Command & Conquer Generals: Zero Hour

Command & Conquer: Zero Hour isn’t one of those “hit you over the head with an all new playable side†types of expansion packs. Instead, it’s a “fold in a bunch of new stuff in with all the old stuff†expansion. You’ll boot it up and see pretty much the same game you’ve been playing all along. But as you play, you’ll constantly stumble over things that make you say to yourself, “oh, that’s new!â€

snap92_1In Zero Hour, each side is now comprised of three sub-sides. For instance, the USA isn’t just the USA anymore. It is now General Alexander, General Towne, and General Granger, each one providing a set of unique units, structures, upgrades, and general powers built around a particular theme. You have toxin generals, stealth generals, and superpower generals. Granger, for example, is the air force general. He gets cheaper aircraft with innate countermeasures, sturdier fighters, stealth helicopters, and combat Chinook helicopters.

There are also broad changes that apply to each side no matter which general you’ve chosen. These tend to exaggerate advantages even more. Now the USA is more versatile, the GLA is sneakier, and China can potentially hit even harder. The USA has a new cloaked scout tank, a powerful artillery gun stocked with infantry, and toxin suits to help infantry withstand the GLA’s biological and chemical attacks. New USA powers include the Spectre Gunship, a C-130 that circles an area and pummels it with heavy gunfire, and a propaganda strike that immobilizes an enemy army while it ponders its alternatives.

The GLA gets combat motorcycles that can cross any land terrain, and a saboteur who can shut down the other player’s special powers by sneaking into his command center. It can improve worker productivity (and shut up their whining) by finally giving them shoes. One of the GLA’s new powers is a potentially devastating ambush that lets them drop a tunnel entrance anywhere on the map, allowing their units to mount attacks where they’re least expected. The GLA also has the power to construct cheap fake buildings that can serve as decoy bases. These buildings can either be detonated as booby traps when they’re attacked or upgraded to the real thing if a back-up base is suddenly necessary.

snap9_1China can now protect her valuable hackers by building an Internet center to house them; no more crippling the Chinese economy when a single soldier stumbles across her hackers crouched over their laptops in some remote field. The new Helix helicopter is the equivalent of an airborne Overlord; it is a powerful fighting unit that can mount upgrades and transport other units. It’s hard to imagine a more fearsome sight in Zero Hour than an oncoming group of Helix helicopters toting Overlord tanks.

Some of the AI limitations have been dealt with as well. Even better is the way it seems to react to defenses. Instead of sending a steady stream of units into the teeth of a line of turrets, the AI appears to try a variety of approaches until it finds an undefended area. At its core, however, the game fares better as a frantic multiplayer oriented experience.

System Requirements: PIII 800 MHz, 128 MB RAM, 1.8 GB HDD, WinXP

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