It’s only been eight months since the release of Command & Conquer: Generals, the latest installment in this extremely popular real-time strategy series. Though Generals was the first C&C that did not bear the name of Westwood Studios (the series’ original developer), it was still every bit as action-packed and fast-paced as the series has ever been. It represented a great combination of the over-the-top pyrotechnics the series is known for, along with some of the gameplay elements perfected by Blizzard’s competing RTS franchises. However, the game clearly left some room for additional content, so, while it’s no surprise that Generals went on to get its own expansion pack–as pretty much every Command & Conquer game gets at least one–the newly released Zero Hour was put together surprisingly quickly. You wouldn’t know it just from playing this fully featured expansion pack, since it makes plenty of meaningful and interesting changes to the original game. Additionally, it packs in a lot of great tweaks and improvements to those aspects of Generals that could have used more polish. The result is a great expansion that’s a must for anyone who enjoyed Generals. It fundamentally improves the core game, it and should ensure that C&C Generals continues to be popular well into the next year.
Zero Hour does what any good real-time strategy expansion pack should do: it adds appreciable amounts of content and depth to the original product. It introduces various new units, technologies, and “generals powers” to each of the three factions from Generals–the high-tech USA military, the powerful forces of China, and the terrorist conglomerate called the GLA. It also introduces a completely new single-player mode: the generals challenge. Zero Hour also features follow-up campaigns for each of the factions, consisting of five good-sized missions apiece. The core game, too, has undergone a number of little tweaks and enhancements that make it play a bit better overall. These tweaks and enhancements address issues that players may have encountered in the original, either through its interface or its multiplayer. However, perhaps the most interesting addition to Zero Hour is the inclusion of nine new subfactions.
These subfactions are referred to by their respective commanders, lending Zero Hour a refreshing bit of personality that was curiously absent from Generals. These commanders include the likes of General Malcolm “Ace” Granger, a specialist with the USA’s air force; General “Anvil” Shin Fai, a Chinese infantry leader; and Prince Hassad, a GLA master of camouflage. Just as it could be said that C&C Generals was influenced by some of Blizzard Entertainment’s real-time strategy games, so too can it be said that Zero Hour is influenced by the real-time strategy games of Ensemble Studios, like last year’s Age of Mythology or Age of Empires II. That’s because Zero Hour’s subfactions, while not completely different from the core factions they’re based on, do play quite differently from one another, do have a few unique units and technologies, and do give the game considerably more variety than what the three core factions offer alone. So, as with the different civilizations in Age of Empires II, the new subfactions in Zero Hour differ enough from one other to offer a distinctive playing experience. Furthermore, since these subfactions are inspired by popular playing styles, chances are, at least a couple of these are going to naturally appeal to you.
Essentially, Zero Hour contains a total of 12 different playable factions, up from just three. In skirmish and multiplayer modes, you may choose to play as either the “vanilla” factions from C&C Generals (though with their new units and upgrades), or you may choose to play as one of the specialist general’s armies. Since the specialized armies have disadvantages that offset their relative strengths, you intuitively have a sense of what your opponent is going to throw at you in a multiplayer match. This is particularly true if, say, he chooses General Ta Hun Kwai, the Chinese tank commander, rather than just picking the standard Chinese army. Fortunately, in the skirmish and multiplayer modes, if the opponent chooses a random faction, you won’t know which of the 12 different armies you’re up against until you do some early-game recon.
These character-driven subfactions are also the focus of the new generals challenge mode. Actually, it’s structured a lot like Mortal Kombat or other fighting games. You choose your character–one of the nine specialist generals featured in Zero Hour–and then you proceed to fight against each of the other generals on his or her own turf. These can be some pretty tough battles, especially since the default level of difficulty in Zero Hour, thankfully, provides a much more significant challenge than the cakewalk that was Generals’ default difficulty. Since you take on these rival generals in environments that specifically benefit their unique abilities, you have a tough time overcoming their defenses. In so doing, you either learn or practice some key strategies that can help make you more competitive online. One very nice touch in the generals challenge is that each general has his or her own voice, and you’ll hear these characters gabbing at you during the course of a match. While they do repeat their lines occasionally, they have lots of contextual dialogue. For example, they might chastise you for doing an inadequate job of countering their armies, or they may curse when you knock out one of their key facilities. Not only is this dialogue pretty amusing, but it can provide some helpful hints. The generals’ propensities toward giving you fair warnings before attacks tend to be their undoing.
Minimum System Requirements
System: 800 MHz Intel Pentium III or AMD Athlon processor or equivalent
RAM: 128 MB
Video Memory: 32 MB
Hard Drive Space: 1400 MB
Other: • A retail copy of Command & Conquer ™ Generals already installed on your PC
Recommended System Requirements
System: 1.8 GHz or faster Intel Pentium IV or AMD Athlon processor or equivalent
RAM: 256 MB