"In the modern world... great leaders resolve their conflicts with words... words like...
"Scud Launcher! Carpet Bombing! Tomahawk Missiles"
And then a nuke lands and blows everything up.
This is likely one of the most "badass" intros to a game and for 16-year-old me and my friends it was both "amazeballs" and "awesomesauce". Here it is in restored HD glory for any of you who were deprived of such gaming excellence in 2003:
I must admit it does hit a little bit different these days. There's still that healthy dose of nostalgia. Memories of LAN's in my friend's basement, guzzling Coke and Sour Cream & Onion flavoured Lay's chips, while we played game after game. Or just sat and watched the animated background of the main menu:
The gameplay is still fantastic, each faction plays slightly differently due to the strengths and weaknesses. This is doubled down on with the unique specialisations of Zero Hour, the game's expansion. Remember those? Although a strategy game, the action and explosions are at the forefront. The audio is brilliant too, especially the oft entertaining unit responses.
This brings me to my main point in that the real world is a very different place from way back in 2003. There's a degree of discomfort watching that legendary intro considering that there is a real war happening right now which could escalate if the leaders started using "words" like the C&C Generals use. Nukes in games are awesome spectacles of destructive power and flashy graphics, nukes in real life? Not so cool.
C&C Generals proved to be controversial even in its day. Getting itself banned in China for "smearing the image of China and the Chinese army". Given how seriously China's authoritarian government takes itself, I'm not surprised. As China, you can build propaganda towers to heal your units, or hire hackers to steal funds from bank accounts to fund your army and stick them in an internet café. That's not to mention the stereotypical accents and lines like, "Nationalism will give us victory!"
The GLA - Global Liberation Army - is the "totally-not-Al-Qaeda" faction. What with the biochemical weapons, suicide bombers, bomb trucks, and angry mobs that you can arm with assault rifles, "AK-47's for everybody!"
One of their generals is called Dr. Thrax, as in anthrax. You can get pick-up trucks with a machine gunner on the back from the Arms Dealer (just like in the movies) and under every building you've got a GLA hole in case you need to go underground for a while. Gameplay wise, the building will respawn if you don't destroy the hole too.
Then there's the poor workers, the basic resource gathering unit, who's response repertoire includes: "I will work," "Do not hurt me," "I'm just a peasant," and the legendary: "Can I have some shoes?" In the expansion, Zero Hour, you finally are able to buy some shoes for your workers, thus improving their movement speed.
C&C Generals walks this line between the outright parody found in the latter Red Alert titles (Soviet Bear Launchers anyone?), and the degree of serious warfare to be found in the staple Command and Conquer series. It's funny and it's offensive, and in 2022 would totally get "cancelled". Especially since the American faction is quite ordinary. Well, they do have a detention centre as one of the special buildings...
And so why is C&C Generals an absolute RTS classic? Well, for all its parody and stereotyping, it's also darn clever. The quirky units all serve a purpose and their gameplay abilities all tie-in with their characterisation. If you're feeling nostalgic, or want to find out what all the fuss was about you can find both Generals and Zero Hour in EA's Command & Conquer™ The Ultimate Collection