Review by DrExplodo

"Best C&C since the original"

Since the original “Command and Conquer” title was released, several others have come and gone, creating a full-fledged legacy of games. But while “Command and Conquer: Tiberian Dawn” was an undeniably inventive title that few will forget, successive games since then have lacked much of what made “Command and Conquer” great. “Command and Conquer: Tiberian Sun”, the original C&C’s official sequel, was intended to be everything its predecessor had through the use of what was then state of the art graphics technology, such as voxels (only worked well in theory), 3-D levels (not truly 3-D, like Generals), new control options and what they aspired to make an equally great atmosphere and storyline, but most people now agree it largely failed on those fronts. Although more of a spin-off than an official sequel and not part of the continuing storyline, “Command and Conquer: Generals” has stepped up to the plate and once again offered a slew of innovations which it this time got right. I think that it’s the best C&C title since the original- although it’s diverted from “classic” C&C style gameplay a lot, obviously having drawn upon some of the finer points of 3-D RTS masterpiece “Warcraft 3”.

Just so I can have all my cards on the table here, I need to say that there are certain things I can’t properly do in this review and I won’t try. What I mean by that is I’m playing all 3 campaigns at once and haven’t finished any, I’m mostly concerned with skirmishes, and I’m not an online player (don’t have too much fun with the online gaming community and I’m stuck with a modem. Ugh.)

Gameplay: I’m going to start off with this for this title to explain what it’s about. As I’m sure you’ve heard, the sides here are China, the U.S. and the GLA (Global Liberation Army; Arab paramilitary terrorists). I found the sides all very distinctive and balanced. I hear a lot about them being unbalanced, which is to be expected, but even then some people say the U.S. is too powerful, others say China is and others the GLA. The U.S. has very expensive units, but some of the most powerful ones in the game and all very multipurposeful. The same Chinooks that gather supplies can airdrop Rangers, the Rangers can flush people out of buildings with Flashbangs, and the Humvees that often transport them have firing ports for troops to shoot out of, a TOW missile upgrade for anti-tank and anti-aircraft capability and 2 types of optional drones. The Chinese use a lot of horde tactics and have arguably the best armor (tank) capabilities, among other things. The GLA is ruthlessly efficient, tricky and unpredictable, and highly mobile. They lack any kind of an air force, though, and have few units that are relatively powerful. The difficulties are as I’d expect in a C&C game- the easiest are pushovers who rarely attack and never start multiple bases and the hardest is lightning fast and really takes some getting used to, but eventually a human player will learn to beat them every time (I certainly haven’t yet, but I know I will). The “General Abilities” add an interesting new twist, encourage offense over letting other opponents kill each other in skirmishes and add yet more distinctiveness to the 3 armies. As you kill more and more enemies, your rank improves and you can buy offensive strikes, special abilities, new units and improvements you can unlock and “troop deliveries” of various sorts, all of which stick with you (i.e. offensive strikes “recharge” and can be used repeatedly once purchased). Several clever things have been done to reduce necessary micromanagement; for example, China can build APCs that come with a full load of troops already inside. The gameplay here is really nice and I’ll keep coming back for quite a while.

Graphics and Sound: The graphics in this game are also very impressive. They don’t bring too much of anything new to RTS graphics engine technology but if you’ve wanted to see what Warcraft 3-class graphics in a modern warfare game would look like as much as I have, I think you’ll be impressed, too. The landscapes aren’t particularly great, but more than passable. The infantry could look a little nicer and more detailed. But other than that- well. The vehicles all look very nice. A few of them are awfully similar, but not so similar that you can’t tell them apart. Where the game really shines, though, is in its effects- weapon effects, vehicle explosion effects, terrain decals (vehicles leave tread and tire tracks behind them!), all extremely nice. Vehicle explosions send bits and pieces bouncing along the landscape all over and pilots careening through the air, artillery pieces belch incredible looking flames from the barrels, and the larger explosions, from nukes or fuel air bombs, are simply stunning. Bravo to Electronic Arts for that! I was able to run this at 1024x768 resolution with all other settings maxed out on a Pentium 4 2 Ghz computer with a 128 MB GeForce 4 card and 512 megs of RAM, and I very occasionally have some slowdown when a ton of units are onscreen at once. As for the sounds and music, the music is as good as I’d expect in any C&C title, with a lot of rock-oriented songs and elements of grinding industrial sound. The Chinese and GLA have their own tracks which are (supposedly) cultural-sounding and pretty well-composed. The sound effects are decent, and some of the things units say are very amusing (especially the GLA).

Story: The story in single-player mode so far is somewhat lacking in that there’s very little continuous progression of plotline from mission to mission. For the most part you just get background on the mission you were assigned and what you need to do and in you go, fighting. I was disappointed to see that there were no between-mission or introductory cut scenes, since they were one of the things that really struck me in the original C&C. I suppose it’s better, though, than throwing something together and ending up with the kind of annoyingly or laughably cheesy cut scenes featured in Command and Conquer: Red Alert 2. I’ll include in the story, though, the gameplay environment, which I liked a lot. Command and Conquer has done the futuristic sci-fi environment to death, so it’s a welcome change seeing the new setting: very near future, with events and such based very loosely around the situation in the real world. I’m actually very surprised, though, that there hasn’t been any outrage over the GLA. You can build suicide bombers, terrorists who can set car bombs in civilian villages, anthrax bombs and SCUD missiles. On top of that, the entire army is a religiously motivated Arab terrorist organization that employs frightened slave laborers who say things like “Can I have some shoes?” and “OK, don’t hurt me, I will work” when clicked on. It doesn’t offend me at all, but I could see how some people will be offended it, just so you know. I hear from some people that they think the game is hugely unrealistic. I hear this about every C&C title and just don’t get it. Of course it’s unrealistic; tanks have to be within 5 end-to-end tank lengths of their target to shoot and take 5 shots to destroy another tank of the same model! So nukes can’t destroy more than a couple buildings, big deal. If a nuke destroyed the entire map and a mobile artillery piece could shoot at anything on the map, the game probably wouldn’t be too much fun. I enjoyed the environment and could get into the commanding role, even with all the stereotypes.

Replayability: I won’t comment too much here, for the reasons I stated above. I’d say what I’ve heard about the campaign lengths and online play, but you’d probably much rather read another review from an online player who’s beaten the game anyway. I have had a lot of repeated enjoyment in Skirmish mode, though. It’s fun working for the different “medals” you can earn in skirmishes, such as an Endurance award for beating every map or a Blitz award for winning a match in under 10 minutes. The huge differences between each army (all of which I enjoy playing) have gone a long way for me here. I think I’ll leave it at that.

I usually don’t even play RTS games; I rarely play anything but FPS games now. But being the fan of C&C titles that I am, I couldn’t quite pass this up and I’m very glad I got it. It’s not perfect, but it’s a very satisfactory game, to say the least, in almost every way.

Graphics and Sound: 9/10 Gameplay: 9/10
Story: 5/10 Replayability: Undecided
Overall: 8/10

(Where 1 is unacceptably pathetic, 5 is a perfectly average, decent title and 10 is a masterpiece, i.e. the original Command and Conquer, Doom, etc.)

Reviewer's Rating:   4.0 - Great

Originally Posted: 03/28/03, Updated 03/28/03

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