Ever since Westwood Studios was inevitably shut down, we’ve cringed at the thought of every new Command and Conquer release, and why shouldn’t we? Electronic Arts seems to have this reverse Midas touch with every studio and title it acquires. Okay, so they did pretty good with C&C 3, I can’t really deny that, but what about that mess they made of Red Alert 2? Sure, it was fun, but they completely trashed the story from Red Alert, particularly the part where Kane was supposed to be involved. While I hold EA responsible for many of their mistakes with the franchise, Westwood was never the innocent part here either. Their first smash hit Command and Conquer was good for its time, but it seemed to go downhill from there.
The release of Tiberian Sun was nothing short of amazing so long as you only played through the game once. Unfortunately, back then we tended to play games on repeat as digital releases weren’t a ‘thing’ yet, and players quickly found out that it was buggier than an overcrowded ant farm. If you delved too deep into the game you would find dozens of units that were never released along with game-breaking bugs that even made the average coder cringe. To be quite frank, Westwood sort of pioneered the idea of releasing a non-finished game. The thing didn’t even have an option to save skirmish games until a patch was released and if you didn’t have an internet connection you were just out of luck because the patch was slightly bigger than the capacity of a floppy disc and no one was going to waste a 700 meg CD on a tiny patch for you. Now noting all of that, I think that blaming Westwood’s problems on EA might be akin to the pot calling the kettle black, and with that in mind, I went into Rivals feeling at least a BIT optimistic. So, how badly did they let me down? Well, at least they put a safety net half an inch off the floor before they pushed me off the balcony this time.
C&C Rivals – What is It?
C&C has always been all over the board as to what it actually is, so it’s only fair to ask in this scenario. What the hell are we looking at here? You’ll be glad to know that we’re back in the Tiberium era, and this particular game conforms to the conventions of C&C 3: Tiberium Wars. It doesn’t follow any particular story, but it does bring back all of the units that you know and love including the basic infantry, zone troopers, wolverines, mammoth tanks, and yes, the much-loved Tiberium harvester. The big question though, is how well does C&C translate to a mobile device?
Playing C&C On your Mobile Device
Mobile strategy games are not a new concept, but doing them right is a constant problem that studios seem to have. I’m not going to go on a rant about mobile strategy games here but I will say that EA seems to have gotten the execution right for Command and Conquer: Rivals. Instead of giving you a massive map that you have to scroll around, they’ve gone ahead and condensed the entire thing into one screen and popped in a fog of war so that you can never see the entire thing unless you’ve managed to place units across the entirety of the map. As for the map itself, it is divided into hexes, which might seem limited, but it works perfectly given the type of gameplay they’re going for.
Building is a bit more streamlined in Rivals than it has been in past C&C installments with an MCV being deployed for you and giving you the option to add onto it as the game progresses. At the beginning of each round, you can build a war factory, barracks, tech lab, etc. A word of advice: always build a harvester at the beginning because you don’t want to get stuck with slow resources as waves of enemies are pounding away at your base. Of course, even if you do manage to get on top of the resources, you can only build as fast as your queue will refresh.
Building your Units
Unit building is handled via a bottom bar on the interface once you get into battle and when you start you will have access to a very basic retinue of infantry and vehicles. You’ll start off with riflemen, rocket soldiers, a Humvee, and a bulldog, each of which is able to counter a specific type of it. So, for example, if you are facing off against a group of infantry it would be best to use infantry or a Humvee. If you are facing vehicles, however, you should pull out the rocket launchers. It’s pretty simple and it’s really been that way since the days of the original C&C. Something I found to be really disheartening as I played this, was that a lot of the opponents I faced didn’t seem to understand the concept of unit counters, and therefore couldn’t really hope to beat me. In fact, some of my matches lasted for about two minutes.
