There was a time during high school in which my parents very seriously considered checking me into a video game addiction rehab facility. For a two-year period, If I was awake, I was playing Zero Hour, an expansion to the real time strategy game Command and Conquer: Generals. And I was awake a lot more than usual. My dad went to work at 3 AM: On many occasions I would hear his alarm go off, pretend to be asleep while he was getting ready for work, then start playing again the second he went to work. Then I’d go to school, post on my clan’s Zero Hour forums from the computer lab, and start playing again when I got home.
Earlier this year, I decided to reinstall the game 12 years after I’d stopped playing it to see if I was still any good at it, for a potential Motherboard article. I logged on, played a game or two, and suddenly, horrifyingly found that I was still playing it at 4 AM on a Tuesday. I put the laptop in a desk drawer and didn’t take it out for a month.
This is all to say that Zero Hour and the other games in the legendary Command and Conquer series were really, really fun. They are, by far, the most fun I’ve ever had playing video games, and even though I don’t really game anymore, I periodically check to see if publisher Electronic Arts—which has terribly mismanaged the series (another rant for another time)—is ever going to release a new one.
In any case, after nearly a decade, EA has remembered that it owns the beloved brand, and finally announced a new game, Command and Conquer: Rivals, this weekend at E3. Based on the announcement and gameplay videos it has shown, it looks to be a travesty, an affront to everything that made the series so fun. Fans and gamers are furious, and, well, so am I.
Starved of a real CNC RTS since 2008’s Red Alert 3, Rivals continues EA’s experimentation with free-to-play and MOBA-style games (Command & Conquer 4 & Tiberium Alliances are not really considered by any serious CNC fans to be actual CNC games, as far as I know.)
Based on what I’ve seen, Rivals takes everything that is fun about RTS games—base building, resource management, chess-style strategy, and the fact that games can last five minutes or five hours—and turns it into a frenzied micromanagement fest.
In Rivals, two players compete to control grids on a tiny map, and whoever happens to be standing on them when a nuclear missile countdown clock finishes gets to launch it. Launch the nuke twice, and you win. Gone (or seriously dumbed down) is rushing, turtling, unit amassing, flank attacks, map exploring, and tech tree development. Games seem like they will last, at most, five minutes.
In the E3 demo, a game that had just seemed to be getting interesting—the GDI player had just gotten a Mammoth Tank on the map while the Nod player had some sort of helicopter that the GDI player had no counter for—ended because of the game’s time limit.
Because it’s free-to-play, it will probably require an intense amount of grinding or deep pockets to unlock better units, rather than the standard and time-tested tech trees present in most RTSes.
On YouTube, EA’s official announcement video has 12,000 thumbs down and 359 thumbs up; on the old Zero Hour forums, people have come out of a decade-long hibernation to shit on the announcement.
There's nothing inherently wrong with this kind of free-to-play mobile strategy game. Millions of people play and enjoy them, which is why EA is making Command and Conquer: Rivals. It’s possible that Rivals will be fun, and it’s possible that lots of people will download and play it, but they’ll be playing something that isn’t CNC and isn’t an RTS. The best we can hope for now is that enough people play it to remind EA that there’s still a group of people out there who are desperate for a real, non- Starcraft RTS. Maybe we’ll get a real game next decade.