Command & Conquer (N64)

Command & Conquer (N64)
3.5
Game Name: Command & Conquer
Platforms: Nintendo 64
Publisher(s): Nintendo of America, Inc.
Developer(s): Looking Glass Studios, Inc.
Genre(s): Real-Time Strategy
Release Date: Jun. 1999

For whatever reason, there was a stretch in the late-’90s and early-’00s where developers decided to try to port PC games over to consoles, regardless of whether or not those consoles could really handle them. The Big Three of PC FPS’s, Duke Nukem, Doom, and Quake all made home console appearances, and were reasonably solid efforts (Bullshit! -J Man). Myst did. StarCraft did. Even The Sims found its way to GameCube and PlayStation 2. And it’s in that boat that today’s game, Command & Conquer for Nintendo 64, finds itself. As I may have mentioned before, my family didn’t have a computer during my formative years, so this was my first experience with Command & Conquer. The question then is, how does it hold up?

Using engineers to scoop up these shiny, undefended Nod buildings.

Using engineers to scoop up these shiny, undefended Nod buildings.

Well, better than you’d think. For those of you unfamiliar with Command & Conquer, and for whatever reason choosing to read this version instead of J Man’s review of the original, the world is at war, split between two factions, the white meat babyface, UN-created Global Defense Initiative, and the Brotherhood of Nod, who according to C&C’s canon is comprised of terrorist groups, the former Soviet Union, and ancient secret alliances, all led by the charismatic and apparently physically invincible Kane. In terms of gameplay, what this means is that the GDI rolls out big, expensive units, while Nod sends out cheap, expendable ones. If that sounds familiar, it’s probably because Westwood used the exact same formula for Red Alert…and Tiberian Sun…and Red Alert 2…and so on.

You’ll start off by picking a side to campaign with; GDI players will battle across Europe, and Nod sympathizers march through Africa. Immediately thereafter, you’ll see the first test of how well C&C was ported to N64, the mission briefing. On PC, these were full-motion videos, here, they’re replaced with still shots of your superior officer, although the voice acting is intact, albeit a bit scratchy. It does work, for the most part, although in some of the briefings, the ones that do a bit more to further the plot, it can be a bit confusing as to what exactly is going on.

Graphically, there’s a sort of pseudo-3D effect going on. The original C&C featured flat building sprites and animations, here, it’s a bit more fleshed out, so buildings do have an illusion of depth, but the camera doesn’t rotate, so you’re still only seeing buildings from one side. There are also some pretty neat effects with fire and explosions here, especially with the GDI’s air strike weapon, delivering a napalm strike that looks sufficiently hot and unpleasant to be stuck in. It should also be noted that C&C came out far enough along in the N64’s lifespan to utilize the Expansion Pak, which allows you to play in a higher definition, although like a lot of the N64’s attempts at hi-def, it only really seems to make sprites a lot smaller.

This is Seth. He's kinda lame, but he...goes away...after a while.

This is Seth. He’s kinda lame, but he…goes away…after a while.

Obviously, the biggest question you probably have is how well the controls ported over. After all, C&C was clearly designed for mouse controls, and the N64 sure ain’t a mouse. Well, the designers did a fairly commendable job here, as it turns out. The sidebar where you select buildings to be constructed and units to create is collapsible, called up and pushed aside with Z, which does keep it from cluttering up the screen, but you can’t order units around with the sidebar up, so if you’re in the middle of a pitched battle and need to drum up some reinforcements, it’s gonna be a little annoying to try to juggle troop production with working the sidebar. You can form teams by selecting a group of units and pressing R and one of the C buttons, then select that group by simply tapping that C button, which is fairly intuitive for commanding two different attack waves to converge on a target. The Control Stick does a serviceable job as a surrogate mouse, and the Control Pad features special commands like scattering a mass of troops, which can be useful if you have a pile of infantry in danger of being run down by tanks or airstrikes.

As for the campaigns themselves, while C&C does get something of a bad rap for being a repetitive “build base, smash enemy base” grind, there was a good bit of effort put into injecting some variety into the missions on both sides. For example, the GDI campaign has a mission where you play as a single lone commando unit assigned to take out a handful of enemy SAM sites, and then sneak into a Nod base without being detected to sabotage a specific structure. Hell, Nod’s campaign opens by going into a rebel village and razing it, so indeed, there is quite a bit of gameplay besides arms races.

GOTTA BUILD BIG TO FIGHT BIG.

