Real-Time Strategy games, as it seems, are a dime a dozen nowadays. Actually upon reflection, it’s a very fitting analogy for a genre that has become rather stale in recent years. For every Warcraft III
there are ten Highland Warriors
and for every Europa 1400 The Guild
there are fifteen Platoons
. It’s a genre that has been dealt a cruel hand due to the Johnny Come Latelys who have made it their duty to drown the genre with their shallowness.
Then something happened.
The founding fathers of the genre decided that enough desecration has taken place and that it was their duty to restore the genre to its former glory. Thus we have Command & Conquer: Generals
, the latest and perhaps greatest entry into the storied franchise.
Gee, I wonder who's going to win...
Numerous changes have been made to the classic formula yet the core gameplay remains unchanged. Build a base, provide it with ample defenses, gather resources and build a better army than your opponent. It’s strategy gaming that is basic to the core yet for some reason, it feels remarkably fresh in this forum. Maybe it’s because the game received a much needed facelift or perhaps it’s the designers’ decision to abandon the FMV cutscenes and focus more on the core gameplay. We can’t quite put our fingers on it but whatever it is, it’s a miracle worker.
The game unfurls over a span of three campaigns which while well-produced, are painfully short. Each of them consists of only seven missions apiece and to make matters worse, the first five or so often feel like filler material for the latter missions. There’s still a lot of fun to be had here, however, as completing the missions never quite feels like a chore. Mission objectives range from small things like destroying enemy bases and compounds to protecting a convoy of friendly troops from enemy fire. There’s enough variety here to keep the game from becoming too repetitive and unpleasant, a downfall of the majority of today’s RTSs.
It’s a real shame that the single-player facet of the game ends too quickly because they are some of the most well-produced levels ever seen in a game. They begin with an introduction, generally a conflict that sets the tone for the mission to come. This where the game’s 3D engine really shines, showing you close-ups of units, structures and terrain without any noticeable blurry-ness or lack of detail. We can’t begin to describe just how amazed we were when we watched these cutscenes take place and while we miss the inclusion of Kane in this game, we’re more than willing to make the sacrifice in this case.
It’s out with the old and in with the new for Generals
, this also means that all traces of the GDI and the NOD have been wiped out from this title. While it’s sad to see the two foes depart, it’s for the better good. In there places are three new factions, the Americans, the Chinese and the Global Liberation Army. The sides all feature their own unique technologies, units and weapons that will force you to learn different strategies to both defend and accommodate to them.
What’s really great about the game is that selecting a different side will force you to utilize an entirely different strategy. If you’re the Americans you may want to build up a huge tank force or massive mobile artillery. If you’re the Chinese perhaps you might want to build up a Mig force to accommodate your mobile nukes and if you’re the GLA, perhaps you’ll want to build up a massive legion of suicide bombers. Each side has some similar units there’s still enough variation to make each side feel entirely different and unique. There are some side-specific units that really stand out such as the Chinese hackers which have the ability to log on to the internet and steal funds for your cause.
Move it along folks, pay no attention to the giant mob that's troucing your town
There are some distinct differences that come with choosing each side. Players who like to focus on sneaky tactics will love the GLA, their side requires no power and in a cool inclusion, can actually earn money from killing their opponents. The downside to this is that they have lessened technologies so their vehicle units will have to scavenge kills in order to become more powerful. The technologically advanced Americans can amass a massive air attack, featuring stealths and combat planes while the Chinese rely on sheer dominance with their tanks.
While combat can still be won by building up the most massive forces, there is much more strategy this time around. Variables such as highground and cover play a massive role in deciding the outcome of a battle. In fact, utilizing the highground, a group of rocketmen can actually take out a battalion of tanks. Then there’s a new dynamic that comes with the ability to garrison civilian buildings. You can place your troops in the buildings so that they can shield themselves while raining fire upon the enemy. This gives them a significant advantage over the opposition, earning an additional plate of armor.
Each side also has their own form of superweapon that can rain massive destruction upon your opponents. You’ll be familiar with the particle cannon, a take off of the GDI’s Ion Cannon, but with a twist, instead of firing one shot it unleashes a sustained laser beam that can be controlled by the user. The Chinese have a massively destructive nuke that can level an entire base while the GLA have the Scud Storm, a structure that launches a whole host of Scud Missiles upon a target. They’re all fairly balanced although I feel that the Nuke is the strongest of the three, if only for its sheer ability to level entire buildings and armies.
