Impressions: Command and Conquer Generals

It seems like weÂ've seen a lot of companies revisit their premier franchises in the past few months of PC gaming. From Sim City 4, to Warcraft 3, to Unreal 2, to Master of Orion 3, those whoÂ've followed PC gaming for years are seeing some familiar names on the shelves, and with that theyÂ're also seeing a varied range of quality. Some of these games not only revisit the themes of their predecessors, but also match their worth, while others seem only interested in capitalizing off a franchise name without bringing much to the table. To this market, EA Games introduced its latest Command and Conquer game: Generals.

As a rule C&C games are a varied lot, and a new visit to the series is no guarantee of merit. For every Command and Conquer or Red Alert, there is a Tiberian Sun or Renegade. Each new C&C is met with just as much skepticism as it is enthusiasm, and following a string of moderate or poor titles in the aging series, coupled with the dissolution of Westwood, one could wonder if there was any originality or fun left to be squeezed from that stone?


I donÂ't want to keep you in suspense, because IÂ'm not sure youÂ've taken your medication and our lawyers have encouraged us not to put ourselves into any more litigious situations, so IÂ'll just tell you from the start that Command and Conquer: Generals is a fun game. Though IÂ've quite a bit more left to explore, IÂ'm bordering on the impression that Generals is as good a Command and Conquer as weÂ've seen; a game that revisits the level of fun I had with the original or the first Red Alert.

ItÂ's hard for me to say precisely what makes the game so much fun, as it doesnÂ't break many traditions of the genre. I had reached the point where I thought my enthusiasm for any RTS was completely exhausted. I even, privately, panned Warcraft 3, not because it was a bad game, but because I couldnÂ't muster any interest in playing. Having pretty much become disenchanted with the genre I even gave last yearÂ's Age of Mythology a miss. It is with that level of suspicion that I approached Generals, keeping my EB receipt and game box in pristine condition so that I could quickly return it for a MOO3 or Freelancer pre-order once I confirmed that the RTS genre was, for me, the equivalent of churning butter with a swizzle stick.

And then I played Generals. To my absolute amazement I didnÂ't want to stop playing. IÂ'd finish one important mission Â"˜for China!Â' and then with great enthusiasm move straight into the next.

Eventually it occurred to me to wonder, whatÂ's different here? On the surface itÂ's all to easy to dismiss Generals as a revisit of a fairly tired and familiar formula, and I wonÂ't dispute that Generals borrows much from every RTS thatÂ's come before, but fortunately developers, EA Pacific, seemed intent on creating a fun game from familiar standards above reinventing the wheel. And what theyÂ've produced is a rapid, balanced, and satisfyingly visceral game chock full of thick explosions and dynamic gameplay. Short of an amazing change of heart, my impression is that Generals is an unqualified success.

Visually, Generals is gorgeous, but that attractive presentation comes at something of a price. Generals has high system requirements, though nothing like the positively astonishing requirements of the Fileplanet Sneak Peek, and those with less than top line systems will certainly have to sacrifice resolution and graphical effects. Even on its lower settings, however, Generals is an attractive beast, and thereÂ's so much else to enjoy, that a slightly compromised visual experience should not ruin the experience.

IÂ'll get to gameplay shortly, but I canÂ't go further without talking about Generals' outstanding sound. If thereÂ's anything that bothers me, itÂ's war games - RTS, first person, or otherwise - where weapon fire and explosions have all the auditory heft of softly falling snow. When I hear an on-screen explosion, I want to feel that explosion, to hear the thickness and texture of it, to really expand the visual stimuli and gormandize on layer after layer of thick meaty audio. Tank fire should not sound like a bouncing ping-pong ball. It should sound like someone dropped a steel girder in a gymnasium. Gunshots should sound like a balloon popped in front of a megaphone in a bathroom. Or, if not sound like those things, at least have the weight of them. And here, Generals delivers. Coupled with dynamic music that swells and intensifies during firefights, Generals is an immersive auditory experience.

