Command & Conquer's Forgotten Free "Sequel"

By mrixrt | MRIXRT | 29 Apr 2021

Command & Conquer, one of the pillars of Real Time Strategy--a hugely successful franchise brought low by EA and turned into a free-to-play mobile game, but it’s still fondly remembered because it was so good, and there were a lot of them too. 12 games were released under Westwood, 8 more when Westwood became EA Los Angeles, and 2 released after EA killed them--one of which was the mobile game. Just a few months ago, EA also released the Command & Conquer Remastered Collection, but there was a game in the middle of all this that sort of disappeared. It wasn’t remastered, it wasn’t particularly lauded, and though it sold fine, and it was reviewed as fine, the game today is basically forgotten.

And you know what, it’s a travesty, this is a cool game. The game being, Command & Conquer: Renegade, a first person game set in the universe of Command & Conquer. So, instead of sending your units to go and capture a base, you are the unit that captures the base. If that immediately sets off some interest in your brain, stay tuned for a bit, because I have some very good news, but before that let’s look at Renegade.

Released February 27, 2002, Renegade is the only time that Westwood would produce a first-person game set in the C&C universe. Considering the pedigree, that shouldn’t be surprising, Westwood was famous for Real Time Strategy. They produced not only Command & Conquer, but also games like BattleTech, or Dune II--which if you think it looks a lot like the original Warcraft, well it did come out two years earlier. They also produced a little indie gem called The Lion King, which is one of the hardest games maybe ever made ever and certainly holds a spot in my heart for worst things to happen to me. I love giraffes, I do think they’re super cool animals, and when I go to the zoo I look for the giraffes and the penguins and that’s it, but the giraffes in The Lion King? Yeah they’re the world’s worst.

But other than that abomination, their real time strategy games are pretty much top shelf--gold standard. They’d just released Red Alert 2 and Battle for Dune, two very well regarded games even today, and then out comes Renegade.

Renegade follows the storyline of the original C&C, the Tiberium War between Kane and the Brotherhood of NOD, and the GDI, and fits pretty well into the storyline. Similar to how you can play World of Warcraft Vanilla and see how things fit into the storyline of Warcraft 1, 2, and 3--With Renegade you affect the story of the original game from the other side, you are the Bothans who find the plans for the Death Star. I won’t go into the story very much except to say that’s it fine, it’s okay, it’s very 2000’s. Lots of gruff and buff men saying things gruffly, with a lot of scripted sequences that clearly take their inspiration from Half-Life but without the same level of polish. The AI is basically not there, the enemies operate more like magnetic mines that track and head directly towards you than any real enemies, and they’re stupid and easy to kill. If the game played off that, and made it a jokey Duty Calls sort of “Oh he’s so good that the enemy soldiers just line up to die for him” kind of thing, maybe that’d be okay, but it’s plays it mostly straight and doesn’t subvert anything--so you’re likely to just think the AI is really dumb.

And that’s fine, this game sold reasonably well, but didn’t impress anyone too much, and that was that. The engine is probably the most interesting thing to come out of it, as it would go on to power games like Battle for Middle-Earth and Generals, two well regarded RTS games Westwood produced after being bought out by EA.

There’s also a remarkably interesting video that Westwood produced showing Havoc, the main character, busting down their office doors and exclaiming “There’s 15 million C&C fans waiting to fill these boots” in response to Renegade missing it’s launch date. This is a remarkable video, it’s linked down below, you should watch it sometime--2000’s man, hell of a decade.

But the part of this game that people remember is the multiplayer. The multiplayer of this game is something kind of special, and kind of unique--well ahead of its own time. Even today there’s nothing quite like it, and that makes it remarkably hard to define, but give me a chance: You have a base which consists of a series of buildings. Those buildings confer upgrades and bonuses to your base, and if they are destroyed you lose those bonuses. You have a resource gatherer that goes out in the map, outside of the base, and collects resources which you can then use to buy weapons, upgrades, new characters, vehicles, and special abilities to use against the enemy team. If you destroy enough of the enemy’s base, they lose bonuses, can produce less characters or less powerful vehicles, until eventually they are destroyed or the timer runs out. A competitive base defense game.

