1.8GB free disk space
32MB video accelerator
Every now and again, I remember why I like real-time strategy games so much. Now that the advancing horde of unholy clones has all but been demolished, there's a much more refined, strategically sound, and quality bunch of titles in this genre coming out. Quality, not quantity, I say. And a great example of this is the beautifully designed Command & Conquer Generals that has certainly put me back in the strategy saddle. Before we get to the meat of the review, be sure to check out our exclusive video review of the game as well.
Generals takes a big step back from the Command & Conquer series of old, focusing not on the machinations of one evil man with a super evil plan, but instead on more "realistic" global issues of today while maintaining the creativity and fun of unit and weapon design the series has always had. The game focuses on the growing threat of the Global Liberation Army (GLA). Both China and the US are having problems with the group that sees both of the superpowers as a threat to their freedom. The imperialist scum must all die. Through the three campaigns and multiplayer battles, you'll have the chance to fight to save the world from the terrorist threat or bring a whole lot of pain to the world via a rather large toxic payload.
Westwood and EA decided to move away from the silly cutscenes of old and instead stick with a more mature style. All scenes use the in game engine to good effect although they use a Matrix style camera for too many of the explosions. There are no main characters to fart around with this time around, instead focusing on the war and the fact that while there are heroes, it's no one man or woman that conquers the enemy. It's a good move for the series and while some people might miss past attempts at character driven fiction, Generals manages to stay true to the series with its gameplay and faction styles.
In order to keep the game from being a resource management exercise, all sides dip into the same pool by gathering supplies located in dumps around each map. US uses Chinook transport choppers, China uses supply trucks, and the GLA uses forced labor. Each faction also has extra ways of bringing in cash so the money never stops completely flowing meaning games will always continue to be interesting even after the supplies have run dry. Airdrops, theft and salvage all bring in good amounts of cash. While the US has the potential to make the most money with several air drop sites, China can steal it with their hero and make money with Computer hackers and the GLA has the chance to scavenge money from the carcasses of their enemies. While you do fight over resources, worrying about your tactical decisions is much more important. Because the resources are centered in certain areas, it's much easier to concentrate on what's happening to your troops and bases.
The sides are all balanced excellently, with each having their advantages and disadvantages. The Chinese are the bruisers of the bunch, relying on power and quick delivery of bullets. Their biggest weapons are among the most powerful, but are also the slowest on the map. They have a very balanced ground attack that can take care of all threats incoming. They do have an air force, but it isn't nearly as strong as the Americans'. Most of their weapons are built around fire and burning the crap out of things. From their crazy dragon tanks that can lay down huge walls of flame for defense and the Inferno Cannon siege weapon that can be upgraded to fire napalm shells to the crazy Nuke Cannon that delivers small nuclear shells over long distances. The only problem with these weapons is that they are all splash damage related, meaning you're going to have to watch where you use them. Look before you leap, you might end up wasting a bunch of your own troops in the crossfire.
This is also the case with the scrappy GLA. They're based around toxic weapons that will damage anything. From their anti-infantry toxic tractors, to the mobile scud launchers, this is a deadly arsenal that can just as easily turn their own troops into mush. The GLA has a lot going for them though. Since they aren't as technologically advanced as the other two sides, they go for a scavenging style of play. Not only can vehicles like Technicals and Marauder do well on their own, they can also equip themselves with weapons from fallen vehicles. You'll often see Technicals suddenly firing tank shells or a Marauder suddenly with two tank barrels instead of the one it began with. This makes their use pretty interesting.
The USA is the surgeon of the group. Their units are expensive, but are finely tuned machines. The US isn't into making a mess like the other two, so you won't have to worry about fallout from toxic or nuclear attacks. Don't let that make you think they aren't powerful though, with their potent air attacks from stealth fighters, Raptors, and the almost too powerful Comanche attack copters, they're a definite force to be reckoned with. They also bring to the tables units like snipers that can pick any ground unit off in one shot and remain camoflaged the entire time. As the technical bunch, they have tanks that can shoot down enemy missiles with lasers and upgrades to make their units more accurate. Precision at its finest.
Each of these sides has these terrifically balanced units with a unique flavor to them, but they also have some even more powerful attacks waiting in the wings. These come from the General powers and the super weapons. The General powers are a very cool idea and add a lot to the experience. As you progress through the game and win more battles, you'll gain experience as a general. When you gain enough, you'll rise in rank. Each rank you gain gives you a General Point to place in special abilities. These can be anything from the GLA ability to let their units gain money for every kill they make or the Chinese ability to fire artillery barrages to weapons delivered by bombers like the US air fuel bomb that does an immense amount of damage or the Chinese EMP burst that will disable all vehicles and buildings in the blast radius for a short time. Using these at the right time is the trick and can turn the tide of battle.
