Command & Conquer preview: We go hands-on with the free-to-play reboot

Many of the more recent Command & Conquer games have failed to live up to our lofty expectations. There was a time when the franchise was so massive and so popular that not only was every new game received in the same way a Call of Duty might be these days, but they were as good as we hoped. But those days passed a while back.

It's perhaps not the fault of the developers or the games themselves, but the competition in the real-time strategy genre has been ever more fierce with each generation, and the Star Crafts and Company of Heroes titles have won all the plaudits previously reserved for Red Alert or Tiberian Sun and their immediate sequels.

This has moved Electronic Arts to change tact with one of its bigger franchises. Given the success it has had with a number of freemium games on mobile devices, with The Simpson's Tapped Out grossing big console game numbers, the new Command & Conquer is a free-to-play title. You download the client and get several levels for free - how much is yet to be determined - then if you like it you can enhance the experience with paid-for content.

It's certainly a way to attract new players and entice those who may have given up on the franchise back. And from Pocket-lint's hands-on play with one of the PvP levels from the Generals branch, there is clearly an extra incentive to offer a return to form, otherwise it might end up not earning a penny.

Playing as the European Union against a computer opponent, we started with the same resources either end of a map clearly set in the Middle East. There were building scattered all around, and plenty of locations to form oil derricks in order to raise cash. The more cash you earn (through depots and oil wells), the more you can build.

Gameplay is incredibly familiar, to C&C fans and those who play any kind of RTS released in the interim. Create structures and units and go blow the welly out of the enemy.

The main things to take from it are, first, that it is a speedy game. It might be the test demo we played, but troops and vehicles formed quickly and needed to be deployed smartish before the enemy gained ground. A speed control might have been set slightly higher than default, but it never got too bad that we couldn't keep up.

In addition, the graphics are astounding. In the furthest mode, it's essentially Command & Conquer again, but the Frostbite 2 engine really makes a difference when you are either close to the action or multiple explosions appear all over the screen.

And finally, the sound is immense. Admittedly, we were playing with Mad Catz headphones on that were clearly maxed out, but each shot and explosion sounded like the opening to a Jerry Bruckheimer movie. If Aerosmith's I Don't Wanna Miss a Thing had started playing, it would've brought tears to our eyes. And an otologist to our hotels.

Command & Conquer will be available as a free-to-play games platform on the PC soon.