PC Review

Command and Conquer Generals

A very important title for EA Pacific gets a thorough grilling. This is C&C in 2003.

In reviewing a brand new Command and Conquer game, I find myself lodged somewhere between a rock and a very hard place. It’s a tough proposition, attempting to balance the game’s popularity and polish with a lack of innovation and increasingly tough competition from elsewhere in the genre.

With these multiple objectives in mind, EA Pacific have made my job no easier by altering their premise ever so slightly with this sequel, and adding-in a politically dubious and controversial setting – surrounding a number of warring factions that do bare a resemblance to the current political situation, albeit minus a number of complexities.

Indeed, before I continue in my analysis of the game proper, I’d like to address these nuances that have been touched upon to various extents and ends in a number of Generals reviews already floating around online.

The game is based around three warring factions in the near-future. The Americans, the Chinese, and the GLA (Global Liberation Army), the latter resembling some kind of middle-eastern terrorist faction. Whilst this rather unnervingly relevant setting might not be particularly responsible given the current political climate, the fact remains that Generals does not give enough attention to the particulars of each side, and their various aims and motivations to prove dangerously political, and whilst one does feel EA might have been more sensible to avoid any painful reminders entirely, this is only a minor issue, and should cause no offence to those with views on the world situation at the moment.

Indeed, EA Pacific’s rather simplistic and childish approach to war and politics, may actually have saved them from causing offence on this particular occasion. If games are going to carry political messages, it should at least be well-informed.

Moving on from the altered story to the game itself, and it’s a case of same old same old in the main. Whilst the graphics may have improved, the AI tweaked, and we get a few new units, setting and options, the fundamentals of the game remain largely faithful to the previous instalments in this most illustrious of gaming series.

The basic gameplay remains much the same; a balancing act of resources and unit variety, whilst choosing strategies to attack and defend against similarly positioned foes. As with past outings I am pleased to report that generally all is good light-hearted fun, albeit nothing revolutionary. This is a plus as well as a minus point for Generals, which will no doubt appease the games numerous fans, though it won’t be luring gamers away from Warcraft 3 or Age of Mythology anytime soon, either.

The traditional values of the game remain intact, with a typical game commencing the usual rush to gather resources (each side now has different resources to collect), and build structures to create units with varying capabilities. The first thing to note is that whilst the sides may vary hugely in their strengths and weaknesses, they are very well balanced overall, making for some interesting conflicts. Whilst battles can once again rely too heavily on tank-rushes and the like, it’s pleasing to note the variety and pace of battles, which places far more emphasis on frenetic fun than tactical realism. This does mean the game may prove a tad simplistic for some, but the variety of units available, especially the really evil ones, is interesting regardless.

Generally speaking the all-important AI that governs unit behaviour and enemy tactics in the game is looking very good indeed; the enemy Skirmish intelligence proving particularly crafty and making for some very multiplayer-esque battles. Which is good. The unit AI does however have its flaws, and can occasionally be found taking an irritatingly long-route to its destination, or coming under attack without returning fire.

It is also a shame that no naval units have been included in the game. This may be a result of the premise, but it still seems a little lazy on EA’s part to discount one of the most tactically interesting elements of real-time strategy. An odd exclusion.

This leads me on to the omission of another C&C favourite. The cinematic cut-scenes between missions. Sadly, they’re gone, replaced by mediocre in-game briefings. This means that Generals is found somewhat lacking on the plot front, and as previously mentioned, doesn’t really have a story that progresses during the game at all. This is a pity as the cut-scenes in past titles did wonders to hold together the single-player game, and was an incentive on its own for completing singleplayer missions. Hopefully EA Pacific will bite the bullet and splash the cash to include this fondly remembered part of C&C in future outings.

The ‘Generals’ ability system is a small but noteworthy addition to the original formula, and it means that your burgeoning experience and success in battle will be rewarded with improvements to your army. The interface has also shifted slightly, from the ride-hand side menu to a Warcraft-style arrangement across the bottom of the screen. In practice this change makes little difference, and navigation as a whole is not a problem.

Visually-speaking this is the finest Command and Conquer to date, and is certainly one of the best looking titles in the genre. The effects (such as explosions), can be awe-inspiring at times, as well as the debris and fire that comes with them. The detail of the landscapes is more ambitious than ever before, and whilst some have criticised the lack of terrain variety, some of the scenery is incredibly intricate and very realistic, especially the towns and villages that can be occupied strategically. Unfortunately, this new level of richness and detail comes with a rather nasty drawback, namely that you’ll need a rather beefy PC to appreciate Generals at its silky best. This is not an understatement, as without hardware of the advanced kind, your Generals experience will be infuriatingly jerky and slow. Bare this in mind.

When it comes to multiplayer, EA seem to have got all their bases covered, and it really is incredibly easy to setup and play games online. What’s more we’re given a goodly selection of multiplayer maps to play on, too - and if they prove insufficient, the World Builder tool included allows you to create your own battlefields.

The audio is of a high standard in the game, and whilst the accents might be hilarious, the music does a good job of heightening the atmosphere, with each side enjoying suitably colloquial accompaniment.

C&C Generals then is an exceedingly well-made game, proving a good competitor to other big players in the genre. It is not without it’s flaws or oversights however, and this coupled with the gargantuan nature of system requirements means that it is not a game that will be relished by all. Regardless, fans of C&C won’t find themselves disappointed.

E3 Trailer