’s comforting. I didn’t want to be stuck in a situation where I have to wait two days until something happens unless I pay $70+.
What about the game itself? Immediately, I’m dropped into a tutorial that starts teaching me the basics. One screen-sized map with each player’s base on either side and a missile silo in the middle. Control the missile silo to launch nukes at your opponent and win. That’s the basics. Different units have different strengths and weaknesses, infantry are slow and succeptible to small arms fire, but are cheap to build. Tanks pound enemy armour, but struggle against rocket launcher armed hordes and are expensive to build in comparison.
So, it’s now about resource management, knowing what to build and when, and micro-managing your forces movements to best engage. So far, so Command & Conquer.
It’s loyal to the original franchise with different commanders having different oerks,. Both factions (GDI and Brotherhood of Nod) are present with a good variety of asymmetrical balance and unit types, but whereas the original games could take hours to play as each player builds their defenses and pokes their opponent for weaknesses to capitalise on, these matches are fast-paced, frenetic, and perfect for mobile gaming.
Stealing control of the missile silo does not reset the timer, so tactically swooping in, sweeping enemies from the silo and stealing the launch with mere seconds to go is as thrilling to pull off as it is frustrating to have happen to you. It’s tense, and I found myself belly-laughing at it every time it happened, either way.
Most surprising is the netcode. It’s not like people plug their phones or tablets into their router, so a real-time game like this requires good netcode to ensure that ping is not the deciding factor in a game.
Noting that Overwatch on my PS4 runs at a steady (and unplayable) 250ms for me, resulting in a second or two of delay on abilities, CnC Rivals works beautifully. I had one major lagspike in a night of playing and the rest was smooth with no noticeable delay between tap and action.
It’s all still early access at this point, so it’s naturally all subject to change, but the game feels reminiscent of Square Enix’ “Go” series (Hitman Go, Deus Ex Go etc) in that it takes a console/pc gaming experience and distills it down to fit into a quick mobile gaming experience. The Devs seem to be aware of what the CnC franchise means to people and are carefully balancing this into a quick-fire pick-up-and-play experience that I can really see myself getting hooked on.
As time goes on, I’ll be keeping a close eye on this one, and will keep writing my thoughts.
In the meantime, here’s a soundless (why does Android make it so hard to record in-app sound?) short video of my first PvP match out of the tutorial.