Zero Hour review

Command & Conquer: Generals - Zero Hour single-player review

October-December 2003

I received my fansite review copy in a big FedEx box. It contained the US retail copy, which looks much cooler than the Europe version I already bought a few weeks before. The explosion on the cover comes slightly out of the box and you can actually 'feel' it due to the relief. The game comes on 2 CDs and needs to have Generals installed in order to work. It requires another 1.4 GB of disk space on top of the 1.8 GB of Generals. The system requirements are the same as for Generals, but while playing the game I noticed that Zero Hour feels much smoother and didn't have any stuttering which Generals still had.


The 9 different generals were supposed to be in the original game, but were removed about 6 months before release because balancing proved to be very hard. It gave Generals a bit of a funny name - it's called Generals but you cannot actually play a specific general. For Zero Hour, EA Pacific has brought back this innovative feature: you get to choose one of 9 different generals or just the 3 original sides from Generals in online and skirmish play.
In the Generals Challenge, you get to choose a general and use him (or her) to beat 7 other generals. The first 6 opponents are one of the other generals excluding yourself (you do not have to beat yourself), the infantry general and the demolition general. The 7th general is a hidden Chinese boss general. She is unplayable, which is understandable because she has access to the technology of all 3 sides and starts out with all 3 superweapons.

The China Infantry General in action (with the Helix 2 chopper hovering around, click on the picture to enlarge)

Generals Challenge - on hard difficulty

I have played the Generals challenge with the Nuke general (he rules!) on hard and it took quite some effort to beat the first 5 generals. My 6th opponent, general Alexander, proved to be a huge problem. When playing on hard, she will attack you with choppers before (!) you are able to build any kind of defense. After about 10 tries, I was able to find a tactic which has a 25% chance of working: immediately construct 2 additional dozers, build a power plant, and then build 3 Gattling cannons in a triangular shape. That was enough to take out the initial chopper strike, but it gives a huge blow to your economy and I spent the next 2 hours attempting to get a base up. You have to get a few hackers ready before the supply stash runs out, because that's your only source of income. You can forget about capturing the oil derricks which are to your left early in the game - if you do not defend them, you'll lose them and you need them later on.
As if the air attacks weren't bad enough, Alexander also has 3 particle cannons! The artillery barrage and the nuke strike (both are obtained through generals points) took out the first particle cannon which is on your island, but they do huge damage because they destroy a few of your structures. In the end, I succeeded, but I had to use some dirty tactics to get there: Alexander has a preference for certain structures with her particle cannons, and if you rebuild them in the same spot and sell them just before she activates here particle cannons, you'll get some money back.


General Alexander taking another bite out of my base with her particle cannons - and the A10 strike in the final picture will destroy my internet center... (click on the pictures to enlarge)

I'm not quite sure how China is supposed to get onto the island of Alexander, because MIGs and Helixes are killed with one shot of her EMP cannons. I finally beat her by nuking her out - 2 nukes take out her command center, and after that it's bulldozer-hunting to prevent her from rebuilding.
You may be wondering why I'm not saying anything about the boss general which is the final opponent: that is because I haven't beat her yet. On hard difficulty, it is a true challenge! When people say they've beat it, then ask them if they've beat it on hard. Big chance is, they've played it on easy or normal where it is much, much easier because opponents have less superweapons, they take longer to charge and they attack less frequent.


After playing Generals, I was really unhappy that I could beat the GLA missions in under 6 hours on Brutal (!) difficulty. EA Pacific have realized that "Normal-Hard-Brutal" are not the right names for difficulty levels, and renamed them back to "Easy-Normal-Hard" in Zero Hour. But they didn't stop there - they made the missions much harder on hard than they ever were on Brutal in Generals! Every side has 5 missions but there are 1-2 hard missions among those 5. Compare that to just one challenging mission in Generals (the final China level, which was very hard and thus good)!


