Command & Conquer: Generals


Genre: Real-time strategy

Format: DVD

Developer: EA Games

Mac Publisher: Aspyr Media

Minimum System Requirements: 733MHz G3, Mac OS X v10.2.6, 256MB RAM, 32MB 3D graphics acceleration (ATI Radeon/NVidia GeForce 2 or better), 1.6GB free hard disk space

Review Computer: 1GHz Powerbook G4 12" 768MB RAM, 32MB GeForce FX Go 5200, and Mac OS X v10.3.3
Network Feature: Yes

3D Support: Required

Price: $49.99

ESRB Rating: T for Teen

Availability: Now

Official Website: [url=][/url]

I really wanted to like C&C: Generals.

I've followed the venerable Command and Conquer series since day one, back when it was still GDI and NOD duking it out in the near future. I have fond memories of Mammoth Tanks and Air Strikes and Commandos and Flame Tanks. I also spent a lot of quality time with C&C: Red Alert (even though it never reached the Macintosh), and logged plenty of hours playing through involving single-player campaigns and chaotic multiplayer matches over dull summer vacations. While I will admit that I prefer StarCraft over any of the Command and Conquer games I've played, I've still developed an appreciation for the difference in pace, tactics, and style between the two. Needless to say, once Electronic Arts bought Westwood Studios and took over the direction of the C&C franchise, I was understandably anxious to see how the results would fare. As much as I enjoyed the classic C&C games, it was getting to be painfully clear that the franchise needed an injection of something new to keep it alive.

For those of you unfamiliar with the concept, Command and Conquer is the other real-time strategy franchise, one which began around the same time as the original WarCraft. Command and Conquer's worlds are more realistic than WarCraft's fantasy units; instead of orcs and ogres, you get Hum-Vees, infantry, tanks of many shapes and sizes, and all sorts of other modern war weapons. Resource and supply management are much simpler than WarCraft's; instead of three different materials and food, you just have to deal with cash money and power for your buildings. Command and Conquer: Generals, the latest entry in the series, is the first C&C game to be done in full 3D, the first C&C game done by Electronic Arts, and the first C&C game to hit the Mac since the original. Suffice to say, it's got some pretty big shoes to fill.

C&C: Generals puts you in control of a three-way war set in the near future. Two of the available sides are world superpowers; the United States of America in all its patriotic glory, and its potential rival to power, the People's Republic of China. The third power player is the Global Liberation Alliance, or GLA, and is composed of a motley crew of Arab terrorists. Of course, each side has its own strengths and weaknesses; the USA fields a very solid, high-tech army, including the strongest air force in the game, China features a horde of tanks of all kinds, including their trademark Dragon Tank that spews flames at unfortunate infantry, and the GLA who, without the backing of a singularly powerful nation, resort to unorthodox tactics like Angry Mobs, anthrax, suicide bombers, and resourceful tanks that can salvage weapons from fallen opponents.

C&C's units follow a basic rock-paper-scissors pattern. Infantry are slow because they have to walk around, can be run over by vehicles, and are weak to machine guns, unpleasant substances like fire, toxins, nuclear fallout, and special kinds of explosives. But they're cheap and fairly versatile. Each side includes two basic kinds of infantry: one with rifles, and one with rockets. Besides shooting stuff, you can use your infantry to garrison buildings for a defensive advantage, capture enemy buildings for your own use, and transport them in vehicles to amplify your attacking power. Tanks, on the other hand, are big, much faster, substantially more expensive, and are weak to explosives such as rockets, tank shells, bombs, etc. However, they can generally take machine gun fire like it ain't no thang, and they're capable of squishing pesky infantry in large amounts. While considerably less versatile, some vehicles, like Hum-Vees and the Chinese Overlord, can carry infantry in them to round out your firepower. Other tanks spew out flames, toxins, and even mini-nukes and SCUD missiles. Tanks generally constitute the backbone of an army, simply because they can dish it out as well as take it. Finally, airborne units are available to China and the USA. They tend to be quick and well armed, but rather allergic to anti-aircraft fire, including rockets and Gatling guns. Thus, while C&C: Generals' plethora of units may be somewhat intimidating at first, the tactical value of each unit is usually not completely unique; a light tank generally serves the same purpose as a heavier one, albeit perhaps at a different level of efficacy. In this respect, unit-to-unit combat in Generals, just like most of the C&C franchise, isn't nearly as deep as it is in StarCraft or WarCraft; very few of the C&C units serve a unique function. While nuances do exist—upgrades can allow the Hum-Vees to mount a rocket launcher, effectively allowing them to fight well against air and infantry, for example—in general, the units have a level of redundancy that detracts from C&C's depth.

