Players: 1 to 8 Player Game | Release Date: 02/10/03 | Genre: RTS
If you refer to Doom as the father of all first person shooters (FPS), then you'll have to give the nod to Command & Conquer as the daddy of all RTS games. While the original C&C was good, the next game in the series, Red Alert, cranked everything up a notch. I won't argue that Tiberian Sun (a direct descendant to C&C) fell a bit short of the mark, but Red Alert II held up their high standards. Generals follows more of the Red Alert line in regards to play and feel, while it takes a step ahead into the 3D realm. Just don't ask me to judge whether or not it is better than the Red Alert games; The RA series has a bit more flair and sense of humor, while Generals seems more realistic and serious. Either way you go, all of them are good.
Generals follows along the current trend of having 3 opposing sides that have different strengths, weaknesses, and playing styles. Pick either the US, Chinese, or the Global Liberation Army (GLA ?�� who was modeled after certain Middle Eastern terrorist organizations), and then you will find yourself spending some time learning how to deploy your forces in the best fashion. The Chinese can roll out tanks and other armor units with serious muscle, and they have a respectable air power. The US has the best air units in the game with a solid ground force. The GLA has quick, but effective, terrorist tactics available to them, which I found somewhat disturbing after recent events. Some of their units can hijack vehicles to use against the other sides or arm them with explosives to take out key targets. They can also use biological weapons to poison and kill enemy units.
If you try to use strategies that work against the strengths of the side that you are playing as, you will end up banging your head against your keyboard while watching the enemy roll right through your forces and base. The GLA, for instance, cannot go toe-to-toe in a firefight with either of the other sides for long, so they must rely on surprise strikes and using hit-and-run attacks to draw the enemy into an ambush; the Chinese will want to roll out a horde of tanks and grind everything into dust; and the US has to build up their "technically superior but expensive to build" troops and use them efficiently; they cost too blasted much to waste them. Though you might think that these strengths could overbalance the game to one sides favor, Westwood has done a great balancing act to keep the playing field fair. A successful player will be the ones that focus on their strengths while covering their backside (weaknesses).
The unit ability to achieve veteran status has been further extended. Not only can units and vehicles attain various ranks, but the player can also earn promotions to various "general" ranks. Each of these ranks opens up options for advanced units or abilities, which you should read as "advanced ways to smack your enemies back into the Stone Age". These abilities range from the GLA's Cash Bounty and China's Cash Hack that provide quick access to more resources up to the devastating blast assault that each side can call down when they hit 5-star General. Let's not forget about the unit veterancy. As the units see more and more action, they progress through three ranks, where the progression is signified by a chevron hanging next to the unit signifying Veteran, 2 stripes for Elite, and 3 for Heroic. Each of these ranks comes with special abilities for the unit beginning with a faster rate of fire and ending with self-healing and more damage dealt. It's especially important to keep your Heroic units in the fight and out of the grave.
Troops can also be employed to hold buildings and attack from them. The US's Ranger can be dropped into the building via the Chinook helicopter to sweep the building clean. The Chinese fire tanks can also clear and level a building in moments, while the GLA will use toxic attacks to sterilize the situation. Once upgraded, the US Ranger has a marginal edge to building warfare with its Flash Bang enhancement.
How has the gameplay changed in Generals compared to the rest of the series? Once you get past the 3-sided conflict with each side having its own set of strategies and method of play, the basic game mechanics are still the same as they have always been. You will harvest resources to build up your base which allows you to command your troops to attack the enemy and conquer them, hopefully. The beauty of the game is in the diverse methods that are open to the player as he or she searches for that conquest. While some of the units might have similar functions, they have different appearances and statistics. In other words, a Ranger and a Red Guard have similar functions, but they have their own distinct appearance and capabilities; a distinction carried through the rest of the game to the other units.
One of the things that I really miss in this game is the full motion videos (FMV). The actors gave previous games a sense of urgency that is missing here. Instead of video clips that set up what is occurring, you have in-game scripted scenes involving soldiers entering the combat zone. While I admire the look of these scenes and the technology behind them, the soldiers show little emotion even as their comrades are blown to bits. Where an emotional jolt would get a player fired up, it leaves a certain cold detachment that is necessary for actual combat troops to be able to function. I guess what I am trying to say is that the game is missing some of the heart that earlier games displayed, but it still maintains all of the soul for which the series is known.
While the single player campaigns only sports 7 or 8 missions per side, the game truly shines in multiplay (of course!). With the ability to play online, over a LAN, or on the Generals Online play service. From the patch info, their online service had some issues that seem to have been resolved now. While it stinks that the game was released with bugs, I always take it as a good sign that the company was on top of the problems and slapped a bandage on the situation. Singleplay offers only so much opportunity for play, but multiplay will make it possible for Generals to continue to find a home in your disc drive.
Overall, Generals is a top notch game with some of the best 3d graphics that I've seen in an RTS. Where the fantasy-based games like WarCraft III and Age of Mythology might not appeal to everyone, Generals is based almost too much on reality at times but appeals to RTS fans nonetheless. The best praise that I can give the game is that even though I'm usually busy reviewing other games, I have found ways to squeeze in a little bit of Generals game time. For RTS fans, pick this one up; for non-RTS fans, give it a try and you might become a fan.