Skirmish games (where you play against a number of computer opponents) has a few new maps and all the maps that were in Generals (not sure how many new ones are in there... about 10 I guess). There's a new option to limit the number of superweapons every player can build to one. I can actually see the use for this option, because the AI will build multiple superweapons now if given a chance! Besides that, the skirmish AI has been improved in other ways too. It still uses the standard 3 routes into your base to attack you, but it will only use 2 of them to actually attack you. The 3rd route is used to attack you with sneak attacks. It might seem strange that you're not attacked from one side, because then you do not have to defend it, but that is not true: I can tell you it's no fun when there's suddenly a Super Lotus in the middle of your base capturing your War Factory, so I can really recommend that you defend all sides of your base.

The skirmish option screen, with the Generals Honours I've won so far

Generals Honours

Generals brought badges (or honours) you could earn if you'd beat the missions, built more than 50 tanks in a single game, all the superweapons, beating all the maps against a hard opponent, etc. Zero Hour takes this a little bit further: there's a new badge for beating the Generals Challenge (you have to beat it on hard to get the gold medal) and the Ultimate Honor (beat every skirmish map against the maximum number of hard opponents). With the new AI it looks impossible to beat an 8-playermap against 7 hard enemies, but there's a trick: the AI players do not have to be in one team, as long as they are not your allies. If you put everyone in a seperate team, then everyone will attack everyone and it's possible to win then.
The only thing which strikes me as odd is that the Domination honor for lifetime wins now is given for 100, 500, 1000 or 10,000 (!!!) lifetime wins. You can say what you want, but I'm not seeing myself winning that 10,000 wins badge anytime soon; they've taken this one a 'Bridge too far' (or was that a RA1 map?).
Another missed opportunity is that in the end, the generals honours are useless. It's nice to have them, but you do not actually gain anything by winning them: there is no unlockable content. On the PC, it is still normal not to have any unlockable content but for console games its normal to have this nowadays. It would have been nice to be able to unlock something like the Ant missions from RA1 by getting 6 badges or so...


Zero Hour can be edited and extended by editing it's data files: the game can be modified. Most of the game is controlled by 18 Megabytes of text files totalling about 546,000 lines of text. Together with the total size of 3.2 Gigabyte for Generals and Zero Hour's datafiles, this is no easy task: where does one start?
TibEd 2 could get you started. It gives you the opportunity to tweak the game by changing unit costs and speeds but 'advanced modding' like adding new units and graphics is not yet supported, one has to dive into the datafiles oneself then and do it there.
The result of a modification is a single file, a .BIG file, which can be used by running the game with a special -mod switch. This allows you to run the normal game too, by leaving out this switch. If this looks like gibberish to you: a TibEd 2 mod can be run through Generals Mod Selector which takes care of this for you.
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Why was that an advertisement? Well, simply because I am the author of those programs so I'm prejudiced!


The Zero Hour expansion pack for Generals offers a lot of new stuff which will keep you playing for at least 30 hours. The generals bring a new dimension to gameplay: if you're playing against the infantry general, then you have to use different tactics then when playing against the tank general or the stealth general. Against the computer, it is not really important because it appears to look right through stealth, but during online/multiplayer games, it's quite funny when your opponent runs into your stealthed Tunnel networks. Unfortunately, I myself cannot play online due to my PC configuration.
The Generals challenge brings many hours of fun and frustration to the singleplayer experience (which is most important for me). Someone who's beat all the missions and the Generals challenge on hard deserves respect! I'll have to keep playing a bit longer ;)
If you do not have Generals yet, then you can get the 'Generals Deluxe' which contains Generals and Zero Hour in a single box and that at the price of a single game!

Koen van de Sande

PS: This may be totally unrelated, but...

Zero Hour is addictive. I was playing Zero Hour when I was supposed to be working on something else. While playing, my PC suddenly powered down and there was a burnt smell: my Power Supply Unit burned out. This is not Zero Hours fault, but it does tax out your hardware. If I had been doing the thing I should have been doing, then it would have been burnt out the next day (I'd have played Zero Hour then)!
Another thing I've noticed is that Generals/Zero Hour has no way to check program integrity. The GLA mission 5 briefing video was damaged and caused the game to crash with a 'serious error'. After fixing the file by copying it from the CD, it no longer crashed. A lesson to be learnt: a reinstall can fix things.

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