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Command & Conquer: Generals - Zero Hour Review
developer: EA LA
PIII 800MHz , 128MB RAM, 32MB Video Card, 1.4GB HD
|ESRB rating: T
release date: Sep 22, 03
|» All About Command & Conquer: Generals - Zero Hour on ActionTrip|
I'm sure most strategy fans can recall with fond memories all the expansion packs released for the various Command & Conquer games. Add-ons have always been the lifeline of the C&C franchise. Westwood would compile a smattering of new units to throw at players, and by doing so exercise their creative talents by coming up with unique and devastating new tools of war. Subsequently this would extend the life of the game by letting the players come up with numerous new tactics and breathing fresh life into the multiplayer franchise. Although Westwood is no more, but EALA has stepped in to fill their shoes and try to continue this tradition with the latest expansion pack in the C&C universe, C&C: Generals - Zero Hour.
I wonder what Greenpeace would say about this...
Aiming at the sky.
It is obvious that since the release of C&C: Generals, the franchise has taken a new turn - some would say for better, some for worse. Love it or hate it, Command & Conquer games have changed in a sense that the single-player mode has become more of a supplement than the main feature. In addition, the visuals have gained another dimension and evolved into a gorgeous new 3D engine, with superb technical capabilities and excellent potential to bring the world of C&C to life. The warring factions have also changed, and now the game reflects a more contemporary, stereotypical representation of the world's political scene. Players now command one of the three military superpowers: the Global Liberation Army (terrorists), China, or the USA. Each side is quite unique in their combat philosophy and technologies, providing for a myriad of interesting units and a highly varied gameplay.
The Zero hour expansion, of course, builds upon this basis with even more units, structures (30 new units and 20 new upgrades) and new modes of play. The game features fifteen single-player missions (five per each side), the usual multiplayer options (LAN, Internet), and a new mode of play, the much ballyhooed Challenge mode where you match your strategies-and your next-generation arsenal-against 9 enemy AI Generals with unique personalities, tactics, and taunts. So how does this new mode work? It's basically a one on one single-player match against the AI, but with an interesting twist. Each of the nine generals is an expert in a specific type of warfare. General "Pinpoint" Townes for example has at his disposal an array of advanced laser weapons, while some other generals are specialized in mass destruction or tank warfare. This is definitely quite a distinct variation of the single-player gameplay, and will basically offer a supplementary single-player campaign where you'll get to test out some of the high-tech weapons that are exclusive to these generals.
The whole idea of the Challenge mode is to create an atmosphere of a duel between two of the eccentric commanders. To that end, players will be treated not only to a barrage of enemy fire, but a whole bunch of taunts from the enemy general making it seem like the showdown is very much personal. I have found the Challenge mode to be, well, quite challenging, even on the normal level of difficulty. In essence, the gameplay is similar to that of a multiplayer match against the AI in the sense that you'll have to build, and build quickly, if you want to resist the enemy charge. However, what differentiates the Challenge mode is the fact that you'll have to modify your tactics in order to maximize the potential of your army and minimize the effects of the enemy arsenal. For example, if your main strength are the weapons of mass destruction or air-power, and you're playing against General Ta Hun Kwai and his mighty Emperor Tanks, you damn well make sure that you organize your base defenses in a way that will hold off the advancing tanks and give you enough time to build your advanced mass destruction facilities, or advanced jet fighters like the King Raptor used by General Malcolm "Ace" Granger. Playing the Challenge does offer a nice alternative to the regular Generals gameplay, but it also has less of a challenge to it once you've figured out how to effectively counter each of the generals. It is certainly a welcome addition to the game, but not as significant as it might've been suggested in the press releases.
They mustn't breach our defenses!
As I have mentioned earlier, Zero Hour offers fifteen new single-player missions. Overall, the single-player gameplay focuses less on resource management and more on the actual combat. Once again, the campaigns are "story driven" - the US has won the war, but now the GLA forces are regrouping under the command of their new leader Dr. Thrax, and the naughty Chinese are trying to invade Europe and become the nastiest superpower on the block. The story again presents a rather warped portrayal of the state of global affairs. Those of you who didn't mind it in the original certainly wouldn't have any objections to it time around either. The starting missions in each of the campaigns offer less of a challenge, but as you get to missions four and five the action heats up considerably. Zero Hour is definitely more difficult than the original and will offer a worthy challenge for people who are already quite adept at playing Generals. Other welcomed additions to the single-player mode include slight improvements to the AI - improved path finding and more alert enemy and friendly units on the normal difficulty setting. Granted, there were still situations when my units would take the silliest routes possible and get themselves annihilated in the process, but these examples of poor AI aren't as frequent as they were in the original. The GLA troops are sneaky. In fact, they are sneakier than ever. Their new upgrades will allow for even more effective terrorist and guerilla warfare strategies, and are quite fun to command. Certain US missions will let you use battleship support. I actually managed to finish mission three of the US campaign using just one commando unit and the supporting fire from the mighty battleship anchored just off shore. Other cool additions to the single-player mode include the much needed "right-click interface," (you right-click to issue orders - this option has been patched into the original game already), and a "double-click destination interface" that allows units to Guard when they arrive. Combined with the new "Retaliation" unit behavior, which makes units more responsive to enemy attacks (i.e. they won't just stand around as they're getting shot at), these seemingly minor improvements make for a much more fluid gameplay experience.
Visually, the biggest improvements in the game are the weather effects and a cool new microwave effect emitted by the US Microwave Tank. The engine uses an advanced particle effects technique to create the impression of an air distortion created by the microwaves. I'm also assuming that these more advanced particle effects were used to enhance the environments and explosions. Certainly that is the impression I got from closely examining the graphics, although I haven't confirmed with the developers if this is indeed the case or not. The game's soundtrack is top-notch and so is the voice acting. Granted, the booming noise of the huge bomber planes, explosions, engine roars, etc. doesn't sound as clear as it should on my sound system (I'm getting an odd crackling sound or two), and there is no support for advanced 3D sound, but on the whole, the audio aspect of Zero Hour is above average.
Finally, the only other question that remains to be answered is the question of the price. Zero Hour is not a stand-alone expansion pack (you'll have to own a copy of Generals to play it) and it retails for roughly around thirty bucks - certainly not cheap for an expansion pack. The amount of new content offered for this price is decent, although the Challenge mode didn't quite live up to my expectations. I doubt that there will be a lot of folks that will want this pack so badly they'll get both the original and the expansion, but as expansions go, this one offers plenty of goodies for fans of the original. It goes beyond simply offering more of the same (the Challenge mode is indeed unique in that sense), and it also features some subtle yet very significant changes to the gameplay mechanics that will make the single-player experience a lot more enjoyable.
The bottom line is Zero Hour is hardly a half-assed add-on to the original. The developers have obviously had their ears to the ground, and they've exerted enough effort and creative thinking to make a game that will most certainly appeal to the fans of the franchise.
8.3 Very Good
Subtle improvements to the gameplay, interesting new units, structures and upgrades, weather effects, Challenge mode (it's like more single-player missions with a twist);
Steep price tag, the Challenge mode doesn't fully live up to the hype, some returning AI issues, you'll finish the single-player campaign in two days of casual playing.
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