The GLA is Guerilla and Technical. By far the fastest faction on land, and with pretty good offense, their units's armor also tends to be made of tinfoil. They have also quite a bit of movement, stealth, Combat Pragmatist, Hitand Run Tactics and "survivalist" capacities. However, their lack of airforce tends to hurt. Their army is also generally better against infantry and air than tanks.
China is Brute Force. So very much. With Spammer possibilities. They do have the most damaging and powerful units in the game, as well as the best artillery (Overlord Tank, Nuke Cannon). They also are the slowest faction overall, although you don't want to have a Chinese tank blob next to your base. China is also in deep love for the Rule of Cool, due to Stuff Blowing Up, Kill It with Fire, Nuke 'em, and Gatling Good. They strike a very nice balance between anti-infantry, anti-air and anti-tank.
The USA, however, is generally Elitist, with some Technical and somewhat of a jack-of-all-stats. The USA has by far the best economy (which may or may not be game-breaking) and air force in the game, with plenty of combined arm tactics. Their ground forces are pretty adequate, and their support powers are mostly China-like (eg. "bomb the hell out of everything"). They tend to fair well against tanks and air force, but poorly against infantry. With the exception of the Pathfinder, which is just as good as the Chinese Dragon Tank and Gatling Tank.
And apparently completely averted in the sequel, as the US is not represented. The three factions are the European Union, Global Liberation Army, and Asian Pacific Alliance.
Artificial Stupidity: Any player unit being shot at from outside its guard range will simply stay in the same spot and be killed, unless you activate retaliation in the options menu. Then, they'll chase after whatever is shooting at them and generally run into more enemy units.
The Computer Is a Cheating Bastard: The AI relentlessly takes advantage of this with its ground-based AA vehicles by positioning them just outside of your air units' response ranges where their AA guns will fire with impunity as your helicopters just hover, doing nothing.
Awesome, but Impractical: A lot of units can go under this, due to Crippling Overspecialization. Case in point: the PRC Overlord tank and its elite counterpart, the Emperor tank. Armed to the teeth, they are literally landcruisers, but hey, these babies don't come easy: they cost a lot, are hard to maintain and are typically the first on any opponent's target list, are often slow and prone to Zerg Rushes, which doesn't make suffering the fact that they're easy to counter any lighter for the one in possession of these crazy machines.
The Nuke Cannon. Pretty much the ultimate artillery unit. Slow, high-tier, rather expensive, no real defense, needs a bit of time to deploy, poor against fast units... but when it hits oh BOY does it hit. Textbook example of Difficult but Awesome as well : if you master the micromanagement aspect of it and anticipate the movement of your enemies, you will kill lots of stuff with it and generally ruin your opponent's day. The micromanagement is somewhat aided by the "Force Fire On Ground" option, where the Nuke Cannon will lob shells at the preset even with no enemy units to target, creating a localized hell on earth, effectively blocking passage to smaller units. With the "Neutron Shells" upgrade, it will kill infantry and vehicle drivers without destroying the materiel itself, letting vehicles accumulate so they can be hijacked, or left as a roadblock.
And by extension, some of the Support Powers. Here's one: the USA Propaganda Leaflet Drop. It makes enemies stop fighting for a mere minute, and it's not a total surrender. More often, pragmatic players would rather spend the Generals point on a MOAB. The B-52 dropping the leaflets, on the other hand, is quite the bullet sponge, which comes in handy if you need a distraction.
Also applies to some degree to the USA's ultimate weapon, the ParticleCannon. Sure, it's fun to be able to break it out, but at the same time it is a very narrow-focused beam of light that doesn't do a lot of area damage compared to China's Nuclear Missiles or the widespread infantry-killing of the GLA's SCUD Storm. However, it does have the shortest cooldown timer, and the fact that it can be redirected after firing makes it ideal for punching burning holes in defensive lines or to be unleashed on a tank blob at the most opportune moments.
And to compensate, the Americans have the best level 5 general ability, the Fuel Air Bomb.
Literally, just about anything with these four traits: plenty of seats, some decent off-road speed, a robust fire-support (or self-defense) weapon and most importantly, fire ports for passengers.
Humvees full of Missile Troops. Ask any competitive player.
