Review by bleachistehcool
"In all good consciousness, I simply cannot recommend this game."
Command & Conquer: Generals is, as the tag line says, a game I simply cannot recommend in good consciousness, especially to fans of the Command & Conquer franchise. Actually, the Command & Conquer: Generals installment is a rather divisive line of the franchise. Fans who remember all the way back to the original Command & Conquer game of 1995 (referred to in fan circles as "Tiberium Dawn") will sometimes express many misgivings about this game related to game play, but not necessarily in regards to any game mechanics. These complaints center around the changed game mechanics, a departure from other games in the franchise, and basically amount to complaints regarding Command & Conquer: Generals being more like a StarCraft clone than a proper installment of the franchise. These complaints are actually quite valid; however, there are more fundamental flaws to the game as well.
For starters, let's go ahead and talk about those game mechanics. To reiterate, a common complaint is that the game mechanics and interface more closely resemble StarCraft than Command & Conquer. This is actually quite a valid complaint for experienced Command & Conquer fans especially who are expecting to be able to dive into the game right out of the box and expecting a familiar interface only to be initially surprised and frustrated. This may not seem like a big deal but the differences are enough to create frustration for the first few rounds of game play. For example, in previous Command & Conquer games the very first structure buildable was the Construction Yard, a tough and durable structure that not only builds all other structures but essentially acts as a command base. In Command & Conquer: Generals the Construction Yard is replaced with a Construction Vehicle, which while mobile is very weak and vulnerable, and the (slow) mobility of these vehicles is not really sufficient to make up for their vulnerability. Players more familiar with the older Command & Conquer games will be frustrated when they fail to take this vulnerability into account and have their only means of building additional structures destroyed early into the game. There is a command structure, appropriately called the Command Center, but this is an advanced structure available only somewhat down the tech tree. The player does have the option of building more construction vehicles, but only the Command Center can build them, and building multiple structures at once often drains more money than being particularly useful, especially when building defensive structures, the one structure most useful building simultaneously.
There are other true interface flaws and bugs as well that greatly frustrate gameplay. Previous installments of the Command & Conquer franchise make use of both the left and right mouse buttons for extra flexibility. Command & Conquer: Generals, however, makes almost exclusive use of the left mouse button; the right mouse button is used almost solely for deselecting units. This sudden change in mouse control scheme can be very frustrating and confusing to use for players more familiar with the traditional Command & Conquer interface until they become used to it. Even once they have become accustomed to the new interface, having so many functions assigned to a single mouse button presents some serious control and interface flaws that simply cannot be adapted to easily. Let's go back to the Construction Vehicle, for example; the left mouse button is used to both order the vehicle to move and to order the vehicle to construct a building. However, the area needed to click on a building in order to order a construction vehicle to finish or repair it is surprisingly small, so players may think they have assigned a construction vehicle to repair or finish a building when in reality they have simply ordered it to move. This can be an extremely frustrating experience during a heavy battle, as it diverts attention that would otherwise be needed to spent micromanaging offensive units. Both the left and right mouse buttons are also used to assign movement orders on the radar map; in order to deselect a unit, you must deselect it on the main screen. This can be very frustrating for players who forget this (once again, if they're used to the traditional Command & Conquer interface) as they may order units away from a critical task by accident.
Micromanagement is a frustrating issue as well, related to the previously stated reasons. Units are not set to automatically guard or engage enemy units on their own (what is often referred to as a "default guard mode," particularly in the other Command & Conquer games) and the special command interface is more confusing than other installments of the Command & Conquer franchise. A group of powerful units, for example, may be suddenly destroyed without warning because enemy units will fire on them without any reaction whatsoever. This issue makes micromanagement, and by extension the overall game play experience, ridiculously frustrating. In order to make your units an effective fighting unit, you are forced to micromanage them at all times. If there are several groups of units you are commanding, you must set aside those units in a safe area in order to ensure their safety, and even then safety is not guaranteed. The consequences of not micromanaging your units at all times almost always means their complete and surprise destruction, with the only warning you receive being that the units are destroyed. This is much less of a problem in previous installments of the Command & Conquer franchise as not only units have a default guard mode, but the player gets ample warning that units are attacked, allowing the player to switch focus and defend the attacked units. In Command & Conquer: Generals, however, having more than one group of units is almost pointless and a waste of resources. Artillery units are almost pointless as well, as in order to be truly effective they must be branched into separate units of their own, and are not terribly effective as artillery units in either case due to very short range and poor offensive capability.
In fact, the units overall are not particularly inspired or useful other than in massive rush tactics. The Chinese have basic units that are meant for rushes, such as the Battlemaster tank and Red Guard infantry. Unfortunately however, the GLA, although supposedly a faction based on "sneak attack" and tactics, pretty much just functions identically to the Chinese faction; basic units that are cheap enough to be used in rush tactics. Because the GLA units are cheaper, and the Chinese units not much more powerful, the Chinese units aren't really useful until higher in the tech tree, particularly with air power. The "trump card" of the Chinese army is supposed to be the Overlord super tank (similar to the "Mammoth" and "Apocalypse" tanks of the other Command & Conquer games) and the nuclear artillery cannon, but these units are not only resource intensive, but are surprisingly poor on defense and offense. The Overlord can be taken down even by a relatively small force, especially if air power or long-range rocket launchers like the GLA rocket buggy are involved, or if facing a GLA suicide bomber rush attack, and its cannon are not all that particularly powerful. The nuclear artillery cannon simply doesn't live up to its hype, with a pathetically short range and firepower, with the only unit capable of being killed in one shot being infantry. In short, these units are completely and totally useless and a waste of funds. The only truly useful unit the Chinese have is the MiG fighter. The GLA and the American factions have similar balance issues. Despite a lack of air power, the GLA is arguably the best faction just because of how easy they take to rush tactics. The Americans generally fall into the same trap, but many flaws are exaggerated; decent units that just are not justified by the resources they use up.
This is all clearly made evident in the badly designed and unbalanced campaign mode. The Chinese faction in particular has several difficult and frustrating missions, even on the easiest mode (there is no "easy" mode either; there are only "normal," "hard" and "brutal" difficulty levels). The last Chinese mission in particular is practically impossible for all but the most advanced players, even on the easiest difficulty; the GLA not only has virtually unlimited resources and their super weapon made available at the beginning of a mission, but the player is given very limited resources in order to fight with. These resources are also right away pitched into a battle which only serves to drain your resources. Gathering additional resources, and building your base and army is made very frustrating by a never-ending wave of enemy forces and attacks on your base that occur every five minutes. I simply do not think that this is reasonable, especially since this is supposed to be the first campaign played by the player! Even without these flaws, the campaigns do not offer much of a compelling reason to play; there are almost no real cut scenes or any other real storytelling devises telling you that there is a story unfolding, very much unlike other Command & Conquer games which use full motion video to explain the background of the political dealings of battle and how your actions on the battlefield effect the world. Instead, it feels like you're playing just a bunch of missions strung together, not unlike the extra mission packs to the original Command & Conquer or Command & Conquer: Red Alert. In short, the game doesn't even try to give you a good reason to play it.
In conclusion, Command & Conquer: Generals is a game with significant flaws that make it a frustrating experience, especially for fans of other games in the franchise. If you have a copy of this game through the Command & Conquer: The First Decade collection, feel free to skip installing the Generals series and save having to punch in the individual security keys.
Reviewer's Score: 4/10 | Originally Posted: 02/17/09
Game Release: Command & Conquer: Generals (US, 02/10/03)
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