It seems like only yesterday that Generals was released. With a little more than seven months gone the boys at EA managed to crank out the first expansion pack, Zero Hour. With thirty new units, a mini-campaign, and a new gameplay mode, Zero Hour makes up in gameplay for what it lacks in depth.The story of Zero Hour picks up shortly after the events of Generals unfold. The GLA is fractured and the US is trying to mop up what’s left of the terrorist ranks. What loose storyline there is was obviously inspired by current events and while the Generals line lacks the immersive stories of the previous C&C franchises, the storyline is enough to satisfy most players. The campaign itself includes fifteen missions, five for each side, primarily based in Europe.The storyline is driven along by reporters representing each side. These news briefs play as each mission is loading and help to give the game a more international feeling. While the news briefs are meant to be serious in nature, one can’t help but consider them a throwback to the campy style Westwood FMV sequences from past C&C titles. As was true in Generals, Zero Hour features a Hollywood-like action sequence at the beginning of each mission. They are pulled off just as well, if not better than the ones in Generals featuring excellent camera action. While it is enjoyable to see them the first few times, players will get tired of being forced to watch them every time they start a mission; an option to skip these once you play the level once would work wonders.In addition to the missions, Zero Hour adds a lot to the already splendid gameplay of Generals. Each side has been given a new compliment of units, buildings, and generals powers to wreak even more havoc on the battlefield. Many of the new features play off of the already known strengths of each side and help patch up the weaknesses that were evident in Generals.The US side now has access to several more upgrades for its air power such as bunker buster bombs and countermeasure flares that make its Raptors and Auroras even more dangerous. The American Avengers will swat enemy aircraft out of the sky with their powerful lasers. The Chinese get a “two-birds with one stone” upgrade that resolves both the vulnerability of its secondary resource collectors and its previous recon liabilities with the new Internet Center. As always, the GLA remain the sneaky side with several additions such as the saboteur, which can disable buildings, and GPS scramble, which cloaks units. These new features for the GLA make them even more of an unknown threat, especially in multiplayer matches. These are of course a small number of the overall changes but the EA team really seems to have hit the mark on improving each side and keeping them distinctly different.The C&C staple of tech buildings has also seen several additions as well. Repair facilities, like those featured in Red Alert 2, can be captured and slowly repair all your mechanical vehicles. The reinforcement pad will drop off a single unit approximately every two minutes. While not enough to turn the tide of battle all at once, over time it can muster a force to be reckoned with; it’s a great building to forget about and be surprised by later. The new artillery cannon acts as a land based static defense. All of these structures help in the long run and can make great spots to establish a new frontal a*ault base.The real meat of the game however is included in the brand new game mode, the Generals Challenge. Here you can pick one of 9 specialized generals and face off against them in a series of battle royals. Each side, the US, China, and the GLA, have three Generals that are offshoots of the original sides that conform to some common playing styles. Chances are there are a few of the Generals out of the bunch that you will feel comfortable using. Some, for balance reasons, are missing units but these Generals play off each side’s strengths and have specific unit enhancements and general’s powers.Playing the Generals Challenge mode adds a lot of replay to the game. The matches are introduced to you with a large ‘vs.’ screen and a taunt, the first of many, from the opposing general. The missions themselves can range from incredibly easy to mind-numbingly hard, depending on which General you are and what the difficulty is set at. One match saw me as the US Super Weapon general against the US Air Force general. . It wasn’t enough that his planes could decimate my base because my defenses were useless, it was the fact that he could taunt me that got under my skin. The taunts are a good addition to the game mode and seldom get repetitive. After the ninth try of that I switched to the Chinese infantry general and mopped the floor with his aircraft; I sure taught him.The AI in Zero Hour has seen some significant improvements over that of Generals. Computer opponents will now expand their bases to additional resource piles and will capture tech buildings. I was initially caught off guard while playing the medium AI as I watched its planes fly around my anti-air defenses and rain down destruction upon my base. The AI also shows improvement in its land attack strategies as well, attacking from multiple sides instead of sending an army to one spot time and time again. The hard AI is a serious opponent this time around and even I, a hardened veteran of the C&C series, had a tough time in my first few bouts against it.There are a few noticeable faults in the AI however; most importantly the pathfinding which still has not been corrected. In most cases it occurred with small groups of infantry. The lead infantryman would just stop and the previous ones would run into it, forcing all of them to simply run in place. The same issue could be seen when groups of rangers went to capture the same building; one ranger would perform the flag animation while the others would run in place next to the structure. Tanks were not free of the pathfinding problem either; in the first US mission I saw one of my tanks get hopelessly stuck next to a train car, refusing to budge from its spot. Commanding large groups of tanks is often frustrating as the tanks sometimes stop and do a 360 when receiving new orders; a problem similar to that of the Kirov airships in the original Red Alert 2. Come on EA, you’ve had three years to learn from your mistakes.The graphics, as expected, do not disappoint in Zero Hour. The great visuals of the tanks and structures still look outstanding as they did in Generals. A few of the infantry were given new skins but for the most part they are all still less detailed than the rest of the game. The Chinese nuke still brings a tear to my eye whenever it goes off and the EMP bomb was given a flashy new explosion on detonation. The cou-de-gras of the graphics can be seen with the new American microwave tank which lets off a rather cool looking heat effect. There were no noticeable flaws in any of the graphics in my playing of the game however it should be mentioned that users with Radeon cards have been reporting graphical mishaps, chiefly with the microwave tank effect.Bill Brown delivers once again in Zero Hour; the tracks provide a unique sound for each side and get the adrenaline pumping in the heat of battle. The unit responses are there as always and all new 30 units, including the hybrids like the King Raptor have been given a few new sounds as well. The quality is ace and EA reminds us in the sounds themselves not to take the game too seriously; “Thank you for the new shoes.”The skirmish mode, as always, is available in Zero Hour. Players can choose from a myriad of official maps and can download them from the thousands available on the various fansites. Options to limit super weapons and also determine the amount of starting cash have been thrown into the interface as well; another compromise with the fans. Players can select opponents from the three levels of AI: easy, normal, and hard. The number of opponents is really only limited by the maps themselves. With the upgrade in AI the skirmish mode can be used to some success to challenge players and help them become quick and deadly against multiple opponents.Generals Online is back again for Zero Hour and many of the options for skirmish are the same for the multiplayer component as well. The names of the lobbies give players a notice of what type of matches are being offered such as “1 v 1”, “3 v 3”, and “No Super Weapons” for example. Being powered by Gamespy, Generals Online still features the same login and buddy system as Gamespy Arcade. You can track where your online buddies are and send them private messages as well. Nothing really has changed much from Generals in terms of the multiplayer interface.In both skirmish and multiplayer, players have the option of choosing from the basic three armies or selecting one of the nine offshoot Generals from the challenge mode. So depending on how you want to play and how the map is, you can be Dr. Thrax, the GLA toxin general; Tsing Shi Tao, the Chinese nuke general; or even the plain old US army. This gives Zero Hour an incredible amount of replay by the sheer number of combinations possible in these multiplayer shootouts.All in all, Zero Hour is a welcome addition to Generals. It adds enough to vastly improve each side and yet keeps them each unique. If you loved Generals then there should be no question about purchasing Zero Hour. Even if you held off on Generals, this expansion pack more than improves it enough to warrant the purchase of both.
Founder and Editor of PC Invasion. Veteran PC gamer of over 22 years.