A great man once said: “I expected nothing, and I’m still let down.” This timeless idiom resonated throughout my mind as I forced myself through EA’s snorefest of a conference. The inevitable cavalcade of sports came and went, then came and went again. Star Wars remains as unfortunately unexciting as it’s been for the past few years. Not even a ‘sneaky’ announcement from Respawn Entertainment, the people behind the pretty darn good Titanfall games, was enough to get a response. I think there was a cute girl with feathers in there somewhere. Anthem looked as dull and uninteresting as ever, with some impressively awful framerate drops to boot.
But towards the end of the conference, something happened. A miracle of marketing materialised from the minds of madmen and made me mad. I’m still feeling an intense cocktail of emotions about it as I type this, nearly forty minutes later. I’m literally typing fluff so I can put off saying it again. Buying textual time to totally turn a trick. Fine, here goes:
Command and Conquer: Rivals is a revival of the most iconic RTS franchise in history. It’s also a mobile game. A very boring-looking clash royale mobile game.
Look, I get it. The traditional RTS model became a niche genre for a very good reason. Meaningful innovation simply wasn’t happening, and Command and Conquer’s domination of the market in the late 90s and early 00s even enabled this. As more competitors came out of the woodwork, their emulations of the tried-and-true formula only grew stronger. Fatigue was rife in those days, and good ol’ CnC was feeling the burn too. The disastrous Tiberium Twilight was emblematic of the genre’s desperation to break out of this rut. More recently-released games like Starcraft II and Company of Heroes 2, while still great, carried the curse on their backs. The RTS, thankfully, isn’t dead; it’s simply faded into relative obscurity.
It’s here that we get to Rivals. EA’s history with CnC is well-documented and very sad to read. EA acquired Westwood Studios in 1998, effectively giving them rights to the series. After showing Westwood the boot in 2003 when Command and Conquer: Renegade failed to meet expectations and their MMO Earth and Beyond failed, EA Los Angeles continued to keep CnC going. The writing on the wall only became more apparent as the fun-but-still-nothing-new sequels and expansion packs piled up.
To see EA dig up the corpse of what was once something special for ‘a new generation’ isn’t an entirely unexpected move. For starters, they’re EA. Calling them the Antichrist of video games wouldn’t be too far from the opinion of the average gamer, and ‘EA x money = OTP’ jokes are a dime a dozen. Secondly, CnC is (sadly) no stranger to more casual platforms: Tiberium Alliances is a free-to-play browser game released in 2012, and Chinese developer Tencent are bringing us Red Alert Online for mobile in the near future.
But this doesn’t make Rivals any less insulting. It could have been a triumphant revival of a niche, but well-loved, genre. It could have done what classics like Tiberian Sun or Red Alert 2 offered, but with fresh and interesting twists. Hell, it could have been a remaster of those games! A remaster would have printed money! Apparently, though, not enough money. The mobile market remains immensely profitable, after all, mobile revenue makes up more than half of the entire industry’s profit. To tap into it makes good business sense. But did it have to be CnC? It shows a lack of commitment to what made the brand popular in the first place. Even if the cancelled Generals 2 apparently been hot garbage pushed into an e-sports space, it was still more of a CnC game than this! If people think we dodged a bullet with that, we jumped onto a pile of nails.
But oh no, they weren’t done yet. The devil, as they say, is in the details. They didn’t call it Command and Conquer until well after we’d put the pieces together ourselves. An embarrassing CGI (not FMV!) trailer had the series’ iconic antagonist Kane with 100% more bones in his face. The studio developing it is called Redwood Studios, a name that’s far too coincidental for its own good. Yes, I know that it’s what’s left of Visceral Games and is named for the area it’s in, but that doesn’t make me miss Westwood Studios less. What’s worse, Tiberium had been ‘tastefully’ renamed to “green crystals”. My teeth can only take so much kicking.
But what really makes my emotional response to this hurt is that half of this rant isn’t founded in reason. I’m upset that chances to revive a franchise – nay, a genre – have been squandered, but what else could I have expected? I literally just outlined why an old-school CnC title wouldn’t work in the way that a big publisher expects it to. I’m a self-confessed reactionary when it comes to half-arsed franchise revivals, so I would have revulsed at this no matter what form it took. Maybe any success Rivals finds will result in gathered interest for a full-on revival that’ll do the series justice! I can still go back and play Red Alert 2 again. Frank Klepacki’s amazing soundtracks aren’t being taken away from us.
However, I’m done holding my breath. I’m so tired. At the end of the day, the corpse of a beloved franchise has been dug up and defiled. This is Command and Conquer now, whether we like it or not. A new game in the vein of Red Alert or the original Tiberian Dawn is downright impossible. Kane was wrong: You can kill the Messiah.
You can watch the reveal footage here.
Rest in peace, old friend.