Unit Upgrades are Key
One of the biggest differences between the mobile version and the more traditional versions of C&C is the need to upgrade your units outside of the game. In Tiberian Sun, we had the veteran status in which units would gain XP via an invisible system and increase in firepower and health once they attained a higher rank. In Rivals this is permanent, and you spend in-game currency earned through battles to make your upgrades.
Don’t Forget your Commanders
Just as in Generals, commanders really make the game here. When you enter battle, you do so under the flag of a specific commander, each one having a special ability. The default commander, for example, can deploy a turret to the battlefield, which can be a bit of an annoyance for your enemies. As you upgrade your commander you will have better build times, more harvester capacity, and a higher-level base. It might seem like an annoyance, but it does keep the game from getting repetitive.
Fighting for the Center
Okay, this next feature is one that you’re going to either love or hate. I find myself doing both at times. In the center of each map, there is a nuclear missile silo and you will be tasked with capturing platforms to wrest control and fire the missile at your opponent. The longer you hold the majority of the platforms, the more the meter fills up and works toward the launch. The most frustrating thing about it is that you can hold the platforms and fill up the bar all the way to the end, only to have it taken away from you, and then all your progress is used by the enemy to immediately launch a missile in your direction. Because of this mechanic, most battles will only last about five minutes, which is ideal for a mobile game that you’re playing on the commute to work.
Balanced Matching – Good or Not?
Matches are paired according to the player’s level. For example, as a level 4 player, I was matched with people between 3 and 5, though this does mean that you’re not going to be able to play with your friends unless they happen to be within the same level as you. I also noticed that if you got yourself into too much of a winning streak, they would keep up the same matching policy but would throw you in with players that had developed higher level units. They painted it as some type of a challenge, but really, I feel it’s to slap you back to where they think you belong. At this point it’s not a matter of skill, it’s laying down in front of a lawnmower and hoping that some of your limbs survive.
Do We Like this?
When they unveiled this game at E3, people were upset, to put it lightly. In fact, they treated it like a huge esports event, and almost no one seemed interested; actually, they seemed insulted. However, Let’s look at this logically. As Command and Conquer fans we’re a little jaded by the way EA treated the franchise ever since it managed to get its claws into it back around the release of Tiberian Sun, and we’re especially annoyed about the way that they hyped Generals, only to have it turn out to be some kind of tech demo that was barely even completed.
However, In my honest opinion, if this were not an EA game, and if it didn’t have the Command and Conquer name attached to it, then there is a very strong chance that more people would be flocking to it, even though it has some pretty nasty microtransactions. Overall, it’s one of the best mobile strategy games that’s ever been released; they allow full control over unit movement, unit counters are legitimate, and it’s pretty fun in general, even if you do get that twinge of burning hate in the back of your mind whenever you start it up and see the C&C logo.
Overall, it can be a lot of fun. The battles are tense, the fight to dominate the center has real risk, and you have to do a good job of anticipating what your opponent is going to pull out next. The interface is also pretty well laid out for a mobile game.
Learning Curve: 9/10
If you’re familiar with real-time strategy games then you will pick this up pretty easily. The base building is simplified and there is a rather proprietary strategy to learn. One of the most irritating parts of it, however, is that in holding the center, you have to make sure that your units are closer to the enemy base so that the enemy has to circle them to get around the platform. Just a little trick you’ll pick up as you’re playing.
Graphics / Sound: 8/10
It’s about as good as you could expect it to be considering it’s a mobile game. The techno music is pretty solid, and I actually turned the volume up, which is something I rarely do with mobile games.
So this is where the entire thing takes a bit of a hit for me; it does have microtransactions, so you will have to worry about people in your level bracket managing to get higher level units and basically crushing you on the battlefield. There’s really no way around it; it’s going to happen, and normally I would say to get better at strategy, but we both know that’s not going to help when your units are being burned alive like paper dolls covered in kerosene.
+Good Mobile Graphics
+Short, Exciting Matches
-No Lan Lobby/Custom Multiplayer
-It’s a Good RTS, but it’s Not C&C
-We really wanted this on PC, but do you guys not have phones?