The original Command & Conquer changed the gaming world forever. Sure, it wasn't the first Real Time Strategy game ever (many people credit Westwood's own Dune II with that honour), but it was damned close and it was damned good. Suddenly, strategic war play was within reach of the masses - joe weekend could control the fates of scores of warriors and weapons of war in real time, as he saught to crush all those that stood in his way.

That was then. This is now - a lot has happened since then and now, and quite a few iterations in the Command & Conquer and related series have been released. The genre is crowded, the gaming style familiar. With a new game just around the corner, is there enough new improvements and features to make it stand out? We were fortunate enough to get our grubby mits on the beta of Command & Conquer Generals and after duking it out with some unsuspecting n00bs on the internet, we reckon we've got a pretty good idea of where this title is headed - and the future is looking very bright indeed!

Graphically, the beta is pretty restricted. You can't change the resolutions or any of the graphics settings - this sucker is setup to work one way and one way only, for maximum compatability and minimum issues relating to the game. That said, it's looking very promising indeed - the entirely new 3D engine is more than a gimmick and it is pulled off well.

Manipulation of the interface is always important, making the difference between intuitive and frustrating gameplay. C&C wins here hands down, with the familiar controls of old accented with the new 3D manipulation very well indeed. Seasoned C&C players will be straight into it, with newbies requiring limited time to get to grips with it. Top stuff.

The map is perhaps the single most frustrating aspect of any game ever - as you spin around on your all new 3D axis, it doesn't. Meaning you might hear some action going down, look at the map to see where it is, see that it is "up, left" and then move the mouse to go in that direction - only to find the map moving in the other direction, the direction you were actually facing. This is a nightmare and must be fixed - the number of crucial, split second decisions that were lost because of this was countless.

The three different sides on offer are a truly mixed mob. The game is set in what could actually eventuate as a possible future from where the real world sits today - an American lead conglomoration of countries under the GLA banner (technology driven), a Chinese ally of the GLA (low tech but high in numbers and cheap units) and - perhaps the most controversial of all - the terrorists. That's right, you can control a bunch of lads that look (and behave) an awful lot like those people that seem to be hitting the news a lot in the last 18 months in all the world's hot spots. With the terrorists, you can manufacture car bomb and suicide bomber units - that behave exactly as you would expect. This is an interesting move on behalf of the designers and it will be very interesting indeed to see how it pays off for them.

The three sides are very different and definitely have a different feel to the way they play. The basics are the same (collect your resources from a storage yard, build your base and annihilate the opposition) but the method is very different. Getting the balance right here will not only be crucial, it will be difficult - right there is the key to General's success. It feels pretty good already with regular refinements throughout the course of the beta.
Overall we feel from what we have seen the game is well on its way. Stay tuned for our full review right after the games release in New Zealand on February 14th.