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Between those outrageously cheesy transitional scenes and the feature-poor interface, the ”Command & Conquer” series of real-time strategy games has always been a little quirky. The latest installment, Command & Conquer: Generals, eliminates some of the idiosyncrasies. Unfortunately, they excised the wrong elements: Gone are those enjoyably awful interstitial video segments – and still remaining are those…maddeningly difficult controls!

It’s an unwritten rule that in the interface of modern RTS games the left mouse button selects your combat units and the right issues your orders. A rule that C&C titles – in which the left does everything and the right does almost nothing – still refuse to follow.

Once you’ve finally mastered the control system, the rest of ”Generals” is pretty spectacular. Pedestrians swarm the streets, panicked passengers somersault out of exploding vehicles, and buildings topple over – all with a satisfying realism. (Note that ”Generals” has some pretty serious hardware requirements.)

Three forces – American, Chinese, and a terrorist group called the Global Liberation Army – provide a wide range of combat units and a lot of tactical depth. The 22-mission single-player campaign is a bit short, but an excellent skirmish mode and a free online player-matching service extend ”Generals”’ life almost indefinitely. Even with its faulty controls, this is a war effort we can support.

Originally posted February 28 2003 — 12:00 AM EST

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