Command & Conquer: Generals Zero Hour Hands-On Impressions

The expansion pack to Command & Conquer: Generals includes new structures, units, and upgrades.


We got a hands-on look at the upcoming expansion pack for Command & Conquer: Generals at today's Camp EA event. The game, which is in development at the EALA studio based in Los Angeles, is called Zero Hour, and it includes a new, 15-mission campaign, 25 new multiplayer maps, and a new single-player mode called Generals Challenge, as well as new units, structures, and upgrades for all three of the original game's factions.

The mission we played put you in control of United States forces. After watching a cutscene that showed the GLA firing a nuclear missile at a US military base, we got the opportunity to give the terrorists a little payback. We started by making our way over to a GLA train station, destroying pockets of resistance along the way. Taking a little detour, we found a stash of derelict Chinese military hardware, including an overlord tank, which we quickly outfitted with the healing propaganda speaker. Using a huge force of paladins and the overlord, we steamrolled over the GLA defenses at the train station, where we loaded up our tanks and infantry into a train. The train then rolled right into the heart of the GLA nuclear missile base, where we popped out and destroyed the defenses and stinger installations. This paved the way for the mission's final cutscene, which showed off a B-2 stealth bomber dropping a big payload of bombs to finish off the base.

In another mission demonstrated to us by Harvard Bonin, the senior producer on Zero Hour, we watched as he took control of GLA forces in the Mediterranean that were being harassed by a US aircraft carrier. After using GLA troops to capture two separate areas, one of which contained a US particle cannon and another of which contained power plants to fuel the superweapon, the game once again switched to an impressive ending cutscene. This one showed the GLA using the particle cannon on its creators, effectively sawing the US aircraft carrier in half. The raptors caught on the flight deck burst into flames, and while one of the planes appeared to fly off the deck to safety, seconds later as the two halves of the doomed carrier began sinking into the ocean, the jet ended up cartwheeling into the ocean. You can expect to see plenty of dramatic, over-the-top scenes such as these in the 15-mission campaign that EALA is including in Zero Hour.

Aside from the campaign, EALA is including a special single-player mode called Generals Challenge. Here, you can travel all around the world to take on any of nine different generals and their specialized armies. For instance, you may find yourself up against a Chinese general who specializes in nuclear powers. This general will nuke you early and often, and many of his units are enhanced with radiation auras that can damage nearby enemies. Another GLA general specializes in toxins. This allows him to upgrade his toxin units with even more powerful poisons than are available to normal GLA units and even outfit some defensive structures with toxin guns.

The special generals also have their weaknesses--for example the US general who specializes in air power will have fewer units and options available to him on the ground, lacking paladins and other heavy vehicles. In compensation, he'll get to unleash king raptor fighters that have laser point defense upgrades that shoot incoming surface-to-air missiles, as well as stealth Comanche helicopters that are invisible until they fire. As you defeat the generals in the challenge mode, you unlock them and their enhanced armies for use in online and skirmish play. Online players who prefer a more orthodox match can choose to exclude the special generals, which allows players to still use Zero Hour's new units.

Bonin was also kind enough to demonstrate a handful of the game's new units and structures. The Chinese will get the giant helix helicopter, which, in Bonin's words, serves as a flying overlord. You can upgrade it with various features, including a propaganda speaker. It can also drop napalm bombs that burn and do continuous damage over a short period of time. And finally, it serves a third purpose as an air transport, big enough to carry a few infantry (which can shoot out of it) or one huge overlord tank. The Chinese also get a special vehicle tentatively called the "banshee." It's a GPS jammer that exerts its scrambling aura out in a short radius. Most missiles fired into the jamming aura will lose tracking and go astray, but projectile-based weapons are obviously immune to such trickery. The Chinese special structure is the Internet center. If you spend a few credits at this building you'll be able to reveal the territory around all command centers or briefly see what part of the battlefield your enemy is looking at. Garrison the Internet center with some hackers and they'll be able to gather money more quickly than if they were out in the field.

On the GLA side, you'll be able to control the new combat cycles, which are basically dirt bikes. The function of the combat cycle changes if you take an existing infantryman and swap him for the driver. Put a terrorist on the bike and he becomes an extremely fast suicide bomber. Put Jarmen Kell on it and you can snipe from the bike. Aside from being fast, the combat cycles have the ability to drive off the edge of cliffs, which lets you take shortcuts across the map and possibly sneak behind enemy defenses. Another new GLA vehicle is the battle bus. These look like beat-up old buses, but they serve as rolling bunkers. Infantry can shoot out of them, and, after it sustains some damage, the bus loses its wheels and becomes a stationary bunker, shielding the infantry inside from damage. The new GLA building demonstrated for us was the sneak-attack tunnel, which functions much like the nydus canal in Starcraft. You build an entrance to the sneak-attack tunnel near your base, and the exit can be quickly constructed at any point on the map with which you have line of sight. This lets you funnel forces into areas where your enemy would least expect, such as the back of his or her own base.

The US has plenty of new tricks up its sleeves as well. The avenger support vehicle boasts an antiaircraft laser and a missile defense laser (like the paladin's), and it also uses a special laser to target enemy units and structures. This allows tanks and other nearby vehicles to fire at the target at a much faster rate. A new microwave tank can power down enemy structures, rendering them useless. They also have a small radiation aura around them that can damage nearby enemies. Bonin also showed us the new US firebase, which is a fixed defensive structure that features an artillery cannon on the top and four emplacements (one on each corner) for infantry to man. These stations allow you to customize your defenses, depending on which types of infantry you use to bolster the firebase. The US also gets some new tricks to purchase with generals points. One of these is the spectre gunship, which is a cargo plane armed with a howitzer and miniguns. You can use the spectre to target a large area of the ground, and it will orbit that site, pounding away at targets until all are eliminated or it gets shot down.

With a huge campaign, a new single-player mode, and tons of new units, structures, and upgrades, Zero Hour promises an almost overwhelming amount of new content for Command & Conquer: Generals fans to look forward to. The expansion pack is currently scheduled for release this fall.

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