It seems to me that everything Westwood touched turned to gold. They were most famous for their real-time strategies — the pinnacle being Tiberian Sun itself — but they seemed to diverge from that mould more than history would have you believe and come up roses all the same. Foremost of course was their stab at the hack ‘n’ slash RPG, which produced one of the greatest games of all time, Nox.
Over here, though, we have their first-person shooter. Set in the Command & Conqueriverse, occurring some time during the original C&C, this answers the age-old question that haunts every strategy franchise — what would it be like to be in one of those battles?
Command & Conquer: Renegade
And it really is like being in one of those battles, although instead of troops and vehicles pouring out of equal but opposing barracks, the narrative takes you universally on the offensive. The game begins by surrounding you with huge assaults, hovercraft landing up the coastline to deposit friendly vehiles and helicopters parachuting in allies and supplies to spur you on into the enemy badlands.
In terms of actual moment-to-moment assault, it’s pretty flexible, as befits its strategy heritage. The game follows a linear narrative but levels are mostly pretty wide, giving you loops and side paths from which to approach your enemies; even though the main objectives are always in one direction there’s plenty of space to try it your own way.
Optional objectives are scattered along the road too, completion of which generally rewards you with more health, armour and ammunition… Plus you get a warm fuzzy feeling in the post-level stats screen when it says “4 of 4 completed”.
The flood of enemies you’ll have to fight through is pretty massive, and I wasn’t even playing it on hard mode. Enemy soldiers are not necessarily clever, but they come with the same variety of weapons you can use — and they’ll be para-dropped in as much as your own allies, so you have to keep your wits about you when thinking it’s safe to proceed, lest another group sneakily appear behind you.
Luckily, your arsenal contains a lot of weapons that will stagger your opponents and stop them from returning fire. Weapons like the flamethrower and chemical sprayer allow you to hose down large groups and even though these weapons don’t kill instantly, the constant streams will keep your targets locked in position (unless they are themselves flamethrower or chemical troops wearing hazard suits, in which case, try the opposite one).
The weapon progression is slightly odd, though, in that it drops several weapons very early, then gives you nothing new for ages until the run up to the finale. Your starting assault rifle, for example, is joined almost instantly by the sniper rifle, the sort of weapon that generally lurks further on through a campaign — though here that’s a blessing, as it allows you to pick off enemies across the sprawling battlefields without exposing yourself to turret fire.
It takes much longer before you get to the rocket launcher that allows you to fight back against vehicles, and it’s even further after that when you finally grab the rocket’s lesser sibling, the grenade launcher. The grenade launcher seemed like a bit of an afterthought to be honest, I’m not sure why they added it at all.
Then, right in the last few levels, there’s a veritable deluge of cool weapons. The Personal Ion Cannon is a one-shot-one-kill powerhouse (looks and feels more like the railguns of Tiberian Sun than an Ion Cannon but we’ll let that slide), and soon after your first fleeting glimpse of that you’ll find your first laser rifle — which cleanly supplants the more basic weapons by causing the same staggering as the flamethrower but with the accuracy of a sniper rifle.
The laser rifle is an odd one, though, because it is soon joined by the gatling laser rifle… which inexplicably uses different ammunition. I mean, it’s nice when you’re running low on one and discover you still have a full sack of the other, but the two weapons fire the same projectile (just one does it faster), so it would make sense for one to literally replace the other and consume the same juice.
Another odd weapon design decision is that you get the Tiberium Auto-rifle, a lovely toxic shard-spitter, at the stage of the game where Tiberium-infused mutants are doing the rounds and get healed by those projectiles. You hardly get much opportunity to use this gun before the game comes to a close.
Of course there is another set of weapons available — those mounted on vehicles. Vehicles are not as freely available as you might hope considering the scale of the battles that generally rage; while enemies and allies duke it out with their heavy armour you can only get into a vehicle that has been parked and left unlocked (or helicoptered in as a reward for completing an optional objective).
As this is C&C1 era we are limited to GDI Humvees, Medium Tanks and Mammoth Tanks, and Nod Attack Buggies, Light Tanks and Flame Tanks, rather than the Tiberian Sun Titans we so dearly desire, but it’s a start. The usual rules apply, with vehicles providing speed and light weapons or armour and heavy weapons and letting you squish troublesome foot soldiers.
After vehicles comes the final item on the strategy game roster — buildings. You don’t get to build anything for yourself, but buildings do exist as things in Renegade rather than merely as terrain decorations. They’re nestled properly into the landscapes instead of plonked down on a grid, but they still have recognisable shapes and they will spawn soldiers and vehicles until demolished… just like the real things!
As a foot soldier, though, your damage-dealing capabilities are fairly limited. That means, of course, that you have to go inside.
Maybe this is one of the places where Renegade‘s conceit starts to wobble. The idea of Going Inside the Buildings is well cool, but the internal arrangements are often confusing and lose any sense of the external shape. Rather than having rooms that fill the visible outline of a building with a few decks and control rooms, they tend to do one floor on the surface and then send you underground into less meaningfully connected spaces.
The Hand of Nod in particular has a confusing warren beneath it. While there are fun elements like a gym and a fake forest training area, scrabbling around getting lost in that maze of tunnels looking for the way to the Master Control Terminal isn’t always fun — and because buildings are standardised they get to repeat this set-piece several times, varying only the loot you find and the enemies hiding inside.
Ah well, if you can track down an Ion Cannon beacon, you can always plant that outside the front door and watch the fireworks instead.
I loved it. The narrative is a good-natured ham-fest and the action is top notch. Maybe your movement speed is a bit slow, and maybe the engine is a little bit janky around the edges, but overall it’s an exciting romp with a satisfyingly chunky campaign.
I guess the only regret we have now is that we never got to see a Renegade 2 set in the Second Tiberium War…