In order to compensate, Generals incorporates another layer of game depth. Generals borrows half an idea from WarCraft III's hero system; where WarCraft III allows each player to create special Hero characters that can gain experience to strengthen themselves and employ new abilities, Generals takes the experience part and applies it to the person playing the game, as if they were the hero, rather than include a separate Hero unit class. As you destroy your enemies, not only will your individual units gain experience, like they have in previous C&C titles, but you will too, allowing you to select new Generals abilities that open up your tactical array. Some of these abilities can be used to strengthen your units—GLA players can invest in an ability that automatically grants new Technicals Veteran status upon being built, for example, or China can do likewise with their Red Army infantry units—while others are used as separate actions that occur on a timer. Chinese Generals, if they choose, can invest points in an off-screen artillery barrage that pummels any section of their choice with multiple shells; however, once used, it takes four minutes of game time to recharge. Some abilities are attained as a 1 Star General, others reached at 3 Star, as well as one final ability at 5 Star. Certain buildings can give you similar abilities as well; each side has a super weapon that originates from an extremely expensive building that can devastate your opponent if used correctly, like China's nuke or the USA's particle beam (which you can actually use to write your name with if you're fast enough!). Needless to say, the choice in abilities is important for coordinating a strategy, and adds more to the game than the simple rock-paper-scissors found in the units alone.

It also makes for some pretty spiffy graphics. C&C: Generals is built upon a fully 3D game engine, and it looks pretty darn fine. The unit graphics are much more versatile than they were in the past; if you buy the rocket launcher upgrade for your Hum-Vees, you'll notice them sitting on the hood of the car. However, since C&C: Generals maintains the same zoomed-out perspective that the original C&Cs had, the actual unit graphics haven't improved that much—a stick figure looks pretty much the same in 2D as it does in 3D, and the tanks don't benefit that much from smoother animation. Where C&C: Generals' 3D engine does shine is both in the landscapes and the explosions. Since C&C games have traditionally left the player with a simple top-down view, height differences were particularly hard to convey in two dimensions, leaving the player with the feeling that they are waging war on a Rand McNally map. Generals has amended this problem by allowing the full rendering of rolling hills, wintry mountaintops, and all sorts of other landscapes that add to the game experience considerably. The highlight of the graphics engine, though, is most definitely the big kabooms. Explosions are rendered with breathtaking detail, as are exotic weaponry like streams of toxins, fire, particle beams, and so on. The results of said explosions are about as remarkable, too; buildings and units both demonstrate damage via subtle visual cues and details. Unfortunately, such detail comes at a price; the minimum requirement is 1GHz G4 with a 32MB video card. It's definitely playable on this configuration, but the graphics take a fairly heavy toll, especially in choppiness. If you've got the hardware, Generals has a completely immersive visual experience.

EA also included a few other things to differentiate the sides apart from the units and abilities. Resource gathering, for one, now differs among all three factions; the USA relies on transport helicopters to deliver supplies, China on supply trucks, and the GLA on forced labor. Each side has different mining rates, different bottlenecks and, consequently, different advantages and disadvantages in how it builds up and mines resources. Similarly, electricity is needed only by China and the USA; no GLA buildings require electricity, making their jobs that much easier. Even something as trivial as the mini-map differs from faction to faction; the USA starts out with it automatically, China has to build an add-on to their Command Center for it to be enabled, and the GLA has to build a Radar Van, which takes longer to build but doubles as a detector for stealthy units. Consequently, winning in Generals doesn't just happen on the battlefield; each side has its own strings attached which could win it or lose it before the fighting even starts.

