Westwood to EA and The RTS Gaming Dead End

Westwood to EA and The RTS Gaming Dead End

They're all the same game with rehashed graphics?

Pakman by Pakman on Mar 16, 2011 @ 01:00 PM (Staff Bios)
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Today's rant is about my feelings toward the Westwood Studios/Electronic Arts real time strategy (RTS) games and their progression over the years which now seems to be at a crossroads or in my opinion, more of a dead end. Although I must admit that it isn't just them as a company but I'll delve into that later. All of this leads one to question their style of unique game play, or lack thereof, and why I can't seem to understand their popularity given a few examples.

So for all you Command & Conquer fans out there who think I will be putting the various games down by pointing out my opinion of their identical nature and game play, well, I guess in a sense I am. But I also appreciate the fact that if you played any of their older games then you would feel right at home if you picked up any of their newer releases. It's just kind of disappointing that when they make games of different titles which apparently have nothing to do with each other (Emperor: Battle for Dune, C&C: Red Alert 2, C&C 3, C&C Generals) would have more differentiating qualities than just their graphics and slight aesthetic changes to their buildings/menus setup.

I first heard of Westwood and their C&C line of games when I was busy learning all about the different RTS games in 2000-2001 like Earth 2150 and Warzone 2100 etc... Yeah, you know, the not so popular brands that people played, besides the old CnC and Warcraft games.

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Well I finally caved in and bought a copy of Red Alert 2 around 2001, whenever it was released. It was unique, in the sense that it was still a 2D game when I had already played 3D and 2.5D style RTS games (Total Annihilation and TA: Kingdoms). The units were interesting with the comedic dialogue and little 2D animations. The game interface and game play was different than the other games I had so far, though still somewhat following the RTS standard, if a little simplistic for my taste.

You pick a standard main faction (USA, or USSR/Russia) and then you could also choose a "sub-faction" or "ally" with a specialized unit (Great Britain allowed training snipers, Korea trained powerful fighter jets). Ok, this is fun, each player could have a slightly different set of skills and use the specialized units to suite their play style/taste (I loved snipers back then!). The control menu was off to the right or left side and you just clicked the building/unit to train them from available factories. Ok, simple enough, no builder units, who build the building so that's fine. The main base or MCV was able to pack up and move elsewhere if you needed to. That's cool I suppose?

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Next I got Emperor: Battle for Dune. Westwood Studios as well, I believe in 2001. Fancy new graphics in 3D! I didn't think much of it. Well, I played some single player to get started. I got to pick a faction from 3 different ones, as opposed to 2. Great! 'Ok so hmm, this is interesting,' I thought, deploy-able "MCV" main base building. Seems familiar. Oh look, "Spice" harvester - they collect crap from the ground and bring it back to the Spice refinery - hmm seems about standard operation for most RTS, if once again familiar. Oh here we go! Select sub-house (Sub-faction or "Ally" race again...). Hmm looky looky, one of them unlocks - the sniper! Ok so this is rather boring, the gameplay is simplistic, the "sub-house" system is exactly like the Red Alert 2 game, the only other Westwood game I had played back then. I got tired of the campaign and put it away, never to be touched for 10 years.

Then later a couple of years down the line, I tried out the older Command & Conquer 2 Tiberian Sun vintage title. No surprise, same Westwood game. Same kind of unit make up, build tree, painfully slow resource gathering, and menu system as the "newer" Red Alert 2 and Dune games I had experience with so far.

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Then in 2003 I got Command & Conquer Generals, a brand new game with blazing new 3D graphics and all that jazz. It seemed a little different than the previous games. The main "Command Center" was a true stationary building, making it vital to guard. Bulldozers were used in construction base structures, as opposed to hitting a button on the left side menu. Speaking of which, the menu was now in a new style - bottom of the screen, with pictures of the units and buildings (why they had to do that instead of a more recognizable unique building icon or representation of the unit to make them more discernible is beyond me, even today I still have to hover the mouse over certain buttons so I know what the heck it is before I construct the building). All well and dandy, and different from their previous titles where you ordered buildings and units from the common menu tab system on the left/right of the screen.

Of course the same old sub-faction system was changed to a "General" system. That meant you can either pick a standard faction (USA, GLA, CHINA) or yet again, pick a more specialized "General" so you disabled certain units for the faction in favor of a few more powerful units/abilities. Ok, so they still have that type of gameplay in here. Not a bad thing, again to allow folks to play in their own preferred style. The game is still fun, as compared to the ho-hum Dune game I mentioned earlier.

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Fast forward a few more years, and via a LAN party I got to play Command & Conquer 3. Far more advanced graphics, cooler looking units, and buildings. But wait.. same right side menu and tab build system. Same slow resource gather... What is this....same old subfactions with same identical units and buildings as any of their other titles, just different names. Hell they even got the same Red Alert 2 "I got the Knowledge" Engineers that did exactly the same thing, except with meaner looking personal armor/costumes. Hmm, I guess EA Games (Westwood Studios was absorbed in 2003) just decided to stick with what their fans were used to, instead of trying to make the games more innovative/different in feel.. Perhaps that's not all that bad, is it? I don't know... Something bugs me about it to this day.

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With that said, I'll agree Westwood and Command & Conquer games aren't the only culprit, Blizzard's Warcraft 1, 2, 3 and Starcraft 1 and 2 have similar game mechanics and game play, so maybe I am wrong in my view. But their units are not identical. Marines and Ghosts in Starfact, do not have any similar counterparts in Warcraft games. Zerglings from Starcraft don't have Horde equivalents in Warcraft 3. I think C&C: Generals and it's expansion, Zero Hour, are probably the only games in my opinion, that sort of breakaway from the typical C&C line of game play, at least somewhat different in the way the factions, and units are setup.

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In closing, I think what I'm trying to say is - let's try something unique. No, I'm not talking about dumbing down game play like Command & Conquer 4 or Supreme Commander 2, and basically driving your fans away. I'm talking about advancing RTS game play with newer features that we haven't had in the last 18 years of this niche. Things that made Starcraft, Earth 2150, Total Annihilation, and Generals, so much fun. Little tidbits, dialogue, story lines, game play options, (co-op two player campaign anyone???) something other than the same old Warhammer: Dawn of Winter style point-of-control game play everyone seems to now want to gear toward.


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