New to this game are support bonuses that you can attain from moving up in the ranks. At the onset of the game you’re a one-star general but as you amass more kills you’ll move up in the rankings. As you move up you’ll earn bonus points that can be allotted to extras of your choice. These include cool things like parachute drops, carpet bombings, artillery strikes or EMP strikes. This is also key when it comes to upgrading your units, if you want the heavy machinery or the better infantry you’ll have to spend a point or two in this department.
Let’s be blunt for a moment if we can, this game is beautiful. While you may not notice it at first, the game is just absolutely stunning. As you progress through the game you’ll begin to notice a bevy of nicely implanted details. Vehicles don’t just explode and disappear, they smoke for a bit and then erupt into a mass of metal and fire, sending carnage all over the landscape. The shadows are just spectacular, rolling over the terrain and warping around buildings and vehicles. Tanks roll over fences and trees with astute realism, this game is just amazing. Cities look like real cities thanks to realistically detailed buildings that look like they were lifted from Simcity 4
. Forget about those little cookie-cutter cities that used to populate the RTS games, these are the real deal. This is hands down the best looking RTS game ever.
Dammit Bill! What did I tell you about running over trees? Greenpeace is going to be on my ass for this one
The units all look great, featuring plenty of nice touches and details. Tanks leave treadmarks in the terrain, planes leave contrails as they soar through the sky, even all the individual infantrymen look pretty good. Best of all you can zoom in your camera and get all close and personal with the action. Speaking of the camera, you’ll be able to fully rotate your vantage point, positioning to the location that best suits you. This is a pretty nice addition seeing as how in this type a game, a new vantage point gives you an entirely new perspective on the action.
From the audio perspective this game is great, but not as great as it should have been. The soundtrack, a longtime favorite amongst fans, has been reduced to normalcy as it features some weak and generic tunes. I can’t think of one memorable tune in the game that really appealed to me. For longtime fans of the series this is sure to be a letdown, don’t expect a cd-soundtrack to be released anytime soon.
It’s a real shame too because the rest of the game’s audio is just superb. Everything sounds as realistic as you could probably imagine. All of the sounds of war have been recreated quite nicely. We especially admired the sounds of the tanks, the way that the treads rolled over the terrain with that squeaky noise had our War Buffs mesmerized.
We really liked the path that the designers chose to go with for the base building elements. You can now orient your buildings to face in any direction you like, none of that four-way directional nonsense here. When you want to place a building down, just hold down the mouse button and rotate it until it faces in the direction of your liking. This does wonders for saving space in your operation. What we would have liked to see, however, is the ability to use multiple builders to speed up the building process. Other games have been implementing this for years, why not use it here too?
Anyone else get the sudden urge to watch ID4?
We also had a few problems with the pathfinding AI. At times the units would get stuck in the middle of a huge plain for no apparent reason. It almost appeared as if they had become gridlocked and were waiting for the traffic to clear up. Other times the units were unresponsive entirely, just acknowledging our orders and remaining still. It’s not the worst we’ve ever seen but it’s pretty bad and at times, it really hinders the entire experience.
Multiplayer is a real joy, if you can get it to work that is. There are numerous problems that have yet to be addressed pertaining to router/firewall issues. I had to actually unplug my router just to be able to play the game, something that seems to be a carryover from the older days of gaming. On the plus side multiplay is just excellent, providing more of that same addictive action that used to keep you up all night on Westwood Chat. This game is worth the price of admission for just the multiplayer alone, provided that you can get it work that is.Generals
isn’t perfect but it marks the series’ return to glory after a number of recent misfires. It’s good enough to wipe the foul taste of Renegade
out of our mouths and that’s no easy task. If you’re in the market for a good RTS game then you simply cannot go wrong with Generals
, it’s the pinnacle of RTS gaming and will set a new standard for the genre. Sadly we may never hear from Westwood Studios again but their memory will forever live on, thanks to this classic entry into its storied franchise.