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Command & Conquer Remastered Collection impressions: Hell Marching in 4K

EA and Petroglyph have written a high-resolution love letter to the first two games in the franchise. I think they may love us, too. Our impressions.

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Over the last decade, the only trend in gaming more pervasive than the microtransaction might be the remaster. Just about any old (and not so old) title you could think of has been given the remaster or remake treatment. It represents a bit of a win-win scenario for publishers as these releases have built-in fan bases and their development does not always require that the wheel be reinvented from scratch, as it pertains to development. The beloved RTS series Command & Conquer is now the next up on the remaster block with a new two-game collection from the folks at Petroglyph, known for the Universe at War series, Grey Goo, and employing several former Westwood Studios talent. Petroglyph would pretty much be the dream choice for a project such as this and it would appear our dreams have come true.

Building…..construction complete

Red Alert never looked so good.
Red Alert never looked so good.

The Command & Conquer Remastered Collection is composed of the original Command & Conquer and Command & Conquer: Red Alert, originally released in 1995 and 1996, respectively. These games were originally made available on PC for DOS and later received Windows 95-compatible releases. These new remasters aim to provide the original mid-90s experience with a few new creature comforts and additions to help them adapt to twenty-plus years of RTS evolution.

The biggest change is the reworking of the games’ graphics into a high-resolution presentation. The original games infantry was represented by little more than colored stick men, which worked well at the time with the 320x200 resolution. Now the infantry, along with all other art assets, scale all the way up to 4K. Getting the older games to run on modern hardware and operating systems is possible, but it is easy to run into issues with resolution scaling, as well as those with aspect ratio. The Remastered Collection fully supports modern 16x9 aspect ratio displays, including the upscaled FMV content. As a fun bonus, you can instantly swap between the original art and remastered art on the fly by tapping the spacebar.

As good as it got for 1995

All video sequences got hit with the upscale gun.
All video sequences got hit with the upscale gun.

I have fond memories of tearing into the boxes for both Command & Conquer and Red Alert when they were released. I was very impressed with their FMV story sequences before and after campaign missions and, at the time, the pre-rendered CG videos looked like they were out of the future. Welp, the future happened at some point between 1995 and now and most realtime 3D games look miles better than these pre-rendered sequences, but the memories they evoke are still cherished. As a bonus, all video content in the Remastered Collection gets upscaled, though they remain true to the original look, including the interlacing artifacts in the FMV sequences.

Petroglyph also took the time to rework the audio for each game. Bringing the antiquated, low-sample-rate sounds up to modern standards was surely a large undertaking. All vocals, explosions, and other effects sound clearer than ever before. Perhaps the biggest beneficiary of the sonic upgrade are the outstanding soundtracks. I won’t lie to you folks, my nips still get hard in 2020 when I hear Hell March.

Rounding out the package

Multiplayer works between both the Steam and Origin versions of the game.
Multiplayer works between both the Steam and Origin versions of the game.

Multiplayer gaming was in a slightly different place in the mid-1990s and, short of using LAN emulation or other hacks, there is no easy way to enjoy Command & Conquer multiplayer these days. Thankfully, Petroglyph rebuilt the mode from the ground up to play nice with modern network protocols and equipment. I was able to connect and play skirmish matches using the Steam version of the game with a friend using the Origin version of the game. 

If the development team had stopped there, this package would have already been an easy recommendation, but it is clear how much love for the series went into this project when you first fire up the games and are treated to a reworked version of the old DOS installation sequence. While the sound of a 4X CD-ROM drive vibrating your desk is absent, most other parts of the original games’ installation sequence have been retained and/or improved. A clever nod to sound device configuration in DOS will bring a smile to anyone who struggled just trying to get simple bleeps and bloops from their PCs in the early 1990s. While this is purely fan service for the old farts who played the games twenty-five years ago. The effort put into it is greatly appreciated.

Wrapping up

The input options screen allows players to alter controls to match newer RTS games.
The input options screen allows players to alter controls to match newer RTS games.

Loads of other small improvements litter the experience, from new control options, music playlist customization, to the new sidebar UI that no longer needs to be scrolled. All expansion content from the games is included as well as a map editor and the ability to queue unit production. The Remastered Collection is also receiving mod support via the Steam Workshop, so I would recommend that fans grab that edition of the game over the Origin version. In a surprising move, EA and Petroglyph tossed up the source code for the game to help foster the modding community. Maybe we really are back in the 1990s? 

If you played these games when originally released and have a soft spot for classic RTS action, The Command & Conquer Remastered Collection is highly recommended. The effort and care put into the remasters are appreciated.

Contributing Tech Editor

Chris Jarrard likes playing games, crankin' tunes, and looking for fights on obscure online message boards. He understands that breakfast food is the only true food. Don't @ him.

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