The latest entry in the Command & Conquer series was developed and published by Electronic Arts in 2003 for the PC. This is the first entry in the C&C series to be developed after Westwood Studios was folded into Electronic Arts' in-house development studios; luckily, little of EA's (shall we say) lack of attention to QA seems to have found itself into this game.
This game marks the biggest change from any previous C&C game yet. More than a little of the game seems to have been inspired from Warcraft III. Now, Warcraft III seems to generally be regarded by the community as something of a disappointment. It's a good game, just not the Earth-shattering game people have come to expect after a history of such things from Blizzard. Generals takes a number of elements from the Warcraft III philosophy of RTS's, and these elements are used far more effectively, for the simple reason that this franchise has never seen them before.
The biggest, and most controversial change from previous C&C games is the removal of the sidebar. The biggest difference between the longtime rivals of the C&C series and Blizzard's "'craft" games (Warcraft, Starcraft, etc) was the fact that the C&C games presented everything you could build, at all times, in a sidebar at the edge of the screen. This would allow you to, say, begin construction of a building while fighting a battle away from your base. The Blizzard approach was to present your building options depending on what you had selected; selecting a builder unit would present your buildings, selecting a barracks would present your units, etc. This would allow you to make things simultaneously by having multiple builders or barracks or whatnot.
Generals uses this context-driven (to make up a term) approach. There are now builder units. As a plus, the various units can now have multiple abilities, simply by reusing the context-sensitive area of the HUD for the unit's abilities as well as the build options. These abilities include helicopters launching missile volleys, snipers taking out the drivers of vehicles, and troops capturing buildings.
With the last couple entires in the series, C&C seems to have been stagnating. All Westwood seemed to be doing was rehashing the old (but actually quite good) formula. This game mixes up many old preconceptions. First, there are three teams (the US, China, and the Global Liberation Army, or GLA), who are each quite different from one another. Also, players gain experience points as they engage in combat. Gaining experience points raises the player in levels (up to a maximum of 5), which allow them to unlock new abilities. For example, the US can have, at level 3, the ability to call in a sizable airstrike with one, two, or three (depending on how many points are put into this ability) aircraft every few minutes. China can get a similar ability with with a massive (the more points, the more massive) artillery strike. The GLA can get free, camouflaged troops, placed anywhere on the map. Each team also has two superweapons. One you acquire through building the needed structure, and the other you can acquire at level 5. There are more upgrades available than you can actually buy; one must choose carefully what they're going to purchase before they waste their points.
The US, much like the Allies in the Red Alert games, is the one with all the cool toys. They have no fewer than five types of aircraft (two bombers, a tank-busting fighter, an attack helicopter, and a troop transport/resource gatherer helicopter), the usual assortment of vehicles (light and heavy tanks, humvees, artillery, etc), and the best infantry in the game. They play like the most conventional C&C team of the bunch. China is your basic war-of-attrition type. When certain of their units are present in great numbers in proximity to one another, they get a "horde bonus," which grants those units bonuses to various things, making their standard troops much more effective. They also get the heavy armor. This game's incarnation of the Mammoth Tank, big enough to drive over and squash smaller tanks, belongs to them, and has a few extra tricks up its sleeve; let's just say it's very good. China also gets a single aircraft: the MiG fighter, a decent tank-buster and queller of infantry hordes with its napalm-equipped missiles. The GLA is the oddest team of the bunch.
The GLA is a terrorist team. Remember the suicide units of Red Alert 2, the Terrorist (a guy with C4 strapped to him) and the Demolition Truck (a truck with a small nuke on the back)? They're back, more or less (the demo truck now uses conventional explosives and can disguise itself), on this team. However, this is far from their most useful skill. For one thing, this is the only team that doesn't need power; that's right, they don't build power plants. Now, they only have one, actual tank, which is a light tank, and no aircraft at all. They do, though, have other vehicles, like a missile launcher and a couple of very good anti-infantry vehicles, as well as some really nice artillery. Their greatest unit (at least, my favorite) is the Angry Mob. When you train a Mob, you actually get a group of a few angry civilians, which will slowly grow in size all on its own, up to a certain maximum. One upgrade (somewhat required for them to be effective) is called "Arm the Mob," which gives your Angry Mobs AK-47's ("AK-47's for everyone!" yells the game when you finish this upgrade). Once so equipped, they can tear through infantry and tanks alike with the greatest of ease; unless those things happen to be adept at killing infantry. The US attack 'copter is particularly effective at stopping the mob.
The most endlessly debated topic in all of real-time strategy-dom is that of Balance. "Is the game balanced?" people ask. And the answer is Yes. The US can rule the air and trample all who stand in their way... unless someone puts up a decent air defense. China can make a horde of tanks to bust up any opposing army... unless someone makes a great deal of tank-bashing rocket infantry, who are much cheaper, and very good at what they do, or unless the US gets its 'copters into action. The GLA can use their Anthrax rockets of various types and take out the enemy troops... but they can't go in themselves until the smoke clears; they can also charge in with their angry mobs, but the machine-gun equipped humvee (US) or the Gatling Tank (China) will make short work of them. After a weekend-long series of 1-on-1 matches (gotta love LAN's, haha) I can attest that no one team can dominate for long. For once, C&C does balance right.
Bugger! I didn't notice until I wrote it that there's another writeup here. Well, here's mine anyway. :-)