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Command & Conquer: Generals Review
developer: EA Pacific
PIII 800GHz, 128MB RAM, 32MB Video Card, 1.8GB HD
|ESRB rating: T
release date: Feb 10, 03
|» All About Command & Conquer: Generals on ActionTrip|
Command & Conquer was the game that put Westwood Studios on the map as one of the great development studios of the world. After a few titles that had moderate success, they came up with one of the first true RTS games, and set the gaming world on its ear. It enthralled the gaming populace, and was one of the first games of a new genre. It has survived as one of the all-time great RTS gaming sagas, with multiple sequels, prequels and such the like.
Of course, as times progress, so does the world, and today we find that Westwood has become a part of EA Games, one of the biggest gaming development/publishing houses in the business today. (More on that decision below.) And so, as its first official act as a part of Westwood's new association with EA, together they have brought forth the latest chapter in its C&C saga, Command & Conquer: Generals.
After years of releasing 2D sequels to the original C&C game, Westwood has finally broken away from this worrying trend by developing a full-blown 3D RTS, which to my mind represents the one true continuation, and most importantly, evolution of the Command & Conquers series. But it's not just the graphics; there's more to Generals than that. Much more. It seems as though the programmers have poured in all their creative talent to develop a game that features the most diverse and well-balanced strategy gameplay on the market.
So isn't it ironic then that EA Games; their publisher; has decided to shut down Westwood Studios and merge it with a few other less talented design studios in their stable, like EALA. At the end of the day, the almighty dollar will call the shots, but let's hope that the creative talent behind this latest C&C offering has stayed with EA during the whole process, and will get a chance to work on the next installment of the series as well; and more importantly, all the ensuing patches for their latest offering - C&C: Generals.
The latest C&C game is in some ways different from its predecessors. Gone are the high-profile FMV sequences with famous actors like James Earl Jones, and with it, any traces of a "worth a damn" storyline. Instead, the single-player mode in C&C: Generals is based around a satirical (or rather tacky) representation of the current geopolitical situation in the world. It follows an ongoing war between three opposing factions: the US troops, Chinese forces, and the AK-47 wielding, fanatical terrorists known as the GLA (Global Liberation Army). Each of the factions is represented in its most clich'd form, with emphasis on all the stereotypical traits that your average CNN viewer would associate with either of these fractions. Still, since this is a game world and not a political arena this is NOT necessarily a bad thing. The emphasis of this game is entirely placed on fun, so you can just forget about all the prejudices you might have regarding the story and just enjoy the game world for what it is - tacky at times, but ultimately very fun. This however doesn't alleviate the fact that C&C: Generals is in fact lacking a "real" story, with characters and a bona fide plot.
Those of you who are looking to buy this game for its single-player facet will definitely object to the relatively short and uninspired single-player campaign. There are three sub-campaigns in total, each of which you can finish in a day's time. The single-player mode lacks Westwood's trademark FMV cut-scenes, and any characters or a sensible plot that you can relate to. Over the years, Westwood has become famous for their adaptation of Frank Herbert's "Dune," and they've been known for their ability to incorporate a great storyline into an RTS, but I guess there wasn't enough time or money to do this for Generals. In light of the recent troubling news about the company's demise, it's not hard to see why this game didn't get as much attention or funding, as it probably should have. Certain sacrifices had to be made, and in order to make the gameplay, multiplayer facet, and the 3D graphics so complete, something simply had to give. It turns out that it was the single-player portion that had to be cut down in order to deliver the best core gameplay possible.
When it comes to the sheer number of units, Westwood's ability to create diversity, imaginative design and proper balancing, C&C: Generals is second to none. Generals features the most fun RTS gameplay I've experienced in years. I was simply amazed at the sheer scope of the work and know-how that was put in creating and ultimately balancing the numerous units featured in the game. Each of the sides has its own, very unique army, and deciding which of these is the strongest would be an exercise in futility. The US troops effectively exert their air supremacy and the GLA might seem underdeveloped at first, but once you've spent many hours with the game, you'll realize that this is simply not the case. The GLA has exceptional anti-air units; it can effectively use tunnels and its buildings can auto-repair; their rather unscrupulous battle tactics (using suicide bombers, car bombs, and bio weapons) might very well win the day for you if you are ruthless enough to concentrate on the very aspects of terrorism that the free world fears so much these days. The Chinese troops seem to have the most balanced offense in that they don't have the anti-air units that are as deadly as GLA's, and they don't have the Apache choppers that make the US shock troops so effective, but they still use Migs and have enough anti-air power to stop an assault by the US air force any day of the week. Not to mention that some of their armored vehicles are extremely deadly and quite resilient to enemy fire....
I could go on for days like this, yammering on and on about all the intricacies of various units from the game, but that would take up several more pages of this review (No! Do it! Then we can call it a "strategy guide"!) - Ed). The point is that, usually, the amount of time you spend coming up with the best possible tactics is directly proportional to the complexity of the gameplay. And with Generals, you most certainly get your money's worth.
