This site recently posted the incredibly smart thoughts of Callum McCole on the increasingly infamous Command and Conquer: Rivals and there is a lot to take in. The game is obviously quite divisive, or rather it is just negative for the most part but many fans of the real time strategy genre have taken to the defense of the game, include the curator of this site, Wayward. Much of the defense has focused on helping people understand the goal of the game and many of these defenders are people who I greatly respect and feel their opinions need to be heeded. I also want to defend the game on a basic level, that it truly is a real time strategy game, just with a twist to it.
It doesn’t want to be a traditional RTS, it wants to solve many of the issues related to the genre such as delayed feedback and learning loops, game length (though this problem varies from game to game) and speed of play while also trying to keep a few hooks in the foundation of the genre. Now C&C: Rivals is an RTS by definition. It has a macro cycle with economy and production, it features unit control and other traditional RTS elements. Much of that is truncated down but the game is truly an RTS and like the last divisive game in the genre, Dawn of War 3, it is getting mislabeled. Both games are real time strategy games, they just don’t fit the mold most hold but we shouldn’t be calling it a non-RTS purely because of the system it is on. It also may be one of the best real time strategy games on the market for mobile and by a wide margin from my extremely limited mobile gaming experience.
But having said that I do not like the game but instead of discussing gameplay, design and other topics, I want to delve into two key issues with the game that are entirely unrelated to the game itself. Now I am hesitant to write this article because my issues are very personal rather than subjective and I am afraid they will not be conveyed clearly but I feel the need to attempt this endeavor so here are my two issues:
- The game could remove the name Command and Conquer from the title and almost no one would know it belonged to the series, that is to say, the mechanics don’t express the series
- The game removes itself too far from what gave the series identity
Now let’s break them down one at a time. After putting some time into the game it is clear there were two stages to this development. First there was the building of what the game would be (that is to say, it would be an RTS with a hex system, zone control, macro style, etc) and the second stage where they skinned the game and added theme (when the Command and Conquer aspect was added). We actually know this is how the game was designed because EA told us:
“When the team came up with the construct of the game and we realized that there was a great fit for the C&C brand and we could make the game better as a result, that just felt like the next natural step.°“
The game was built and then C&C was added on later. Now this is something we’ll bring up later but it does happen at other companies but clearly this wasn’t designed as a C&C game. Since that stage began the team has added a number of C&C vets to try and bring the flair back, including veteran Greg Black. They’ve added a number of non-gameplay features to the game to reinforce that this game is trying to show that C&C is the skin. They have the match opening with the MCV, the factions and unit names from the universe but the actual units play like any generic RTS unit. Animations were added, as were series favorite commanders but those aren’t the game, they are the skin and are replaceable. I showed the game to a friend and he thought it was a Halo Wars mobile game because so many units actually look like units from that series. They put C&C names on the units but because many of the units were designed prior the C&C addition, they play like a unit found in a dozen games.
At the core, if you strip away the ascetic, the game isn’t a C&C game. I want to say clearly, that doesn’t make it a bad game, the game is honestly one of the better mobile games I’ve ever played (take that with a grain of salt, I play almost zero mobile games) but if you slapped a Halo Wars intro to the match, people wouldn’t be able to tell it was a C&C game. Change the intro to Supreme Commander, tweak and add one or two units and it would match that series. That doesn’t make it a bad game but it does mean that it seems the C&C name was added due to marketing it rather than embracing it, at least according to EA. The team has put their heart and soul into the skin of the game to make it LOOK like a Command and Conquer game but it doesn’t FEEL or PLAY like a Command and Conquer game. Let me phrase it this way, take your favorite few real time strategy games and alter the ascetics but keep the gameplay the same, would you be able to tell what game it was? You likely would be able to, because the identity of a game is found in the mechanics, not what the commander is named or the description of the unit.
