‘Command & Conquer: Rivals’ hands-on preview

It's not the 'Command & Conquer' fans want, but 'Rivals' is light, strategic fun

Fast matches and easy-to-learn gameplay make "Command & Conquer: Rivals" great for quick competition.
Fast matches and easy-to-learn gameplay make "Command & Conquer: Rivals" great for quick competition.
Fast matches and easy-to-learn gameplay make "Command & Conquer: Rivals" great for quick competition.

Highs

  • Super-quick matches
  • Control point focus makes for interesting battles
  • Short learning curve
  • Maintains the spirit of bigger RTS games
  • Competition can get suitably intense

Lows

  • It's not really "Command & Conquer"
  • Fairly thin, casual experience
  • Not clear if it's deep enough for long-term engagement

Fans have been hoping for a new Command & Conquer for years now, and publisher Electronic Arts keeps teasing them. First, EA announced and cancelled its 2013 free-to-play reboot, simply called Command & Conquer. Now, at EA Play 2018, it announced Command & Conquer: Rivals, adaptation of the real-time strategy franchise. This is definitely not the robust military strategy game die-hard fans were looking for, but Rivals is a solid little mobile game that’s easy to learn and play, fun to compete in, and just deep enough to scratch the same RTS itch that would usually require one of its grown-up cousins to satisfy.

Command & Conquer: Rivals presents players with super-fast matches — great for a quick gameplay infusion without a big time commitment or learning curve. EA’s Redwood Studios has done a good job of translating the spirit of the Real-time strategy game, which is generally a very involved experience with complex controls, to a light mobile game experience that still evokes tension and makes you work for each victory.

Rivals pits two players against each other in a scaled-back version of classic RTS gameplay. When matches start, both players have a base nestled on one side of the screen, with the other player’s base just on the other side. The idea is to destroy the opposing base, but doing that isn’t about raising a big army and laying siege to its buildings, as you would traditional RTS games. Instead, players compete to capture three strategic points on the map, which prepare a nuclear missile in the center of the screen. When one person controls the majority of those areas, a meter fills, arming the missile. When one player fills the meter completely, the missile fires at their opponent’s base, draining half of its health.

command conquer rivals feature art

Most of the standard rules of RTS games are still in play in Rivals. You start the match by sending a resource collection unit to mine a mineral called Tiberium, which you then spend on units like soldiers, tanks, mechs and planes. Investing in different add-ons for your base diversifies the types of units you can purchase. Portraits of units you can purchase span the bottom of your screen, and tapping one deploys it instantly. Once deployed, you can tap each unit to select it, and tap the map where you want the unit to go, or tap an enemy that you want it to attack. Otherwise, it’ll attack enemies automatically when they come into range.

You need to direct units to stand on the control points around the map to take over the missile, but if both players have units on a control point, it stays neutral. That means that each match quickly becomes about contesting control points by outthinking your opponent as quickly as you can. If they send soldiers, you send flamethrowers that can overpower those soldiers. If they send tanks, you send aerial units the tans can’t hit. Most of the strategy is in picking the right unit for the job, while placing your troops on the map to cut off pathways that would allow your opponent to reinforce their positions.

The trick is to strike at the right moment, because winning is not necessarily about having the strongest army at the end of the match. Controlling the majority of the points on the map can flip the missile from one player’s control to the other’s, but the arming meter keeps filling no matter who is control. If you’re smart and quick, you can swoop in at the last moment as the missile arms, take control, and strike your enemy’s base. It takes two missile strikes to win a match, though, so you can’t win off pure luck.

All those strategic elements interact with an easy user interface to make a game that may not have the depth or complexity of a larger PC or console RTS game, but gets close enough to it to support strategic thinking. All you really need to know to succeed in Rivals is which of the 8-10 units can overpower the others. It’s easy to learn, and you don’t have to get bogged down in the nitty gritty of how the game works to compete — you just have to be good at the intuitive part of cutting off your opponents’ plans.

You don’t need to play or practice like a pro to enjoy Rivals.

All this happens inside of five minutes, so even if you and your army get stomped, it really doesn’t matter. That’s what makes Rivals such a solid mobile experience: The investment of time on the player’s part is small, but the game still feels deep, fast-paced and intelligent. It’s a mini version of a more involved strategy game, one that’s great for killing a couple of minutes, or for getting very competitive.

