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Command & Conquer is back, and it makes me want to scratch my eyes out

C&C Legions is an affront to the IP that spawned it. Where is Red Alert 4?

Tim Curry, slightly blurred, sits atop of C&C Legions key art and logo.
Image credit: VG247

I bloody love Command & Conquer. Back in the day I used to play disgusting amounts of Red Alert 2 and Tiberian Sun. A little later, I always enjoy boasting, I spent more time maintaining a rank in the top fifty or so online in Red Alert 3 than I did studying. While I have a great deal of respect for the classics, part of me actually feels that on balance Red Alert 3 is one of the most well-rounded real time strategy packages ever released. It’s one of my favorite games of all time, in one of my favorite series of all time.

Anyway. Command & Conquer is back, baby! A new game has just been released. Command & Conquer Legions is now available in a beta form. I should be ecstatic. In reality, I can feel a piece of my soul being ripped from my body.

I gave Legions a chance. I want to be clear on that; I gave it a fair shake. A few hours of my time was poured into this on my phone. I would’ve been happy with a game that could give me a bite-sized bit of C&C that I could play on the toilet, to be honest. I’m obviously not expecting Red Alert 4. But this… not like this, yeah? Not like this.

Maybe this is just me coming at this from the angle of someone who doesn’t play that many mobile games - maybe it is the norm. But I could scarcely believe how rough the on-boarding process of getting into this game is.

Tightly hand-held tutorials guide you through the basic mechanics, which try to meld the visual and style of Command & Conquer with the trappings of the other ubiquitous base-building and sieging mobile strategy games. Its greatest sin is that it’s a boring opening.

Mobile game advert for C&C Legions.
It even looks like a generic mobile game ad. | Image credit: EA

It’s mostly concerned with introducing you to what feels like a hundred different currencies and concepts. Hero-style characters called Officers, an Inventory including things like Oil, Ore, and Gold, plus buffs and bonuses. A base to manage, a live chat with other users, offers, the shop, limited time events, power, a radar, some pulsating icon that won’t go away no matter what I do… it’s all here.

You log into this game and it’s absolute icon vomit: there’s stuff everywhere, bombarding you with things to do. Keys jingle-jangle louder and louder until my eyes glaze over and then roll into the back of my head. You can tell it wants you to feel engaged so desperately that the answer is apparently to just flood you with notifications every time you log in.

The game tips its hand quickly, obviously: you get a couple of Officers for free, but if you want famed C&C commando Tanya, the fastest way is to open up your wallet. There’s a range of other named heroes, except few of them mean anything to the C&C franchise as the series doesn’t have enough truly recognizable characters to pad out a 30-strong hero line-up.

Still, this is a game where Albert Einstein can pop out of a gacha loot box - so it’s got that going for it. I’m envisioning him popping out of the loot box and looking the player in the eye to deliver one of his most famous barbs: “Two things are infinite: the universe and human stupidity; and I'm not sure about the universe.” Arguably his greatest theory is proven here, by people who put money into stuff like this.

Einstein showing off a tank in C&C Legions.
FOR C&C: Legions, there really is no difference between large and small problems. | Image credit: EA

You’re deploying outposts, or something, then waiting for timers to tick down so you can pick up rewards. You upgrade a persistent base, though in the earliest phases there’s no agency to this base building as the game carefully instructs you of what to build and when. The simplicity of C&C, which was built on two resources - Ore and Power - is crushed down into endless other resources, each of which has to be mined and obtained either by waiting out timers or using boosts which, of course, you pay for.

There are real-time strategy battles, too. This is what leads all the advertising. But by the time I get to that, the misery of the mobile grind has demoralized me to the point that I just don’t care.

It’s a shame, too, because the battle bit seems alright. And the concept of an alternate-universe C&C story where elements of both the Red Alert and Tiberium storylines coexist is interesting, at least. But more than anything, I just can’t quite believe that this is the next step for this franchise.

When EA released the Command & Conquer Remastered Collection back in 2020, an EA Producer went on the record saying the game had “exceeded all of our expectations”. I, like many fans, thought the next step might be remasters of further games, or perhaps even exploring the idea of something new. I suppose they did explore something new - but that something new was this miserable, cynical thing.

The funny thing is, I don’t even think Legions’ cynicism is well-placed. I think the people with fond memories of C&C are broadly speaking older and more discerning, and even if they’ve fallen away from gaming they’re likely to bounce off this busywork ‘number goes up forever’ sort of game design. Meanwhile, the sort of people who do usually play this sort of game - the millions who get fleeced by total guff like Mobile Strike - probably have absolutely no idea what Command & Conquer is, leave alone why they should be hyped about an alternative universe where Yuri is still alive.

A scantily-clad woman near some blimps in C&C Legions.
Like a led zepplin. | Image credit: EA

I hate the sort of rhetoric I’m about to deploy. I strongly believe that, for the most part, any given game franchise is whatever the developers say it is. Final Fantasy 16 might be an action game first and an RPG second, but it’s still a Final Fantasy game because the people who made Final Fantasy say it is. With that said, let me indulge in a moment of peak hypocrisy: this rubbish isn’t a Command & Conquer game. It’s a standard mobile strategy thing draped in the skinned visage of one of PC gaming’s greatest ever franchises.

It’s rubbish. I’m off to reinstall Red Alert 3.

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