That isn’t a knock on the quality, it is a knock on what type of game it is. This brings me to the game with the most similarity to C&C: Rivals, not in style or genre but in situation: Metroid Prime: Federation Force. Like Rivals it was built by a small team with no series attachment at the start. Like Rivals it attracted attention from the higher ups. Like Rivals the management felt that they could slap a series name and new director onto the game for the second half of development to add the new skin they needed. Reading the history of the two games is almost shockingly similar.
For those who don’t know much about Federation Force it was met with similarly hostile fan reception (both post incredibly horrible Youtube thumbs up/down ratios) when they were announced at E3. Both had leadership running damage control. Here is the response to the negative feedback Federation Force got from Nintendo of America’s president Reggie Fils-Aime:
“What the fan at home saw was something in the Metroid Prime universe that they weren’t expecting. The reaction has been negative. There’s no sugar coating it… This is an example where fans who aren’t able to get their hands on the game may be at a bit of a competitive disadvantage. Everyone who has played what we are showing regarding Metroid Prime, they’ve come across really pleased. My ask is that fans trust us.°”
Those are nearly the exact same words coming from the development team and EA. I’m not kidding, replace “Metroid Prime” with “Command and Conquer” and it is a bit creepy. EA, like Nintendo, says fans weren’t expecting this, that the reaction was negative and say fans need to play the game and trust them because it will be good. This brings me to my second main issue with the game and it stems directly from the first point: A game that strays too far from what made the series itself has betrayed that legacy.
I want to tell you how Metroid Prime: Federation Force ended up. The game didn’t crack the top 10 in sales in Japan or England the month of release, the only two countries that publish their sales and is widely viewed as one of Nintendo’s biggest blunders in recent years. Support for the game ended almost immediately and Nintendo has refused to answer any questions on the game post-release. But was the game actually good? The answer is, kind of. It wasn’t bad and this is my big point, the game wasn’t bad but suffered because of the series it was attached to. If you are unfamiliar with the Metroid series it actually has taken huge steps away from the foundation of the series, going from a side scroller to a first person shooter. In Federation Force they didn’t even leap far in terms of genre change, they kept the same first person gameplay but changed it to a co-op squad based shooter with different classes. The crazy thing is this aspect of the game was almost universally praised in reviews. People liked the gameplay and the game was actually slightly ahead of the hero base shooter genre by a few months. But what they took issue with is the same thing people take issue with in Rivals, the game may be decent or even good but slapping a skin of a famous genre doesn’t make it true to that genre.
Federation Force was a respectable game that was praised for the foundational gameplay but knocked for the skin it wore. Rivals I imagine will suffer a similar fate, people who try it tend to like it a bit but the biggest knocks are what was added once the foundation was built, the Command and Conquer skin. Most reviews and fan thoughts on Federation Force felt if they removed the Metroid aspects of the game they would have been more attracted to it. It had a big publisher in the corner (Nintendo and EA with Rivals), why throw a skin onto it that just gives fans a reason to not like the game because it breaks what made the series great. Had EA shown a trailer without Kane and excluded the Command and Conquer name, would it have the same negative press? Not at all, it likely would have been getting less press overall but it would likely be more positive.
Great games change genres regularly but the successful ones keep their core the same. Rivals isn’t a bad game and once it is finished will likely be a fine game but like the mirror game Metroid Prime: Federation Force, it isn’t true to the series. Rivals is a solid mobile RTS with no Command and Conquer mechanics but wearing the skin. Rivals would have been better off without the Command and Conquer name dragging it down. Let the game stand on its own, let it win you over with the quality of itself not on the legacy name it is wearing. We know EA added the name to help with marketing and sales, which is entirely normal for a big company that is scared to do but they made a mistake. Nintendo did the same thing two years ago, learn from the mistakes others have made rather than repeat them.
I don’t dislike Rivals because if is a mobile game, hex based maps, macro and unit progression or anything like that. Series can change genres and still be great. That is preferential and I know many who enjoy that in a game. I dislike Rivals because of how it uses the name at the top, Command and Conquer. Like Federation Force before it, there is a good game under too much weight that the name implies. Federation Force would have been better off without Metroid, Rivals would be better off without Command and Conquer.