In the decade following the turn of the millenium, Taiwan makes some bold independent moves. With certain countries in that part of the world nursing their economic wounds, the People's Republic of China decides to teach Taiwan a lesson. The UN and her allies rise to stop them, and eventually 19 countries are drawn into the conflict. They don't call it World War III, but they might as well.
So begins People's General, the second in SSI's Living Battlefield series. The turn-based wargame engine seen in Panzer General II is more polished and refined, and sports 16-bit hand-drawn battlefields. The eerily plausible scenario provides the opportunity to fight using modern weapons, something of a departure from SSI's usually-WWII based wargames.
The graphics feature gorgeous 16-bit backgrounds. The high color makes for some very impressive settings. The unit design is very well done, and the animation is quite good. There is a bit of dropout that occurs in some of the battle animation, but not enough to complain loudly about. I was very impressed with the music in People's General, something that is usually only for background effect really stood out and grabbed my attention. Sound effects are also of high quality and very distinctive. I was attacked by a SAM site at one point, then realized that I had reacted to the SOUND of it going off rather than the visual aids.
The game engine is turn-based, as one would expect from a game like this. The battlefield is hex-driven, no surprises there either. Units are purchased with prestige points, which may be altered to set the difficulty level. Units have an impressive amount of detail. In order to have an effective force, you'll have to consider a unit's offensive and defensive capabilities against armor, aircraft, artillery, etc. Move your units around the board randomly, and you'll get stomped on. Conversely, you'll want to defend with a mixed force, so that if you're attacked by a force superior to one unit type, another can assault it effectively. Air support is done a little differently in this game; a menu brings up an air mission screen where you choose a mission type. You can call for recon, defense, or order an air-to-ground or air-to-air (wild weasel) strike. Air missions cost points separate from prestige, and bonuses may be incurred during a scenario by occupying a captured city with artillery. There is a level of complexity at work here that requires some amount of strategic planning, but is reasonably easy to learn to use effectively. The sheer number of options and statistics could have easily overburdened the interface, but it's handled quite well considering the amount of data involved. Previous players of SSI's General games will feel right at home instantly.
Units in People's General are based on either modern weapons or slightly futuristic versions of current weaponry. They're balanced nicely overall, and there's enough variety to please just about anyone. I couldn't even begin to count how many different unit types exist in this game, and each unit has a lot of variables to take into account.
There are two main campaigns that may be played as either side of the conflict. A good amount of single scenarios are also available for a quicker fix. Nice little touches like the ability to type a narrative into a saved game also exists. There is only one tutorial present, and it is a combination in-game/use-the-book protocol. Multiplayer support is included, featuring up to four players via LAN, Internet, even a play-by-email function.