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Command & Conquer: Rivals brings classic strategy to the small screen

RTS relaunched for mobile

Command & Conquer: Rivals Electronic Arts

Command & Conquer is one of the best-known franchises from the golden age of PC real-time strategy games. Now it’s returning as a mobile combat game, with the likes of Clash Royale in its sights. The good news is, it’s fun.

Electronic Arts today announced Command & Conquer Rivals, which is coming out for Android and iOS later this year. EA has set up a destination for anyone interested in registering to enter alpha tests. Android users can enter a pre-alpha today.

I loved playing this series when it ruled the RTS scene back in the ’90s, when armies of the Global Defense Initiative fought the Brotherhood of Nod. As then, the new game is about manufacturing military units, sending them into battle and gaining control of territory through smart strategy. On a mobile screen, it’s been greatly simplified and streamlined, with games taking a few minutes rather than the best part of an hour.

Rivals mostly plays out like Clash Royale, except that units can be controlled throughout their lifespan, instead of just going off and doing their thing. They will attack any enemies that are nearby, but I can choose which enemies to attack in the heat of battle. This gives the game a chesslike dynamic of feint and counter that feels surprisingly deep. I can also choose commanders from my deck, who have specific powers. One of my favorites is the ability to drop a turret deep into enemy territory.

I take control of a military base, manufacturing different types of combat units for rock-paper-scissors-style warfare. I must inhabit at least two of three map locations in order to control a massive rocket, which is counting down to launch. Maps come in different aesthetic and tactical varieties.

The resource system gives me a starting amount of currency, in the form of Tiberium, with a regular amount also added to my coffers as time ticks on. I can boost my income by manufacturing a Tiberium mining unit, but this costs resources, and makes for easy pickings for my enemies. Killing an enemy mining unit also offers a big resource boost.

This all adds up to a game that feels like it’s honoring the legacy of more complex PC-based games of yore, while accounting for the limitations of a smaller screen. My feeling is that this free-to-play game will live or die based on its monetization system. Players can earn new units and upgrades as they progress, or they can buy them. Matchmaking is based on skill level.

This is the first Command & Conquer game since the cancellation of Victory Games’ Command & Conquer for PC, in 2013. The last Command & Conquer release was Command & Conquer: Tiberium Alliances, released as a free-to-play browser game in 2012; it is still available.

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