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There are more realistic and imaginative strategy games available, ones far more demanding of a tactical mind and others that offer up an historical challenge whether it be ancient or contemporary. But when it comes to whittling down the hours in the pursuit of pure fun, very few strategy games have been as easygoing or as enjoyable to play as the Command & Conquer series. For all its overt and senseless stereotyping, those that could stomach the all-too-current backdrop of its faux Desert Storm setting found the same enjoyment in C&C: Generals, the most recent offspring in the near decade-old series.
Picking up from where last year's episode left off, Zero Hour dishes out three mini campaigns for each of the three warring sides. Unsurprisingly. EA has again sexed up current affairs with the USA ferrying humanitarian aid and hunting weapons of mass destruction (which in this game are easy to find), the Chinese fighting terrorist armies, while those opting to command the GLA must regroup and harass their two enemies with sneak attacks and biological weapons.
The levels themselves have moved away from the predominantly Middle Eastern desert locales of the first game and include North Africa, the Mediterranean islands and Western Europe, and while the main campaigns are brief they are no less spectacular than you would expect. Spruced up with in-engine cut-scenes, the game is a feast for the senses with explosions that fill the screen, hordes of troops and tanks that pack the maps and the typical C&C soundtrack of industrial dirge that sets the mood perfectly.
To bolster what would otherwise be a thin expansion, EA has introduced a new single-player mode called Challenge; for all intents and purposes a homage to Street Fighter that has you, as your choice of general, taking on eight other generals one at a time as you attempt to become the mother of all battlefield commanders. Each general is an expert in a particular field, with bonuses and special units available depending on their skills. For example, play as Chinese General Kwai - an expert in armoured warfare - and you can build tanks cheaply and earn powerful bonus abilities, his weakness being that he can't recruit artillery units and aircraft are expensive. Go up against US General Alexander - a specialist in base defence, whose inability to build tanks is offset by EMP missiles and cheaper Particle Cannons - and you've got yourself an interesting battle.
C&c Generals Zero Hour Maps Free Download
While the new strategies work well, the Al still makes some corking blunders; units often get caught up crossing bridges, while enemy generals always seem to rely on the same routes to attack you time and time again. Saying that, your troops are more coordinated than they appeared last time around so there are improvements.
Of course this wouldn't be much of an expansion pack without some new units and EA has introduced plenty of upgrades and fresh reinforcements for each side. These include GLA combat bikes that tear across the maps at breakneck speed, Chinese Helix helicopters that can transport the massive Overlord tanks across the map and drop napalm bombs and, for the US, the Microwave tank that can reheat a chicken biryani in under five seconds - and reduce enemy buildings to rubble as a happy aside. Add in a couple of new General Abilities and new buildings, like the Chinese Internet Centre, and you have a hefty package that puts most add-ons to shame.