Review by hoopyfrood

"What the original should have been"

Command & Conquer Generals was one of the more high-profile RTS games released last year, both because of it's status as the ''next Command & Conquer sequel'' and because of the new developers taking the series over after EA dismantled Westwood, bringing with them a hideously short dev cycle, and a brand new 3d engine that promised to stun people.

The original suffered greatly from the rush to release, shipping with many game stopping bugs, and a feature set that was playable, but not spectacular. The game also suffered from netcode problems, graphics engine inconsistency (cutscenes would chug along at miniscule framerates on even the most killer system, even if gameplay was smooth), hideously poor AI, pathetically short single player experience, no random maps, and the fact that its system requirements were probably the highest of any RTS released at that point (and likely still).

However, all was not lost. Getting rid of Westwood allowed the new Generals to ditch a lot of the staid old cruft that had been building up under the Command & Conquer name, and incorporate some of the sane innovations in RTS games that have come up since the original C&C. I freely admit that I really dislike every RTS ever released under the Command & Conquer and Red Alert labels. Generals was, for me at least, a welcome departure from a legacy best remembered, not constantly repeated.

Enter stage right the expansion, Zero Hour, and exit stage left the majority of the problems.

First off, what's still not so good.

1. No random maps. This, to many, will be a niggling detail. To me, it's the biggest flaw still in this game. Random map generation ability should, in my probably not-so-humble opinion, should be mandatory in every RTS game ever made. Random maps make the game different every single time, and shoot replay value through the roof.

2. Still some netcode bugs and lockups. Not nearly as many as in the original Generals, and I doubt they'll stick around past the first patch.

3. High system requirements are still high, but it doesn't seem to be as much of a barrier, as the game plays better on lower end machines. Or at least it appears to.

4. No way to randomly pick a General and exclude the vanilla armies. Niggling, but I wish it was there.

Not so long a list. Now on to the improvements.

1. The AI has recieved a complete revamping, and hard is finally hard. Me and a friend used to regularly play against 5 hard AI players in the original Generals, and it was sort of a diversionary exercise. Now, 3 of us against 3 hard AIs, and we lose half the time.

2. Gameplay is much faster and smoother in multi-player. When playing on large maps against multiple computer opponents, the game would crawl at a couple frames per second when the enemy would group hundreds of units at choke points. Now, while it still slows down, it's not nearly as painfully slow as it used to be. Custscenes are smooth.

3. All of the new units and Generals powers are quite useful. Some of them, are arguably more useful than others, and some fit others' play styles better, but there's something for everyone here.

4. The new specialized generals really make the game. They spice things up, require vastly different play styles for each one, and generally throw a wrench into the eminently predictable game that was the original.

5. The single player game has been expanded dramatically. The ''campaign'' missions are only half the story, and those complaining about the mere 15 single player missions didn't have the full picture. The Generals Challenge adds a whole new dimension to the single player experience. You pick one of the newly introduced Generals and fight against all the other Generals on their home bases. The experience is kind of like the fighting games gauntlet, where you pick a character and fight the rest of the lineup in an order peculiar to that character. Each general does better against one or more other generals, depending on their particular powers and special units. Very good practice for skirmishing against the computer or humans.

6. There is a coherent story, surprisingly. Told between missions in the style of news broadcasts, you actually get sort of into the game, as opposed to the largely arbitrary missions of the original.

The Ratings:

Story: 7
It's no War & Peace, but it's respectable, which is far better than what the original was.

Gameplay: 9
Controls are kept simple, like the original, but the gameplay far smoother and varied. Far more options to juggle, and far more things you need to be ready for.

Graphics: 7
Models on human units are still very poorly done, which is a shame because vehicles and just about everything else are done very well. If Ensemble, in Age of Mythology can do small units with much higher quality, so can these guys.

Sound: 9.9 (honorary 10)
The sound is just great. Voiceovers are at worst good, at best classics. The music is great for all sides. The only reason I can't give them a resounding 10 on this is that I wanted more music from these guys. 1 song per side, no matter how good, gets boring quickly.

Replayability: 9
The Generals Challenge mode, and the revamped, and now large and in-charge AI gives this game probably the best RTS replayability save for Age of Mythology with it's random map generator taking the crown.

Buy or Not?: Buy
If you liked the core concepts of the original Generals, but found it too buggy or slow, you definitely need to give Zero Hour a shot. If you liked Generals, Zero Hour only makes it better. If you are one of those people that didn't like Generals because it did away with most of the old C&C formula, I'd stay away, because nothing changed.

Reviewer's Rating:   4.5 - Outstanding

Originally Posted: 10/13/03

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