Besides the awesome variety of units and the resulting tactics, C&C: Generals offers several other exciting gameplay features that add more flair (Or do you mean flare? - Ed) and strategic elements to the gameplay. First and foremost, there are the devastating mass destruction weapons: the GLA's Scud missiles, The USA's Particle Cannon, and of course the Chinese Nukes! The nukes, my son! Needless to say, mastering these devastating weapons is crucial to victory. Personally, I favored the US option the most. The ability to launch spy satellites, detect enemy troops and then fire up the particle cannon can easily become the decisive factor in a match. Not to mention that you can use the US's superior technology to detect and annihilate Scuds and Nuclear missiles before they are launched. Again, this is a matter of personal preference, so I'll leave you to decide which of these you liked the best once you've spent some time with the game.
In addition to nukes, scuds and particle cannons Westwood has included several other key strategy elements, which should greatly improve the complexity of the gameplay. After a few kills and successful firefights your units can achieve additional ranks and have the ability to auto-heal, as well as gun down enemies with greater accuracy. Having a squad of veterans will give you an edge over a squad of rookies, so be careful to take extra care of your veteran troops.
Finally, besides featuring the usual tech-tree, Generals offers a promotion system. Depending on your rank you receive a certain amount of points, which you can then use to acquire awesome abilities like paratrooper assaults, A-10 attacks, Anthrax bombs, etc. Naturally, a five-star general receives more points than a four-star general and so on. You get promotions during missions for performing daring stunts and wiping out enemy defenses.
In all honesty, none of these features are really new to the C&C series, but what separates this game from all the others in the series is that none of the games before had all these features so well put together and balanced to such a perfection that you probably won't be able to stop playing for days once you get familiar with all the units' special abilities and tech advances.
Now, the bad stuff.
This is not to say, however, that the gameplay in C&C: Generals is not without its faults. I already mentioned that several aspects of the single-player game had to be sacrificed in order to concentrate on other important parts of game design. Unfortunately, the AI seems to be one of these elements. The path finding in the game is less than stellar, and annoyed the hell out of me during heavy firefights. Sometimes, the units will take the most ridiculous paths to reach their designated location, and if you don't pay enough attention to exactly the path you want them to take, you'll end up losing them to some stray enemy tank somewhere. In addition to the path finding issues, the game will require you to micro manage your troops more than ever before (regardless of the level of difficulty you're playing on). I don't know if this is a bug or not, but whatever it is, the decision to make the troops non-responsive to enemy fire unless you order them to guard a certain area is just idiotic, and can be quite frustrating at times. I eventually got used to it, and I learned to order my troops to guard before I would do anything else, but I mean c'mon! Aren't they at least supposed to return fire when an enemy tank is parked five feet away and filling them full off depleted uranium shells? That's just ridiculous.
I wouldn't say that the path finding and other AI issues ruined the whole experience for me, but they certainly didn't help in any way either. On the bright side, these problems look like they could easily be fixed with a patch, but my job, as you know is to judge a game based on the retail code, and not a patched and polished up version that will be available in a few months time. Either way, these AI bugs should not deter you from buying the game.
Last but certainly not the least; the sound effects, music, and of course the 3D graphics in C&C: Generals look and sound superb! The terrain is very detailed and very much destructible, the explosions are spectacular and the unit animation is out of this world. It is a joy to watch this game. Unfortunately, all this eye-candy comes at a price, as the hardware requirements are very steep. In order to play C&C: Generals the way it was meant to be played, you'll need something like a 2GHz CPU, loads of RAM and a high-end video card.
The sound effects and especially the unit sounds are just as good as the visuals. I never got tired of listening to the GLA forces and the Chinese spout their propaganda bullshit about being the "oppressed masses" and so on. Unit sounds add a satirical and humorous note to the game, which creates a fantastic atmosphere during battles. The same can be said about the musical soundtrack, which is also exceptionally done.
In a nutshell, C&C: Generals is a strong candidate for the most entertaining C&C game yet. It's got wicked fun gameplay, and a stellar variety of excellently balanced units. The multiplayer is great (we've played the game in LAN and it worked smooth and without a hitch), and so are the sounds and visuals. But the game also has its bad sides. The game's AI code is less than stellar, the story is virtually non-existent and the single player campaign reminds me of an elaborate multiplayer tutorial. The game is not as "all-around" as it hoped it would be and it's a bit of hardware hog, but it's still immensely fun. I therefore wholeheartedly recommend it to every true fan of the genre; just don't expect too much from the single-player mode.
8.4 Very Good
Great variety of units and excellent unit balancing. Generals' core gameplay components are just loads of fun. The game's an audio-visual treat; the multiplayer kicks ass and it greatly increases the game's replay value.
The single-player is too short and it lacks a story (characters, what's that?). Consequently, this is not a great "all-around" product. Stupid AI glitches and pathfinding issues. The game can be a hardware hog.
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