The same goes for the super weapons. The Chinese get nukes, the GLA get a SCUD Storm which launches a bunch of scuds for a huge amount of damage and corrupts the terrain for a short time making it hard to repair and rebuilt a base, and the US Particle Beam which burns through anything in its path and can be guided around to hit several targets. All of these weapons mean that you're going to have to get up off of your lazy ass and attack. Leaving your units back in a nice defensive posture is only going to get them blown to bits.
The missions themselves are an interesting lot. The development team decided to move away from the strict "destroy the entire base" type of mission for every level and added some creativity to the bunch. One level calls for you to guard the retreat of US forces, and another asks that you riot and loot a city to gain enough money to fund your army. The only problem I had was that some of the missions seemed a bit easy and took little to no effort to complete while a couple of missions were ass hard. The last Chinese mission in particular gave me all kinds of fits. The difficulty in the game can be ramped up though and I recommend to any long time RTS gamer that they up the difficulty from normal to hard in order to get more of a challenge and draw the single player campaigns out a bit. Ramping up the AI will certainly increase your chances of losing. While in the single player campaign, the Computer has the endless resource advantage, they use those resources well to bring a pretty balanced attack to whittle you down. When you're trying to take care of the angry mob rushing your tanks and a bomb truck suddenly smacks into your defenses and SCUDs come lobbing in from just out of your line of sight, you'll realize that the small rushes can be a distraction to much larger issues. The Computer is also pretty adept at picking intelligent targets for super weapons sometimes catching you with your pants down.
While the enemy AI manages well for the most part, there are some times when you wonder about your own units' intelligence. There were a few times that my units were under attack and they didn't respond on their own. Even more frustrating is when your base is being shelled and your units don't respond while your attention is elsewhere. Even in guard mode this happened sometimes.
When you're done with the single player campaigns (7 levels for each campaign), you have skirmish and multiplayer modes. Playing against actual human opponents in this sucker is a lot of fun. Hearing a scream peal across the office when you drop a nuke on your boss is more than a little satisfying. With the different types of units and attacks for each of the forces, there are undoubtedly going to be some pretty creative battle plans coming from the better RTS players around the world. Of course if you have no friends and no Internet connection, playing against some "hard" and "brutal" Computer opponents will leave you with plenty of challenge for hours to come.
Even so, Generals is a terrific example of an RTS in many ways. From unit balance to the General powers that give the game its name, everything works well together. But almost more impressive than the actual gameplay in many ways are the graphics. When the settings are turned up to high and you pump up the resolution from the lowest option of 800x600, you're in for the first real visual feast of this year. Textures on units, buildings and terrain are all detailed and colorful. The unit models themselves are also very good, and while the infantry units do look a little silly up close compared to some recent games such as Age of Mythology, they never detracted from my enjoyment. Considering all of the things happening on the screen at one time, it's no surprise they had to skimp a little bit somewhere. As it is, Generals is one of the biggest system hogs I've seen recently, and if you do plan on running it in high detail with all of the lovely shadows, textures, and models, you're going to need a fat Computer. 512MB of RAM is a must at high settings. If you don't care as much about the looks, you can leave the resolution and turn it down to medium, which was playable on a 1.4 256MB RAM and a GeForce4. That extra 256 MB of RAM made a big difference.
Either way, you can be prepared for a good amount of detail and animation as well. Infantry gets blown into the air, mowed down by chain guns, and melted by toxic waste. Techicals hold a man in the back on the machine gun that swivels back and forth tracking targets. Trees blow in the wind and knocked over by units and explosions. Smoke from rockets, missiles, and explosions looks real and full. I didn't see a lot that I could complain about, especially when those super weapons start getting thrown around. The nuclear explosion from both the nuke strike and destruction of a nuclear missile silo are amazing! Half the fun of nuking an opponent is just to watch the effect.
Sound is also pretty good when it comes to effects and music to get you pumped up and ready to battle. Explosions, weapons fire, screams, and unit acknowledgements are all good. Of course, you'll have to deal with some terrible accents in the middle of all of this. I swear the loading and objective screens before a couple of the GLA missions were hosted by the Brain. "The same thing we do every night Pinky... try to drop anthrax on the worrrld!" Sad, but mildly entertaining in its lameness.
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