While EA initially showed Rivals in a way meant to evoke esports-style competitive play, complete with two professional gamers and a professional shoutcaster calling the match, it seems like a stretch to think Rivals‘ quick matches will bring in that kind of community. While there seems to be enough depth to encourage players to get pretty good at the game, but that vision of the game ignores the game’s greatest strength. You don’t need to play or practice like a pro to enjoy Rivals. It’s great for battling a friend or a stranger for a couple of intense minutes and then signing off. It may not the Command & Conquer revival fans might have hoped for, but Rivals is some lightweight fun that seems like it’ll be worth installing on your phone for when the lust for battle strikes.

Gaming

Apex Legends adds its first new gun, the Havoc energy rifle

Respawn added the first piece of new content to Apex Legends, the Havoc energy rifle. It's available now for PS4, Xbox One, and PC players. The fully automatic rifle can be modded to shoot single-shot energy beams.
Gaming

Among hundreds of choices, these are the best 25 SNES games of all time

The Super Nintendo Entertainment System might be the greatest game console ever made, but what are the best titles for the system? Here are our picks for the best SNES games.
Gaming

You're never too broke to enjoy the best free-to-play games

Believe it or not, free-to-play games have evolved into engaging, enjoyable experiences. Here are a few of our favorites that you can play right now, including Warframe and the perennially popular League of Legends.
Gaming

These are the must-have games that every Xbox One owner needs

More than four years into its life span, Microsoft's latest console is finally coming into its own. From Cuphead to Halo 5, the best Xbox One games offer something for players of every type.
Gaming

Your PlayStation 4 game library isn't complete without these games

Looking for the best PS4 games out there? Out of the massive crop of titles available, we selected the best you should buy. No matter what your genre of choice may be, there's something here for you.
Gaming

Samsung Galaxy S10 optimizations make it great for Fortnite

Samsung's new line of Galaxy S10 devices have been optimized for gaming. All three offer improved support for the Unity engine and the S10 Plus also offers vapor chamber cooling, similar to the Xbox One X.
Gaming

Having problems with your Xbox One console? We have the solutions

The Xbox One has evolved over the years, but so have its problems. Thankfully, we have solutions for some of the console's most enduring problems, whether you're experiencing issues with connectivity or your discs.
Gaming

Did Pittsburgh's Antonio Brown fall victim to the Madden Curse?

Join us as we take a tour through the long-running history of the Madden Curse -- and Tom Brady's recent accolades. We all know John Madden is a longtime NFL talent, but is he also an agent of dark forces?
Gaming

These are the coolest games you can play on your Google Chrome browser right now

Not only is Google Chrome a fantastic web browser, it's also a versatile gaming platform that you can access from just about anywhere. Here are a few of our favorite titles for the platform.
Gaming

Need help getting the Sleeper Simulant in Destiny 2? We’ve got you covered

The Sleeper Simulant is one of the coolest new Exotic weapons you can unlock in the Warmind expansion of Destiny 2, but it's an involved process that will take awhile. Here's everything you need to know.
Gaming

Want to trick out your PlayStation 4? These themes will get you started

Personalize your gaming experience with some of our favorite themes for the PlayStation 4, including free, paid, static, and dynamic options. Fan-favorite third-party and exclusive games are also included.
Gaming

Fortnite squads up with Ninja, Chan, and Samsung for exclusive K-pop skin

The Galaxy S10 Plus has features that make it great for mobile gaming and just like last year, Fortnite and Samsung have joined forces to bring an exclusive K-pop skin to the phone. Here's how you can get it.
Computing

Between Intel and AMD, these are the best gaming CPUs at every price

What are the best processors for gaming you can buy? You don't need to spend a fortune to get an amazing gaming CPU and now that AMD is competitive again, there are more choices than ever.
Virtual Reality

HTC Vive Focus Plus makes it easier for developers to port PC content

HTC Vive has announced the Vive Focus Plus headset. The upgraded stand-alone headset makes use of "six degrees of freedom" support in controllers for a PC-like virtual reality experience.