C&C: Generals' single-player is a disappointment, to say the least. Gone are the full-motion videos that flesh out the plot line and major players that were so crucial to the C&C experience of the past. Instead, single-player missions are interrupted occasionally by cut scenes executed by the in-game engine. While this worked fine for WarCraft III: Reign of Chaos, C&C: Generals uses this as an excuse to remove all vestiges of plot from the game. While some of the cut scenes show pretty cool explosions, that's about all they show; there are virtually no developed characters, no plot cultivation, and no story—essentially, there's no motivation. Instead of an involved conflict against a specific enemy, you're just handed a new battle theater after virtually every mission, and told to blow up the enemy. To its credit, some of the single-player missions are more involved than simple search-and-destroy; one of China's missions requires you to disable a dam and then brace for a GLA assault, for example. By and large, however, Generals' single-player missions consist of nothing more than building up your forces and taking out the enemy. It's very clear that EA wanted to make Generals a multiplayer game at heart; fortunately, a skirmish mode is included if you absolutely must play alone.

I wish I had more good things to say about C&C: Generals' multiplayer. For better or for worse, it is Command and Conquer; EA had sense enough to leave much of the fundamental gameplay unchanged. The down side is that, well, it's still Command and Conquer. While EA did add a few things, like tweaking the way each side deals with non-combat aspects of the game, and the new abilities, the unfortunate truth is that there is so much redundancy built into C&C: Generals that the gameplay doesn't feel nearly as deep as it could, especially if you want to enjoy playing the game online for much longer than a month or two. Furthermore, the actual implementation of the multiplayer function is fairly unstable as of this writing; not only is Mac-PC multiplayer impossible, but GameRanger support is rather iffy as well. Lack of cross-platform networking support means that any Mac gamer is going to be limited b—the most I counted at once was 9, and that will most likely only decrease as time passes—and user reports have found that players are frequently timed out while trying to connect via GR. Also, trying to play over the Internet while behind a router will most likely need some networking mojo and port mapping; I was unable to configure my Software Base Station LAN setup to work with Command and Conquer: Generals, so I ended up having to disconnect the entire LAN from the Internet in order to test the multiplayer. If, by some miraculous occurrence, you find yourself actually playing a multiplayer game, you'll be most likely plagued with very palpable lag, especially in 4+ player games. While C&C: Generals multiplayer can most definitely be fun, it's not always worth all the hoops you have to jump through.

Also, there are a few things that EA just straight up dropped the ball on. Unit management is still as horrendous as before; there are no visual indicators of what units you have selected besides their health bars, which aren't visible if they're not on screen, meaning that if you order a group to do something off screen, you need to make sure that they're exactly what you wanted selected in the first place. Hotkeys are poorly documented and not easily apparent. When queuing units up in a build queue, the buttons for each respective unit aren't very responsive unless you highlight other units after clicking twice. The mini-map, for some reason, operates under different rules than the main game screen; right-click will deselect a group on the main screen, but will order a group to act on the mini-map. These and dozens of other minor quibbles detract very much from the gameplay—it's as if you need to learn a bunch of minor idiosyncrasies just to play the game correctly. Real-time strategy games should have been able to work just like an extension of the Mac OS, like WarCraft II did years ago. What went wrong?

It's worth pointing out that the subject matter itself may be reasons for some people to avoid C&C: Generals. It's more realistic than WarCraft, to be sure; however, this manifests itself in rather unpleasant ways. The GLA, specifically, resorts to tactics like suicide bombing and intercepting U.N. supplies, and at least once requires you to mow down civilians in order to achieve your objective. While I personally have no problem with this kind of stuff being included in a computer game, parents might. Also, the voices for Chinese and GLA troops are pathetically exaggerated; it seriously sounds like you're playing a propaganda film.

EA managed to add a lot to the Command and Conquer franchise without detracting from the essence of C&C that gamers have loved for years; for that, they deserve props. EA successfully revamped the resource management, added a few new gameplay tweaks, added the abilities system, and brought C&C to 3D without losing much. However, they chose to rely exclusively on the multiplayer component of the game to keep the consumers interested, despite the fact that the game isn't deep enough to enjoy long-term Internet play, nor is the implementation of multiplayer solid enough to depend on. Command and Conquer: Generals is a slightly above average game bogged down with stiff system requirements, buggy multiplayer, and an idiosyncratic interface. If you're bored and looking for something to tide you over, or you're a die-hard C&C fan, go for it. Otherwise, you may want to try out the demo for a while if you're considering buying it.

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I was wondering if you knew if Command & Conqer recuires the CD to be in the drive to play it. Note that I refuse to buy games that require the CD in the drive because the CD’s die and then I am out of a game. It is not right to punish me, a legitiment buyer, for your fears of piracy.

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