Command & Conquer: Generals
C&C goes 3D, stays the same.
Most of the time, Command & Conquer: Generals, the sixth C&C strategy game if you count Sole Survivor, is all glamour and no brains. Sure you get the same visceral rush of throwing an army of tanks into your opponent’s backyard, this time in full 3D and with amazing Hollywood-like effects, but it’s also pretty damn shallow in the long run.
The game is set in the not-so distant future, where China and the U.S.A. are struggling to contain a not-so subtle terrorist doppelganger called the Global Liberation Army. Although most of Command and Conquer has always been tongue-in-cheek, the low-tech GLA pull no moral punches as they launch nerve gas missiles into civilians, deploy suicide trucks (their most effective tactic) and generally cry all day about oppression. Their engrish-speaking Chinese counterparts fare a little better as stereotypes, but at least all sides are well balanced and cleverly integrated..
You can play the campaign as either China, the terrorists or the US Army in any order, as the plot is more or less a convenience. For some, the lack of B-movie acting tying each mission together will be surely missed, as that was the defining feature of Command and Conquer games past. A strong narrative could have infused the strategic pokery with more tension, especially during the American-led invasion in the US campaign.
The standard base-building mechanic isn’t as central as you might expect, since on some missions you start with your buildings up and ready. Tiberium gets traded in with stacks of supply crates, which your harvesters (or workers, or transport choppers) takes and delivers to your ‘refinery’ building to be used as war materials. In addition, as in Red Alert 2, you can capture oil rigs to generate extra income.
But the core gameplay is about the same. Certain units are locked until you meet the requirements on the tech tree, and you always need to have enough power plants around. The greatest change are the Generals Abilities – special weapons or bonuses that become unlocked as you advance through the ranks via battlefield prowess. Advance far enough and you can do cool stuff like calling in devestating air strikes.
The missions themselves are quite enjoyable. Although the GLA campaign is the weakest, the US and China ones fare a lot better. Standouts include the Chinese mission where you have to send Black Lotus (think Tanya from Red Alert) to destroy an enemy bridge. Or protecting a convoy of US troops from enemy ambushes. The final mission in the US campaign, which sees the complete annihilation of the GLA and concludes the story at large, provides a desperate battle and a great closing to the Generals campaign.
Despite its weaker points, Generals is still much more than a worthwhile RTS. If it had included a more compelling story and more diverse multiplayer options, it would’ve been one of the best real-time games ever made. As it stands, however, it’s ‘just’ great.
System Requirements: PIII 800 MHz, 128 MB RAM, 1.8 GB HDD, WinXP