Is it just me, or have greatest hits collections become just another way to suck money from your fan base? I mean, if the Rolling Stones want to release a retrospective on their 40 years as a major influence in rock and roll, that’s super with me, but where does Britney Spears come off culling a greatest hits album from four albums over five years? And then I rip open the FedEx mailer and something like Command & Conquer: The First Decade falls out – it really makes me wonder. Technically, C&C:TFD isn’t even a greatest hits album, because it includes EVERYTHING in the C&C lineage, the good, the bad, and the ugly, six games with six expansion packs between them, and who do they really expect to buy this? Fans, and I loosely include myself in that category, already own these titles (I, in fact, already owned 8 of them), and are non-fans interested in digging out ten year-old games, and if they are, are there not a plethora of them available on Ebay? One big hard drive clogging mystery, that’s what we have here.
For those of you who have been living under a rock for, oh, let’s say the last decade, the Command and Conquer series perhaps pioneered what has become known as the RTS genre. They were the first to do 3D terrain effects (or was that Total Annihiliation?), the first to do unit promotion (or was that Warlords Battlecry?), the first to institute a build queue (or was that Starcraft?). In short, it’s hard to tell who did what first, and I’m sure there’s plenty of disagreement to be found, but I can say that C&C was right in there, providing interesting, complex RTS games (and inexplicably one FPS set in the C&C universe, though I’m going to let that one slide). They had involved storylines, at one time utilizing FMS that starred James Earl Jones and Kari Wurher (dressed like Lara Croft – yowza!), and scripted events, evolving mission objectives, everything. For a market that typically is lucky if a title goes two sequels (with the exception of sports titles), C&C went along for six, and they were for the most part quality titles, but do I have any urge to go back and play them again?
For starters, just out of curiosity, I dug out my copy of C&C to see if it would still run on a modern machine, and you know what? I might be in the minority here, but at least on my rig it installed and ran without problem. But let’s say, just for the sake of argument, that Electronic Arts actually did a little tweaking to make sure these old titles would run on all the new machines, do you know what you get when C&C runs correctly? Yuk, that’s what you get. Nasty, bland, pixilated characters and units, awful, grainy compressed FMV, and you get what RTS games were 10 years ago – no unit formations, stupid pathfinding, there’s no building queue for chrissakes! I had completely forgotten that there was a time when there was no building queue. I’m not nostalgic, I’m nauseous. It’s not until you get up around Red Alert 2 that any of these games is remotely worth playing. Not only that, but if for some reason most likely related to a chemical imbalance or a sharp blow to the head you actually want to take a crack at playing C&C with a friend, all the early games used a client called Westwood Chat to run multiplayer games, and that’s not even included on the DVD, which I see as a pretty cheesy omission on EA’s part.
A second DVD contains about an hour worth of video, most of it being an interview with one of the guys who started Westwood Studio. He has some interesting stuff to say about C&C, the creation what is unquestionably the first RTS (Dune), Temple of Apshai, and the growth of videogaming in general. Rather than find other interesting people from that era to also interview, they chose instead to interview a bunch of people who work for EA now, people about 25 years old who say things like “Generals was so cool,” and “I spent hours in high school playing Tiberian Sun.” Whatever. Why should I care? There’s a quick teaser about the future of the C&C series, about how the collection is called The First Decade (wink, wink) indicating that they plan there to be another one, and basically tells you nothing about the next game or when we can expect it. I’m actually going to say that I’m happy I watched the videos, though in no way does it make purchasing the rest of the collection worth it.
Look, I reviewed C&C:Generals (though not the expansion pack Zero Hour) for GO about three years ago (82%), and I’m still playing it every so often to this day. In their time, many of these could be considered great titles, but there’s nothing new here. There’s old here. There’s some very old here. Some very, very old here. If they had done something, included another Generals expansion packlet just to give me the inkling that perhaps they had put some work into this collection rather than just stuffed it into a box, I might be more favorable towards it. But they didn’t. They took some old games and some home movies and they burned it all to disk and they threw it into the stores. If you’re an RTS fan that somehow missed some of these titles (the newer ones), sure, give it a go with the understanding that a lot of stuff you take for granted now in RTS games won’t be there. Or if you don’t own Generals but like RTS games or the C&C series, pick up the series for the last two titles alone (or find them on Ebay, where there are currently dozens of copies for sale under $5 (+S&H). Or, if you’re part of that internet crowd who hangs out in their basements listening to Journey or Asia and dedicating your days to getting games from your youth to run on modern PCs, EA has done the work for you and you can tug the pull tab on a Mr. Pibb and rejoice. For the other 97% of us, there’s nothing to see here. Move along.