GOTTA BUILD BIG TO FIGHT BIG.

That being said, my biggest issue with the gameplay is that, while theoretically, Nod and GDI are supposed to be opposite but equal, it doesn’t quite work out that way, and it feels like rather unbalanced at times in favor of GDI. While Nod’s special units are cheaper, by and large, and faster, eventually, you will have to attack GDI bases, and that can turn into quite the slog, as the most heavily armored Nod unit is still weaker than the mid-level GDI tank. Nod also relies somewhat on flame units, both flamethrower infantry and flame tanks, which work wonders on the infantry GDI largely doesn’t even bother to build in the later missions. GDI also gets the ability to produce Orca attack aircraft, Nod gets no air units of their own without capturing a GDI helipad, and their only counter is to build costly, power-slurping SAM sites. And to really add insult to injury, the Mammoth Tank is literally capable of running over Nod’s recon vehicles like they were infantry.

Quite possibly the only area where Nod has a decided strength advantage is in their superweapon; constructing a Temple of Nod will grant you the ability to launch a nuclear missile. Even then, though, GDI still has something of an advantage, because Nod can only launch ONE nuclear weapon, whereas GDI players get both the ion cannon and the airstrike, which can be used multiple times. Now, this imbalance doesn’t break the game by any stretch; Nod’s campaign is in fact quite beatable, but those playing on that side should be warned that they’re in for a bit of an uphill climb.

Now, it’s a good thing that the campaigns are as long and involved as they are, because that’s pretty much the entirety of the gameplay, sadly, there’s no skirmish mode here, and the only missions besides the campaign are the “Special Ops” missions, two for each faction, that play very similarly to the regular missions, so much so that you’ll kinda wonder what’s supposed to be so special about them. There’s also no multiplayer mode to be found here, and while that’s not terribly surprising, given that I’d imagine trying to run this engine in split-screen would be a cast-iron nightmare, the exclusion doesn’t help matters.

Attention to Detail: Nod studies factors like "government corruptability".

Attention to Detail: Nod studies factors like “government corruptability”.

I do have some a few other small niggling issues with C&C. First of all, the EVA voiceover makes its presence known a lot. A LOT. Be prepared to hear “unit lost” dozens, if not hundreds of times during a mission, which I wouldn’t mind so much if it was alerting your attention to something happening off-screen, but no, you’ll hear it even if you’re actively managing your troops and are fully aware that some of them are dying. Second, while I don’t think the AI flat-out cheats, they usually start in a position to frustrate the hell out of you in the early going of base-building. Towards the end of the Nod campaign, it becomes standard operating procedure for the enemy to blast your construction yard with an ion cannon shot as soon as you deploy it, which feels even cheaper because it doesn’t destroy your construction yard, it just damages it enough to make you have to spend money and effort repairing it, and on the other side of the coin, it’s not surprising for Nod units to show up to harass you while you’re trying to get going, but it’s never really threatening enough to take you out right away.

Overall, though, I’d say the the N64 version of Command & Conquer acquits itself well. It’s a bit different graphically from its PC parent, and the controls aren’t quite as clumsy as you would expect them to be, considering they had to port mouse-and-keyboard controls to the N64 controller. If for whatever reason you didn’t have access to the PC version, this is still a fine way to get acquainted with the C&C universe without feeling like you’re missing too much. I recommend it if you’re interested in seeing a competent version of a strategy game on consoles, or if you just want some of that classic C&C gameplay. Just remember to make sure you have enough Tiberium Silos built, or you’re going to hear about it quite a bit.

 

The Good

Solid port of the PC version, control scheme is surprisingly functional, maintains most of what made the original so good.

The Bad

GDI feels a little bit overpowered, not great detail in units, no skirmish mode or much else besides the main campaign.

2 Comments

  1. Stoo says:

    Interesting that Looking Glass Studios did this conversion; they’re usually associated with their highly immersive first-person games like Thief. Maybe they just needed the cash… (not to put C&C down, it’s just nothing like any of their own games).

  2. The J Man says:

    Ehh, once we hit the PS1, N64, even 3DO era, console FPSs were… solidly okay. I can’t think of any I’d outright dismiss.

    Interesting that the 3D models don’t really add much. I guess I *assumed* the camera rotated, because I remember the 3D-ness being a big selling point. And good to hear that the analogue stick slides a mouse cursor around well enough. I was going to say that I’d imagine trying to do that with a D-pad would be a terror, but then I remembered I did it with X-Com on PS1.

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