From the same people that brought you RTS (real time strategy) games as we now know them; this is the last in a long lineage that has covered about ten years.
It is amazing that even though this is the last Command & Conquer (C&C) to come from Westwood Studios, it is the first C&C to use actual 3D polygons instead of 2D sprites which is a welcome change.
Let’s start with what is positive about the graphics. The C&C line of games have finally moved to 3D units. It took Westwood ten years but they finally made a C&C RTS that is completely in 3D. The scale could be better, but at least the perspective is set at a good angle and all of the units are discernable. The smoke and particle system for explosions are great, but definitely not top notch.
Despite the ‘pros’, the graphics won’t win any awards this year. They are good, but definitely not jaw dropping. Oddly enough, you will need a decent setup to deal with the amount of units on the screen at one time that are constantly firing or blowing up at one time. The unit textures and the amount of polygons per unit are about average but definitely less than what we are used to today. However, since you will be zoomed out for a large portion of the game, you won’t really notice. All in all, I would say that the graphics are good enough and may surprise you from time to time.
There isn’t much to talk about with the sound. The sound is excellent and the audio cues are on point. Come on, who really plays an RTS for sound. As long as you get the appropriate cues and can tell when people die, then I would say it is good enough.
The typical RTS gameplay elements are here: the ability to assign units to hot key groups, the balanced sides, and everything else that makes an RTS a good strategy game. Westwood has done it again. If you are used to their strategy games then you won’t have any problem getting into this one, which helps with the fun factor. Another major change to this year’s C&C is the lack of any FMV (full motion video for those of you who don’t know what FMV stands for). Past iterations of C&C used FMV to convey the story, but this time there is neither FMV nor an actual story. For each side, you are given mission objectives and small in game cut scenes to set everything up. Some people may actually like this change, which is why I listed it as a ‘pro’. There are obviously the subtle things that many nitpickers will note, for example: “Why do the Chinese Nukes not do as much damage as a Scud Storm and etc, etc, etc?” and to those I say–just enjoy it! The units are equally balanced and what more can you ask for past that. The game can be fun and will keep you entertained if you let it.
The strategy elements of the game can be a bit too simple at times. There aren’t any pre-made formations to give to your units, even though you can create your own formations, which can be futile sometimes. Also the AI is a bit weak. You tend to have to baby-sit your units, which is an obvious pain, otherwise your units won’t defend themselves when attacked. In fact the only way I got my units to protect themselves was to give the guard an area command, which can be a pain if you are in a rush. The game also places more of an importance on creating small tactical groups to destroy your enemy early on, which is typical of most RTS’ in multiplayer, but in single player it can leave you wanting. I know many people prefer it, but I think it makes the game a bit weaker when you can run through the single player missions within 10-15 minutes. This element combined with the short length of the game left me a bit discouraged as well. Seven missions for each side is really not enough for seasoned veterans. You can always turn the difficulty up, but obviously that won’t be enough for everybody. I listed this as a ‘pro’ but it is also a ‘con’ for some people, which is the lack of a story. In a way it is good because there aren’t anymore of those stupid FMVs, but for two discs I felt they could have thrown something in besides the little opening scenarios before each mission (who thought it was a good idea to not allow you to skip these). Also since there is no real story, if you get stuck, you have no motivation to keep trying. My next gripe is with the level of difficulty and how fast it goes up. Each campaign starts off relatively easy, but I found the Chinese missions a little bit tougher as they went on. All of the missions in general get way too hard, way too fast for anyone just picking up a RTS for the first time, but the GLA and US missions can still be beat within a few days even if you’re a novice. Some people may just recommend ramping up the difficulty, but that would just make things too difficult from the beginning and since the enemy A.I. has unlimited resources at its disposal, there is no point. In actuality, ramping up the difficulty should just make the A.I. use more and better strategies. Also with the difficulty discrepancy is the lack of unit knowledge the game gives. I, like most people, didn’t scour the manual to learn how to play the game, that’s what that little button labeled ‘Training’ is for. So by the time I got to the end of the Chinese missions, I found that some of my units had abilities I was never aware of, the loudspeakers on top of Overloads for example (those who have played Generals know what I’m talking about). Now the fact that I could make it to the last mission, with little difficulty, and never even know that I had the option, let alone need it, is crazy to me. I think that they could have put some mission objectives that could have better used the given units. This probably could have been done had there been more than seven missions per side, but alas I am left wanting.
Ok, this is what I was really looking forward to when I got Generals. I actually paid for this game with the intention of playing one of my buddies, just like many of you I presume. Unfortunately, Westwood put the least amount of work into this area and EA did not feel that it should be fixed for some reason. My main complaint is that it still uses IPX and not TCP which means that direct connecting can be one of the largest pains to come to your backside. Also, the browser that is used to look for servers tends to be three steps away from being completely and utterly useless. And the icing on the cake is that the game can be terribly sluggish on the internet with frequent drop outs. Patches are released often but we shall see if they ever fix everything. Did I mention that if you have a Linksys Router, then you might not be able to play at all or direct connect with anyone?
Despite my many gripes, the fun factor must be weighed in with everything else and the game is definitely that–fun. Many of the ‘cons’ are things that the average gamer may not care about and if that is the case then you will think this game is almost perfect. The hardcore gamers will most definitely find fault with this game, but this finding should not deter them from enjoying the game for what it is–an enjoyable tank bombing, air raid, ion cannon blasting experience. If Westwood can fix the multiplayer, then this will definitely be a game you’ll be playing with your friends for a while. If not, then at least you will enjoy it for as long as it lasts.