All this would be for naught if the game wasnÂ't fun, so itÂ's with a big, sweeping grin splitting my bearded face that I tell you: Generals, my good friend, is quite fun. It is well balanced, and encourages quick skirmishes that last a half hour or less above extended and often frustrating sorties. Resource collection is necessary, but not an issue of micro management, leaving the player to focus on mobilization and conflict. Units are both balanced and varied between the three factions. The USA, as a rule, is technologically superior with strong air power, but its forces cost significantly more. The GLA uses biological attacks and non-traditional gameplay styles to forward its goals, and China lives off its mass production and swarming, or horde, tactics.

IÂ've only had the chance to play a couple of online matches so far, but it left me wanting more. Much more. Battles move quickly out of the organize phase and are designed to focus on getting players quickly to battle, and spending time wrestling against one another. Largely, base defense is secondary to taking strategic ground quickly, and one need understand posthaste that, in Generals, a good offense is not only the best defense. ItÂ's the only one. Cooperative play against the computer is a simple matter of cutting off the AIÂ's expansion opportunities and holding supply caches, but battle against living opponents hints at layers of potential strategy.

Single player missions, so far, implement interesting elements to keep Generals from becoming stale. Dams explode, huge bombers sweep low through valleys on carpet bombing runs, and terrorists wage a devastating assault on Beijing, all in the just the first few missions. ThereÂ's very little in the way of actual plot to Generals, and missions seem only tangentially related. There are no familiar FMV segments or big name actors in Generals, a departure from previous C&C games, and no single Kanesque antagonist taunting you between levels. Gone are the days of GDI and NOD, and some may feel that these deviations leave Generals as only a Command and Conquer game by association. I donÂ't think thatÂ's necessarily a fair assessment. Generals is firmly ensconced in Command and Conquer tradition through its rapid-fire approach to gameplay, its varied and devastating arsenal, and its sweeping global scope. I find it questionable to imply that FMV and Michael Biehn are what defined previous C&C games - though Kari Wuhrer certainly didnÂ't hurt matters.

ThatÂ's not to say that Generals is a flawless experience. The integrated matchmaking system uses Gamespy (and thus responds to any existing Gamespy account you might have, a fact missing from any on-screen information or provided documentation) and comes with all the frustrations associated. Generals also has some familiar issues with connecting through a router or a firewall. In game, framerates can drop quickly in heavier battles, and for online play there are stability issues, though moving to direct connect seemed to compensate nicely. Otherwise, IÂ've found Generals, particularly in single play, to be a stable and smooth game.

Command and Conquer: Generals is first and foremost a fun game built with a colorful pallette and complemented by heavy audio effects. Generals does not reinvent the RTS genre, does not try and complicate gameplay, but instead returns to its roots and reinvests itself in fine tuning previous C&C successes. At itÂ's heart Generals is an RTS throwback, a game that presents a classic C&C experience with the advantage of modern gaming hardware, and seems poised to match the successes of its progenitors.

- Elysium


Interestingly enough, more and more of the RTS titles coming out are emphasizing heavy offense, and little defense. WarCraft III has shoddy defensive structures for most of the races, and the winner is usually the most aggressive attacker. Generals seems to be the same way.

I've always been a defensive player. I tend to establish an impenetrable defense, let my attacker smash his forces against my walls, and strike when he has exhausted his offensive momentum. The US has decent units to do this in Generals, too. Sit behind patriot sites while your satellite probes for valuable targets. Once you know the layout of their base, send a flight of A10s in to lay waste to key structures, a C-130 to drop a fuel-air bomb, and a mass wave of paratroopers to clean up and secure the site after the airstrikes are done. This works wonders against the AI, but I have a feeling another player will simply devestate my base after consuming every resource on the battlefield.

Anyway, the whole point is that if I'm going to keep playing RTS titles, I need to force myself to become comfortable with sustained offense, rather than full defense. This seems to be the direction they're all going.

Sixx isn't too far off.  The comp's AI in the upper difficulty levels targets your resource gatherers and construction units just to mess with you.  I can only imagine how annoying it'd get with human players sending about 12 aircraft to wipe out your resource and industrial base.

>> I can only imagine how annoying it'd get with human players sending about 12 aircraft to wipe out your resource and industrial base. <<

Pretty annoying.  Particularly when it's Certis and you can hear him laughing about it over GameVoice. 

"Oh, I'm sorry did you need those?  Har har har!"


- Elysium