Of Tiberium And Time Chapter 5: Command and Conquer Generals

For chapter 4 discussing Red Alert 2, see here.

For chapter 6 discussing Tiberium Wars, see here.

In the year 2003 C&C: Generals hit the store shelves, and had a pretty good reception. Critics were positive and sales were decent. By this time Electronic Arts had butchered Westwood Studios, and for this game they had handed the license over to EA Pacific (later known as EA Los Angeles and currently known as Danger Close Games), who gave us a game quite different from what we had come to expect out of the series.

They did actually put some work into the boxes, I am kinda impressed.

The game is certainly not without merit, but it also has a lot of issues. My main theory is that EA Pacific were already working on an RTS game, and EA Games thought it would be a great idea to slap the C&C name on there, do some minor tweaks and generate more sales. It’s the kind of thing EA does. The alternative is that EA told them to make a C&C game, but “make it more current, with lots of recognisable stuff, and try to make it play more like Starcraft, since that is still popular, and drop all the science fiction stuff”.

Let’s just get the plot out of the way, since it felt like they had the same idea. No live-acted scenes in this game; just one mission liaison for each faction that gives you mission briefings and in-mission updates (and who feels like a racist stereotype for China and GLA). There’s the USA and China as allies, and they’re fighting this group called the Global Liberation Army. You can play the campaigns in any order you want, but if want to follow the laughable plot you start with China, then go on to the GLA, then finish off with the USA.

I can sum up the happenings thusly: GLA bomb a Chinese parade, China beats them back, GLA re-surge and the US saves the day. That’s pretty much as I remembered it even before I went back to it. What I did not remember was the sense of scathing social commentary that is intertwined with the game. It starts already in the intro, where it proclaims that conflicts are now fought with words. Words like carpet bombing, chemical warfare and nuclear warheads.

Each faction is presented so harshly that I get the feeling we’re not supposed to root for any of them. I started with the tutorial because I was unsure of how closely this game controlled to the others, and there I played as the US. It was set somewhere in the Middle East, I can’t remember exactly where. There was a local village there, and to get to the GLA camp I had to order my troops to move through the village. Which they did. While casually running over the locals as if they didn’t exist or just weren’t important. I was kinda dumbstruck as I listened to the screams of civilians as they were mowed down by people who didn’t even seem to see them.

Let us show the filthy peasants!

Our American friends have helpfully agreed to carpet bomb anything we point at.

So yeah, the USA are depicted as thugs who don’t care about anyone but themselves, and won’t lend a hand to anyone unless it directly helps them as well. At least they care for their own people. A single American hurt demands a whole enemy army wiped out.

China does not seem to care about its people, but rather worry about slights on its national pride and being made to look weak. It doesn’t really care about civilians getting caught in the crossfire, or if it has to flood an entire valley of its own people to take care of the enemy.

The GLA are like hilarious cartoon villains, except not really funny. They chide their enemies for not fighting with honour even as they soak the ground in toxic waste. They talk about fighting for the oppressed countries of the world moments before they go into one such country to kill villagers and rob them blind. They seem to have a solution for every problem in the world, and on the top of their list is overpopulation: They strap bombs to thousands of people and vehicles, and throw them at hundreds of thousands of other people.

Considering the briefness of the campaigns, a mere 7 quick missions per faction, I am going to guess that multi-player was the main focus of the game, but I have never played it. Nor am I going to. It just holds no interest for me.

I do like the colourful palette.

Being able to set the direction of your buildings is neat.

The game did add a few things that I really liked. Firstly: the ability to select all units of the same type on the screen by double-clicking one of them. Really helps with setting up control groups. And unit upgrades were really nice, even though I would have liked more of them. The powers you were granted as a General and could unlock with level-up points were a nice addition as well. Certain units could only be unlocked through level-up, and stuff like air support and artillery strikes was also on the table.

The interface was apparently rebuilt from the bottom up to resemble Starcraft more. Instead of having the handy sidebar for construction, you now had to select buildings to construct from them. You could thankfully also hot-key structures, but honestly it felt like a step down.

I should also mention the options menu. Specifically, that there are hardly any options in there. No way to rebind keys, no way to even check the keys. Here, have a look:

This is seriously all there is.

The entire options menu. I have not tried the alternate mouse setup, but I have a feeling it makes it control more like Starcraft.

Balance in campaign missions is kinda terrible. Especially in the Chinese campaign. The AI is constantly spamming units at you and cheating terribly, and considering the amount of suicide bombers you face from the GLA it can be tough to hold the line. The final mission for China is the one mission of the game I have never finished, even on the lowest difficulty, and trying to do so honestly made me hate all video games for a while there.

Path-finding is still an issue, although it does seem like it slowly improves with every title.

The factions do play quite differently, they don’t just have different units. The US has a sizable air force, and use their superior technology to great effect, deploying drones to aid their combat force, air-lifting troopers and supplies to and from anywhere and having the units that are probably strongest on their own.

China goes for efficiency rather than high-tech, producing large amounts of serviceable vehicles and pumping out hordes of conscripts. They have a few big-hitters, but usually it’s numbers that are the key, with several units even gaining horde bonuses when sticking together.

The GLA are a more ragtag bunch, surviving on scrap and making field repairs and field upgrades with whatever they find and utilising salvage to boost their income. Whenever you kill an enemy vehicle a scrap pile is left behind, and your units gain money, experience and sometimes improved guns by picking it up. Though most units feel cheap and disposable, there are a few that feel surprisingly over-powered. And some of the upgrades are quite ridiculous, so in spite of their lack of any air units, I’d say the GLA are the most versatile force in the game.

I guess it's supposed to be inspiring?

You will hopefully be seeing this one 21 times.

While there are many things that annoy me about the game; the poor mission balance, the annoying AI, the racist mission liaisons and the bloody suicide bombers; I guess my main problem with it is that it doesn’t feel like a C&C game. It has no ties to the Tiberium or Red Alert verses, there are no live-action cutscenes, the sense of humour is missing, the interface is completely rebuilt rather than upgraded and it gets a little too hectic for my tastes.

All in all it feels like a budget version of a C&C game made by someone who had only ever heard of the game from a not-so-close friend and maybe read a feature list with half the items stricken off. It’s not a bad game, but it’s just not what I’d expect from the C&C series. I seem to recall the game was better, but maybe it just hasn’t aged well.

Before Tiberium Twilight was released I would have said this was my least favourite title of the series, but I’ll reserve any further comments on that particular title until the final chapter.

So join me next time as we look at my favourite title of the series: Tiberium Wars!

PS! Anyone remember the old EA slogan “EA Games: Challenge Everything!”? I had forgotten it completely until I started this game back up. I guess it’s only in games developed by studios with the EA name?

For chapter 4 discussing Red Alert 2, see here.

For chapter 6 discussing Tiberium Wars, see here.



Posted on September 22, 2012, in Games, Retrospective and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.

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