Update: I was unfortunately not aware of Shamus Young's severe criticism of Fallout 3 available here to link in the original piece and I regret that. It dovetails rather nicely with what I've written and it's much better executed than my piece. I strongly recommend anyone...
Command & Conquer Generals is the final game from Westwood Studios. Being a fan of Westwood's work, particularly the Dune and Command & Conquer series, this is a sad move.
Fortunately, Generals is one of those farewell presents that makes you forget how upset you were.
In Generals, the game engine is completely different to the other installments in the C&C series. Before, everything was just a texture, except for in Renegade, which was in polygon 3D, but doesn't count as Renegade was a FPS. Now, everything is 3D polygons. Well, aside from the textures. Just watching you get horribly defeated is fun as all the sounds and animations are well done. I'm still waiting for when a plane crashes into the wreck of the tank it just blew up in midair. From the heights I have seen the wreckages go, it's possible. The downside to this is that you're going to need a pretty grunty machine to see it well. Then again, with a game this good, using outdated hardware is an injustice in itself.
The game itself is also far-fetched from the original C&C series. In the original series, it was either the Allies fighting the Soviets, the GDI fighting Nod, the Allies fighting the Soviets and Yuri or, for those who have Red Alert: Counterstrike, the GDI fighting giant ants. But, in Generals, it is the USA and China fighting the GLA. No ants. The tanks and weapons are more like the realistic weapons used in the origional C&C, but when you get up to the highest tech levels is when things start to go all sci-fi.
They do stay firmly rooted in reality, but some of the weapons are a little too high-tech to exist. Cue the conspiracy nuts!!!
Each side has it's own playing style. Veterans of the C&C series will find the USA to be a good side to start off with, as they are well balanced and more technological than the others. The Chinese will attract those who like big econimies, as they get the Hacker, who can constantly steal online funds for your war effort. The Chinese units are more for 'rush' tactics, as they get special bonuses for being in large groups. The GLA are for the more 'diabolical' players, as they do not depend on power plants and are more accustomed to hiding.
Two examples of these differences are radar and base defence. The USA get radar built into their Command Centers and their base defences are missile sites. These missile sites can lock onto air and ground units, and do more against vehicles than tanks. They can even send locational data to nearby sites, so multiple sites can lock onto the same unit. The Chinese need to upgrade each Command Center with radar in order to get it. This means the center itself is cheaper and faster to build. The Chinese get Gattling towers as a basic base defence, similar to those in Yuri's Revenge. These are better at anti-air than the USA sites as they are more accurate. They are less powerful against tanks but have no problems against infantry. The GLA are the strange ones. Their radar comes from the Radar Van unit. This means as long as one Radar Van is on the map, their radar is up. This also means their radar can be saved, even if their base is destroyed. The downside is that the Radar Van has less health than the other radar methods. The GLA basic base defence is the Stinger Site. This is a tent with 3 infantry inside. This provides similar effectiveness, compared to the USA missiles, but is unable to send locational data.However, the GLA Stinger Sites can be upgraded to have Stealth Netting, thus giving it stealth capabilities. The downsides to the Stinger Site is that it is much larger than the USA missiles or the Chinese gattling tower, and the Stinger Sites can be neutralised by anti-infantry weapons, like the Flame Tank. The infantry inside are re-trained for free, though.
Each side also gets different Generals Powers. These are unlocked by killing things. Initially, one power can be chosen by each player at the start of the match, but only Tier 1 weapons can be chosen. Tier 1 options are generally locked units, or the ability to build veteran units. Each level the player advances allows for another power to be chosen. Once the 3rd level is reached, Tier 2 is unlocked. This is where the 3 stage powers are. 3-stage powers are powers that allow the player to 'upgrade' the power. For instance, a Level 1 paradrop for the US may drop 4 infantry. A Level 2 paradrop may drop 6 infantry, and a Level 3 paradrop may give 10 infantry. But, once the player reaches Level 5, things get interesting. For, level 5 is the top level, and here is where Tier 3 is unlocked. Level 5 also grants 3 powers, not 1. Tier 3 powers include all the really destructive weapons, like the Fuel Air bomb and Anthrax bomb.
And once these get boring, you should get the expansion pack: Zero Hour. For, Zero Hour is one of the C&C expansion packs that I would say is essential if you own the game it goes to. Zero Hour includes many things that make Generals a legendary game. For instance, the Generals feature that was originally planned for the game, but wasn't included is in Zero Hour. This even comes with a new campaign: Generals campaign. In this, you choose one general, and using them, fight a selection of the others. I will leave that there, as this is a review of Generals, not Zero Hour
Generals is a brilliant game in itself, but Zero Hour makes it a legendary game. Westwood have certainly left the best for last.