Command & Conquer: Generals was a 2003 real-time strategy game by Westwood Pacific for the PC. One of my joys as a teenager was the annual Christmas gifts from relatives. Usually, it was in the form of a gift card that I would later use to buy a video game. One year the game I chose was Command & Conquer: Generals. I always had a list of must-have games and another list of simply “good” games. The must-haves I always made sure I got for my birthday or Christmas or spending my allowance money. The good games, however, would only be bought as a bonus if I got an extra gift of money.
Command & Conquer: Generals was a departure from the rest of the Command & Conquer series but was still a good game in its own right. The typical Command & Conquer game had an alternate history story, usually with science fiction elements. Sometimes there was also humor involved too. Generals, on the other hand, had a more serious feel to it. The story was set in the near future with terrorism playing a big part. It was clearly a reaction to the terrorist attacks that happened just a few years before. It was on everyone’s mind, so it appeared in our creative works as well.
There were three factions in the game, the USA, the GLA, and China. The USA is represented freedom and liberty. The GLA, short for Global Liberation Army, represented terrorism. China represented socialism. The USA had the highest tech units. China had weak units, but strength in numbers. The GLA relied on very cheap, suicidal or risky units. These things were close enough to reality to be unsettling. The Chinese government actually banned the game due to its portrayal of their country, but the game really depicted all of the factions as deeply flawed. The USA unit voices showed Americans as power hungry religious zealots, for example. I was able to ignore the seriousness of the real-life matters and just focus on the gameplay.
The gameplay was good. Like Red Alert 2, the previous game in the series, the factions were not mirror copies of each other. That had been a long standing problem in the Command & Conquer series, the factions being too similar to each other, but in Generals there was a lot of variety. On top of the three factions, each faction also had several generals that would give various bonuses to specific units and buildings. These two choices were enough to add a lot of replay value to the game.
Like most real-time strategy games, there was a campaign mode, a skirmish mode, and a multiplayer mode. The campaign mode had a story over three campaigns, one per faction. The skirmish mode let the player setup battles however they wanted. Multiplayer mode was just the same as skirmish mode but against a human opponent over the Internet. While I played all three modes, I spent the most time with skirmish mode. When playing games I always like to try out all the gameplay possibilities, and skirmish mode was the easiest way to do this. It helped even more that skirmish mode had these special medals the player could earn for completing various goals like winning a certain number of games.
The technical side of the game was also good. The graphics were top of the line for their time. I loved the graphic effects of the bombs and explosions. The campaign missions had several cool in-game cinematics. One at the beginning showed a dam being destroyed and the overflowing river washing over everything. The sound effects were just as good. They gave all of the player’s orders real impact. The player really felt it when they told a unit to attack. The music was just okay to me. To me good music in a video game is music that I want to listen to outside the game, but the music in Generals was just okay. It was good enough in the game, but I never liked it enough to listen to it exclusively.
The only downside to this game, which isn’t really its fault, was that I was losing interest in real-time strategy games at this time. They started to feel like a formula to me. The story was different, the graphics were better, the gameplay was too similar. New and fresh gameplay is the reason to play new games. I still haven’t regained that interest either. I think some newer games in this genre have been original, but mostly I just got old enough that I don’t like the real-time nature anymore. I prefer slower-paced games that give me more time to think or simpler games with easier decision making. I finished the campaign, played a few multiplayer games, and got most of the skirmish medals. Then I was done. I game back to the game once more for a few weekends and that was it.
Zero Hour expansion
Since I got the Gold Edition of the game, it came with the Zero Hour expansion. The expansion added several more generals, units, and buildings to the game. In addition, three new campaigns were added, one per faction, that continued the story from the last time. Unfortunately, the campaigns were a little too difficult for me.
It was pretty common back in those days to have the expansion campaigns be harder than the base game. The developers would assume the player had finished the first campaigns and thus, was more experienced, so they made the new campaigns harder. The modern design philosophy is to have a consistent difficulty between all content of the game, with a difficulty slider to account for different player skill levels. That design philosophy wasn’t around then. I was able to get about halfway through before it got too difficult. I cheated to finish the game.
One of the reasons I got this game was because of an internet show I was watching at the time. The main character was always talking about Zero Hour. It was his favorite game. He would get into all kinds of strategies and how he beat many players. As I got more interested in the show, I started to read up about the game to understand what he was saying. When I got the gift card, there was no better way to get into the show than buying the game and playing it for myself. In the end, I didn’t like the expansion all that much, but the game overall was still pretty fun. Of course, this was just a “good” game, not a must-have game, so I didn’t expect it to be amazing.