Originally the Command and Conquer series focused on both rival factions which were the Brotherhood of N.O.D. and the Global Defense Initiative (GDI). Some fans of the franchise liked the original concept, while others did not. In 2003, Command & Conquer: Generals was released to the public.
The game offered a new set of factions including the United States, China and The Global Liberation Army (GLA). It was one of the first games to allow the player to choose either the U.S. or China as superpowers with an array of weapons and tactics.
Currently the two largest economies in the world are both the U.S and China. China has a nominal GDP of around $10 trillion and the U.S.'s is approximately $17 trillion. During World War II, China and the U.S. both fought on the side of the allies. During the Cold War, China was seen as a threat to the U.S. due to its communist-based government. Eventually, the U.S. and China maintained better relations and drastically increased trade and other economic transactions in the world market. The games designers of Command & Conquer: Generals decided to ditch the old Soviet/American rivalry and start fresh with a new American economic and military adversary. As their military presence expands they trigger a war with an omnipresent borderless terrorist organization called the GLA. Their predominant goal is to eliminate the military forces of China and the United States.
The game begins with a devastating GLA attack on a Chinese city followed by another GLA attack on the Three Gorges Dam. The player can choose the Chinese campaign and play the role of a Chinese general who rallies the remaining Chinese forces and promises retribution for the attack on the Chinese homeland.
The player can also choose to be the United States or GLA. The American campaign engages the GLA across the Central Asia and the Middle East (the first mission taking place in Iraq). In some cases, joint American and Chinese operations attempt to destroy many GLA operations.
If the player chooses the GLA side they continuously have to set up hit and run attacks against the occupying forces. The campaign eventually culminates in the overtaking of a missile complex in Kazakhstan and the firing of a Soyuz rocket at a major city. The American and Chinese attempt to stop the launch from occurring.
The game utilized SAGE (Strategy Action Game Engine). The technology uses a stop-motion camera. After an explosion or fire occurred, the camera would quickly pan around the environment, revealing pieces of debris and shrapnel suspended in the air, before the action promptly resumes. The SAGE engine also allows games to take place during different times of the day, with realistic lighting and shadow changes.
The game differed from the original series in several ways. First, if a surface-to-air-missile (SAM) was built, it would only target flying aircraft. If infantry or a tank were to encounter it, the soldiers and/or tank would continuously fire at the SAM until it would catch fire and be destroyed. In Generals, a Chinese-made Gatling gun can fire at aircraft and/or ground forces. At the same time, an American-made patriot missile can attack aircraft and ground vehicles as well. Secondly, many defense structures can also target incoming missiles. Another fascinating feature was that any soldier can capture a structure by themselves. The original games in the series forced the player to train engineers and usually had them escorted with soldiers to enter and capture an enemy structure.
The game was extremely realistic when comparing both American and Chinese units strengths. For example, American Rangers were the most simple unit that can be trained. On the other hand, the Chinese receive two trained units for every one American trained. American soldiers have upgrades which include chemical suits, advanced training, and grenades attached to their guns which can clear out buildings. The Chinese soldiers do have a bayonet on their gun, but don't have any other major upgrades available. Both factions have many different upgrades available on their structures, aircraft, humvees and tanks throughout the game. Moreover, as individual units attack and defeat enemy units or capture buildings, they gain "veterancy" and become more powerful. Higher-ranking units attack faster, have more health, and heal or repair themselves.
One aspect of the game that should be noted is that China predominately uses nuclear power sources, while the Americans use cold fusion technology. This implies that the United States has a more sophisticated space program (cold fusion power plants operate using helium-3 mined from the moon) than China. Furthermore, The United States has a more advanced air force than China. However, the Chinese air force can be built fairly quickly and is cheaper to maintain.
Initially, the game was released in Germany under its international title Command & Conquer: Generals. However, sale to minors and marketing the original version of the game were prohibited throughout the Federal Republic of Germany.
The Generals series was also banned in mainland China. Throughout the Chinese campaign, the player is occasionally made to utilize heavy-handed tactics such as leveling several Chinese tourist attractions, which are occupied by GLA forces. Chinese forces also liberally use nuclear weaponry.
In September 2003, an expansion pack called Zero Hour was released. In December 2011, a sequel, Command & Conquer: Generals 2, was announced, due to be released in 2013. On October 29, 2013, it was announced on the game's website that it was ceasing production and that "this version of the game" would be cancelled. In November 2013, EA announced the game will still be developed by a new game studio.
After its release, Generals received mainly positive reviews. Based on 34 reviews, Metacritic gave it a score of 84/100 which included a score of 9.3/10 from IGN. Generals also received the E3 2002 Game Critics Award Best Strategy Game award.
Command & Conquer: Generals is clearly one of the most realistic RTS games ever created, especially while it includes the U.S. and China as factions. It doesn't contain cyborgs, robots, or aliens (something that many RTS brands are infatuated with). The game does a fantastic job of giving the player the opportunity to use many tactics, different units and technology to play mind games with their opponent. On the other hand, the player can also use the old-fashioned tank-rush.