Command & Conquer preview: general surprise

Command & Conquer has a long legacy of strategy classics. However, the series lost its luster, especially with 2010's abysmal C&C4. When EA announced it would make the next game in the franchise free-to-play and multiplayer-only, the groan from RTS fans was deafening.

I wasn't sure what to expect from my demo, given that I preferred single-player over multiplayer offerings. To play, I would be confined to a skirmish mode game against an AI opponent. While I wasn't outright awed by what I played, it was clear that the C&C franchise was slowly moving back in the direction of its classic days.


As in the original Generals, players have the option of choosing from three factions: the European Union, The Pan-Asian Alliance, and the Global Liberation Army.

It took a short while to get used to the new UI, buildings, and units. However, after a few minutes, it was clear that C&C had returned to the traditional gather, build, rush, and defend experience that had always been core to the franchise. Base building was easy and quick as long you kept up your line of supply. Even the tech tree becomes familiar after a few minutes of play.

In about ten minutes, I had built a complete base with an advanced war factory for second-tier vehicles. Aside from occasionally forgetting to build that extra power plant I needed if I expanded too quickly, I had a rather sizable army ready to rush my opponent for a quick coup de grace. Although one thing bugged me: where were the AI exploratory attacks? I had only seen three enemy units, and recon showed it had a rather sizable base.

It turned out to be an AI problem. In my rush, I found the AI had inadvertently blocked its units behind a wall of structures, leaving it no egress from its base. The minute I destroyed the first structure, I was summarily crushed by the onslaught of pent-up units.

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There were also some technical issues in the pre-alpha build. A few times, I could not garrison buildings with infantry when buildings were clearly empty. In another case, I could not build a structure on a space that was clearly unobstructed. But despite the issues, I was surprised by how much I enjoyed the experience.

While the free-to-play model may turn RTS fans off, an EA Victory rep said that the only thing that will require some sort of purchase right now will be buying a general to use on a regular basis. Right now, generals will be rotated, with only three of 15 being available at any one time. But the developer appears to be holding true to its promise that all units, maps and game modes will be available to play at the launch.

The game is preparing for closed beta and is now taking signups on the official site. While EA Victory's take on the franchise is unique, the game is indeed returning to its roots. Good news for fans of the franchise who miss the old-school days.