Command & Conquer: Generals Review (PC)

Generals has been a well hyped game, eagerly waited by the many CandC fans (myself included). It has promised advanced gameplay and superior graphics, but has it delivered??

The graphics are clearly impressive...

It's too bad the gameplay can't match up.

The first thing you will immediately notice is the great ‘takeover’ of your PC for the initial game load has gone, replaced by a standard type load. The loading cut scenes again promise some superb graphics and sounds, but, even at this early stage, I was left feeling just a tad disappointed.

As you would expect, you can set the game to run to the best of your PC’s abilities, and the interface is clean, uncluttered and user friendly - if you have trouble here, give up now.

Taking the solo options allows you to choose which faction you would like to represent. In Generals, these come in three flavours :- USA - technologically advanced with a good range of differing units. The ultimate weapon is the favoured Particle Cannon as seen in Red Alert etc. Resource collection is achieved via helicopters for speed and volume. The USA has fast (but costly) units and an awesome air force, as well as automatic radar coverage China - Not as advanced but gain bonuses for massing troops. Has special units for capturing buildings etc as well as ‘hackers’ to dredge money down from the Internet. The Chinese ultimate weapon is the Nuclear Missile and all Resource collection is done using trucks. Whilst Chinas forces are weaker than the USA, the amount of standard infantry produced is automatically doubled (i.e. 2 units for 1 when producing) and in the latter development stages better units become available. GLA - The ‘terrorist’ faction - units weaker but cheaper and faster. Also has abilities to capture enemy vehicle (and turn civilian ones into mobile bombs) as well as extensive use of toxins to produce some evil weapons, which can be adapted for use against differing target types. Ultimate weapon being the Scud Storm - a barrage of missiles delivering toxins for extra collateral damage. Resource gathering is down to a manual basis with individuals carrying small amounts back to supply centres. The use of toxin vehicle gives the GLA an edge when it comes to clearing/destroying buildings and sending an "angry mob" or two at your opponent (especially if armed with AK47s) proves to be surprisingly effective.

All of these factions are superbly balanced - probably the best of any game I’ve tried so far. Slightly different strategies and tactics will be required dependant on which faction you choose, but all are well capable of winning against each other.

As you start playing, the differences in gameplay between Generals and previous versions become apparent. Resources are gathered from supply depots via whatever your faction uses. These dumps can be just a small pile of crates or a huge depot, but generally you will need all you can find. In addition, oil wells can be found scattered about that need to be captured to access the much needed extra cash - beware though, once captured they will need defending. To a large degree, your resource collectors can be left to their own devices and do not need additional units set aside for guard duties - although once their ‘primary’ site is empty, they will not actively seek for more - you have to direct them.

The campaigns feel a little short...

...and the A.I. could certainly be better.

The amount of units available to each faction is also limited within Generals - to just 2 or 3 infantry types and 4 or 5 mechanised units - it does seem odd to suddenly realise you are at the peak of your development - and only 1 or 2 levels into the game. Each side has their own specialists - the pathfinder/sniper for the USA, an espionage specialist for China and a GLA version of the sniper, capable of taking out the crew of any vehicle leaving it prone to capture. Any infantry units can capture most enemy buildings - once the requisite upgrades has been purchased, and, once you have some vehicles loaded with troops, as in previous games this becomes the most effective way to defeat the enemy - capture and sell is the name of the game to cripple your opponent.

Some buildings are critical to your development as they allow the construction of further buildings and advanced units; so building in the correct order becomes a virtual necessity. Also, with the USA and China, power is vital (each GLA building is ‘self contained’ and comes complete with a bolt hole for fast rebuilding) so time must be spent developing an efficient power grid to enable all your defensive structures to operate effectively.

All of this will be instantly familiar to anyone who has played any of the series before, and even novice players will be up and running within minutes and enjoying the superior graphics.

The single player campaigns, although instantly appealing, soon become much of the same again as a serious case of “seen it, read the book and got the T shirt” rapidly develops. A new ‘innovation’ being the ability to gain promotion yourself and gain access to extra forces etc as your experience increases. There does not however appear to have been a great deal of thought gone into giving the game some longevity - in fact, it appears to even be a step backwards as each campaign is just 7 missions long meaning that just as you are really beginning to get into the game, its over. There is nothing really new at all, USA and China missions are set against the GLA and are normally just a case of building the biggest force and overrunning the opposition. Yes, you can have some fun with China’s Overlord tank (remember the Mammoth?? - even bigger and better) but again, it’s all over too quickly. The GLA scenarios do offer a bit more variety and require some lateral thinking, but there is still not enough to hold your attention for too long.

Having got over your disappointment with the campaigns, the skirmish option again does not live up to expectations. The AI is not the best and is more than content to send harassing forces against you while you just build up enough defenses to take out anything thrown at you. Once that stage is reached you can sit back and take a break while you build up a sufficient force to steamroller the enemy. Even on the ‘Brutal’ setting it is still predictable and easy and the only way to achieve a semi serious challenge is to go up against multiple, teamed opponents.

Multiplayer is handled as effectively as ever, unfortunately though, the only apparent mode to play is deathmatch style, which can get boring after a while. However, as usual, just playing against a human opponent rather that the slightly suspect AI always leads to a truly satisfying gaming experience.

Even the game's great graphics...

...cannot save it from average gameplay.

Top game moment: A US mission that charges you with eliminating the GLA, by any means necessary. Considering you'll have all your tech researched at this point, it's an exciting battle to the finish.

Overall, Generals looks and sounds great, but the developers appear to have forgotten that good graphics don't always make up for a mediocre playing experience. Die hard fans will buy this, if only to complete the collection, but once played it will probably be put back on the shelf next to Tiberium Sun and forgotten about.

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