It’s super unique, super cool, and also super super dead. Nobody played it, even when it was brand new--everything went through GameSpy and sure, it had players--I’m not saying it didn’t--but it never reached truly grand levels. It never took the gaming world by storm, which really does suck. Today you can play it, you can still play it on Origin by paying them 5 or 15 dollars a month for the EA Play subscription--the new name for EA Origin Access. If you pay them, you can play Command & Conquer Ultimate, which includes Renegade from 2002, and there are technically servers--though I never figured out how to connect to them, because it still has GameSpy in the game. 

But you can totally play by yourself. Against bots. The same bots that use that AI I was saying barely exists. 

I understand why that might not sound very exciting.

So instead of doing any of that, instead of paying EA, instead of signing up for a subscription service filled with games you’ll never enjoy, and instead of playing a game against bots that don’t have an AI, why not try out this.

This is RenegadeX, a free spiritual successor built from the ground up by modders, absolutely for free. 

Two guys, in 2006, decided they wanted to play Renegade but you know, no servers, no support. So they started making a mod for Unreal Tournament 3, and a few years later they released it in 2009. They received a bunch of awards, including Best Upcoming Mod and Best Multiplayer, and decided in 2010 to make a standalone version. Two years later, in 2012, they released Operation Black Dawn, which is a single player tech demo. It takes about 30 minutes, you can play it right now, and it’s okay. It’s fine. But more importantly it showed promise for the multiplayer--let’s remember no one really remembers Renegade for the campaign. So, a few years later in 2014, the multiplayer beta was finally released, and you can go play it right now. This game has gotten an update basically every week since 2014, including several major updates, one of which is planned to come out any day now--called Firestorm. Firestorm is essentially a complete sequel, encompassing all of the Tiberian Sun era of Command & Conquer. If that’s not cool enough, it’s going to be part of the base game, so you can pick up this totally free game, play a badass multiplayer match in the Tiberium War era of Command & Conquer, and then map vote at the end and suddenly you’re playing in the future in Tiberian Sun. That’s just so frickin cool man, and definitely not something EA would ever do. They won’t even package all of The Sims 4 stuff together in an ultimate edition so I can play without dropping $450. 

This game is so incredibly cool, and it has a thriving community. I’ve jumped on a few times and every time there’s people playing it. The community is super active. I tried jumping onto empty servers just to kind of play around with a friend and experiment in the quiet, and even then people would immediately start playing on those servers too. It’s really fascinating how much people want to play this. 

64 player matches, two factions, dozens of classes, dozens of vehicles, and it’s stunning--the gameplay is stunning. I don’t know how this is free. I’m sure they’d love to take some money, but obviously EA would not like them to take any money. So it’s free to play, and you can download it and play it and tell other people to play it, and set up your own server and play it with friends. 

Or, if you’d like something a bit more AAA, back when EA absorbed Westwood, a bunch of the Westwood employees jumped ship. They ducked out, did their own thing, and even reinserted themselves by working on the Command & Conquer Remaster in a studio called Petroglyph Games. They’ve worked on Star Wars: Empire at War, Grey Goo, and 8 Bit Armies--all good RTS’s, if you were wondering where that talent went. And now they’re working on Earthbreakers, which you may have tried the demo for during the Summer Game Festival on Steam where hundreds of demos were released. Earthbreakers is New Renegade, from New Westwood, and it takes some interesting twists--for example you now build your base instead of defend an already built base. It has less vehicles, less characters, less players per team. It also this very weird CEL shading, which I don’t agree with but I’m not an artist. And overall, the game demo that I’d played--which unfortunately I didn’t know I’d make this video yet, so this is footage from the developers here--when I played it, I thought it was kind of bad. The gunplay didn’t feel great, the vehicles were okay, overall it felt very...2000s.

No, the modern Renegade is RenegadeX, which feels fresh and exciting--not this game in its current state. Hopefully they take that advice, which I assure I am not the only one saying it, and make it a little bit more modern, a little more...well, more.

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MRIXRT is Moriarty


Completely Biased. Video Game Critic & Digital Connoisseur. MRIXRT is Moriarty, and I create visual thinkpieces, or "Video Essays." My most popular videos focus on delivering complete histories of studios, genres, events, or specific games and their franchises. Articles are scripts of videos with minor additional editing.

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