Summary: As Westwood Pacific they made Red Alert 2 and Yuri's Revenge, the best C&C titles in years. Now on Armistice/Veteran's/Remembrance Day, we bring you our preview of Generals' multiplayer capabilities based on our experiences online and at Camp EA.
It’s been just four months since we last saw Command & Conquer Generals, but much has changed. This quickly became apparent when we sat down with the multiplayer test of the game at EA’s offices in Redwood City. For one, the idea of the generals has been revamped. Rather than having to choose between several, each with their special abilities, there is one set of Generals abilities per side. These are abilities are bought with the stars the player earns for gaining experience levels.
There is considerably more variety among the three sides as well. No longer content with having just a few unique units and some style changes, EA Pacific (formerly Westwood’s Redwood office, designers of Red Alert II) have taken the differences up a notch. Sides may have units filling similar roles, but none are identical with the exception of the Bulldozers used by China and the USA. In fact, only a few are even similar to each other. Infantry units obviously fall into this category. There are only so many ways that infantry can be different. Yet EA has diversified even the standard grunt. The US side gets Army Rangers, the Chinese get two soldiers for the price of one, and the GLA have a regular grunt. With mechanized and air units, the differences become even more pronounced. GLA comes in with a bunch of scrap tanks which may upgrade with parts salvaged off the battlefield. China has massive tanks, particularly the Overlord, and the US has a regular medium tank and a high-tech heavy.
All in all, the differences among the sides are extreme by C&C standards, and very significant even compared to normal RTS titles. While no one will accuse C&C Generals of being StarCraft (since the units do have to be based on reality and by consequence share basic designs), it is more diverse than WarCraft III and very possibly Age of Mythology.
This is the first 3D C&C game, and in fact, the first one with a totally new engine. Previous titles always had some legacy code. Now, with the chance to wipe the slate clean, EA Pacific has gotten rid of some relics from past titles. Buildings are built by units now – dozers for China and USA, and Workers for the GLA. This means that you can build anywhere, terrain permitting.
Engineers are out of the game. There is no immediate capture unit to replace them, but you can get your base infantry unit to capture enemy buildings and oil derricks upon researching the capture ability. Each side still gets “ultimate weapons”. The USA gets the ion cannon, China gets Nukes and the GLA has a devastatingly powerful SCUD Storm.
SIDEBAR: Descending in an airplane when your nasal passages are stuffed up is not only painful, but dangerous. The canal that leads from your mouth to your ear gets clogged too, so there’s nowhere for the air pressure to go. Try yawning.
The US are currently the only side without a mechanized unit dedicated to wiping out garrisoned buildings (like apartment blocks). Instead, they have to settle for Rangers. Rangers are the most potent basic infantry unit in the game when upgraded with flashbangs. Flashbangs are really like grenades, considering that they do damage over an area and seem to be fired from the M16’s grenade launcher. When the Rangers are loaded onto a Chinook helicopter, they can do a “combat drop” onto a building, eliminating the enemy from within and capturing the building intact. US infantry also have a sniper unit, a rocket launcher and their super-secret-secret-special-agent man.
Mechanized units include the Hummvee, Crusader tank, Paladin tank, Tomahawk launcher and Ambulance. These get some interesting upgrades, in the way of drones – which will then fly around in circles around its unit. Each unit can buy either a spy drone or a battle drone. Spy drones increase the line of sight, while battle drones fire machineguns at applicable targets and slowly repair damage. Hummvees may upgrade to TOW missile launchers and can carry infantry into battle. Other than that, these are pretty much standard units by C&C fare.
Americans get four – you read that right, four – aircraft at their disposal. From the “every day” Raptor, through F-117 stealth fighters and the super-fast Aurora bomber to the Comanche helicopter, one thing they’re not lacking is variety! The US has an aircraft for every situation.
They are also the most economically potent of the three sides, thanks to Chinook helicopters. These gather resources before dropping them off at supply depots, where they are converted to credits. Chinooks can quickly get across the entire map regardless of terrain, to new resource sites. This allows the American player the opportunity to survive on a single resource depot if necessary. Unfortunately, Chinooks do have a lot of overhead. It takes them quite long to load and unload, and they are expensive units. However, they do make great transports. In fact, they are the only air transports available, giving the US a distinct edge in mobility should they be willing to sacrifice some of their economic output.
SIDEBAR: It’s November 11th. Veteran’s Day for you Americans, Remembrance Day in the Commonwealth. Fun, fun, fun.
China is like… the Soviets of Red Alert. Actually, a better comparison would be Orcs from WarCraft II. They totally and utterly dominate the landscape if you let them get up to speed. Their infantry units may be all about cheap (see the 2-for-1 deal on the soldiers), but their tanks are the elite of the elite. Not particularly high tech, they’re big. They have big guns. They have a lot of hitpoints.
Of course, these units are hideously expensive. Running over a GLA bomb trap or not stopping that bomb truck in time are costly lessons. Neglecting AA defenses against a possible American air strike is equally painful. Still, as the producers mentioned at the event, once China reaches “critical mass” with their forces, they’re extremely difficult to stop. The trick is to nail them before they get that far.
Not all of China’s infantry are ‘expendable’. The hacker unit can make money by stealing it off the internet, and he can also disable enemy buildings for a while. Their rocket soldiers are quite standard, but are more effective in the presence of China’s heavy tanks, since so much more fire is focused on the tanks. People seem to forget to prepare anti-infantry measures against Chinese troops, just in case.
Like cockroaches, can’t stamp them out
GLA are the terrorist side in the fight. Lacking advanced equipment, fancy structures and even air power, they do make up with it by being unconventional and very difficult to wipe out. GLA troops are rebels, RPG soldiers and terrorists with dynamite strapped to their chests. Their tanks are (s)crap, bought from an arms dealer. Their upgrades come off the black market, or whatever they can pick up off the ground. They don’t even have a bulldozer, but build with workers, poor guys who are pressed into labor and aren’t allowed shoes.
The GLA have one very, very nasty weapon in the form of the bomb truck. When upgraded with high explosives, it can take out an Overlord or two. It’s capable of disguising itself as any mechanized ground unit (including neutral cars) and may also be loaded with biological weapons. It’s not cheap, but it definitely gets the job done.
Generals looks like it has its sights set on the top of the mountain. With a release date of February 11th, a delay of one month mandated by EA’s marketing department, this gives the EA Pacific development team one extra month to work on the game. That extra time just might give them the extra polish they’ll certainly need before competing against the very refined Age of Mythology and the already-established Blizzard monster, WarCraft III. When Generals enters the scene in early 2003, it will be the strongest C&C ever to challenge for the RTS crown.
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