The Chinese also have an APC unit with 8 passenger seats (and if you count it, it only costs 200 credits if you count the eight soldiers it comes with). It's rather unimpressive, as it's slow, lacks a weapon, lacks fireports, and is not strong enough to make up for it. However, General Shin Fai's version comes with minigunners that can chop up light vehicles and infantry in seconds and allows the passengers to fire from it, as well as the Assault Helix helicopters.
General Granger of the USA has a special version of the Chinook with a point laser defense system (that makes it missile proof) and built in fire ports as well.
Ax-Crazy: A lot of the generals in Zero Hour are this, especially Tao, Thrax and Jhuziz.
Back from the Brink: The GLA pull this off twice. The first, after getting their asses handed to them by the Chinese, and then again, after the United States does the same thing. They return the favor to both superpowers.
Badass Army: Everyone. Except the Europeans. Apparently they don't even have armies.
While all the armies count, the USA's forces are by far the best on a unit to unit ratio, and have a ton of technology and money. The downside is that their units are very expensive.
The reboot/sequel meanwhile suggests that the Europeans will finally get their due.
China meanwhile also deserves some credit. Compared to their American allies, the Chinese make extensive use of Cold War-era technologies and their offshoots, as well as human wave tactics. Still, it takes a lot of gravitas to make use of them in modern combat...and succeeding.
Badass Boast: Guys like Col. Burton and Pathfinders have the knack of constantly telling you how well-experienced they are in their fields. Sometimes even in campaign set piece triggers.
Some of the generals in Zero Hour tend to do this as well.
Black and Grey Morality: The GLA, for all their talk, are horrible people and arguably the most evil faction the series. But on the other hand, the "good guys" aren't entirely altruistic on their part. The Chinese don't seem to have second thoughts about torching or nuking their way to victory if they have to, nor do they have second thoughts about blowing up large portions of their own cities or handing tactical nuclear weapons to terrorist turncoats. It's even mentioned in the Zero Hour campaign that the Europeans eventually forced the Chinese to back down from nuking towns and cities infested with GLA terror cells. Also, one has to wonder how they're running their occupied portion of Kazakhstan if a general there defects and the GLA was able to convince mobs to burn down Astana and recruited several anti-China militiamen from an occupied fishing village in the first mission.
Though the Americans are fighting for freedom, peace and democracy around the world, they tend to come across as a tad myopic and arrogant. By Zero Hour, it's strongly hinted that they're really doing this more out of self-interest than anything else. Especially since they revert to isolationism after their humiliating defeat in Europe.
Bowdlerise: Among the C&C titles, Generals was hit worst, which was subject to some changes to avoid an M rating in Germany. Most commonly was the tactic of calling all infantry units cyborgs and changing/removing sounds and effects that would suggest otherwise. With Generals this was done for everyone, even the generals and the reporters (but not all their clips were altered). And the terrorist was replaced by... a bomb on wheels. That can drive cars.
Break Out the Museum Piece: The GLA uses tech that has been outdated for decades, and yet still manage to put the Chinese and American armies on the ropes multiple times.
Alexander, Townes, Kassad, and Leang are the closest that come off to normal people, though they're still egoistical, and Kassad is something of a narcissist. Granger is absurdly arrogant (but then again, he is a fighter pilot), but is otherwise fairly sane.
Tao's sanity is questionable given his fondness of all things nuclear.
Juhziz and Dr. Thrax are Laughably Evil, Juhziz is obsessed with explosives. Dr. Thrax is obsessed with toxic chemicals, and also believes that radiation gives people superpowers.
Butt Monkey: The GLA workers get no respect.note They're lucky if they get shoes...
Also, the vehicle that is blown up the most often in cutscenes is technicals, since they have such little health.
Car Fu: Crushing infantry with vehicles is featured as always.
The Chessmaster: "Pinpoint" General Townes likes to pride himself on this nearly as frequently as he boasts the superiority of his laser technology. Of course, given that he only has this personality when facing you as a computer ...
China Takes Over the World: By the end of Zero Hour, the Chinese are pretty much running the show as the world's superpower, bringing war-torn Europe into its Eurasian alliance, while the US reverts to isolationism.
Civil Warcraft: GLA turncoats cooperate with PRC troops in an attempt to backstab their former comrades. The GLA mission in Zero Hour, where the player must hunt down Prince Kassad and take his stealth technology. Also, technically, the last USA mission in Zero Hour as well, where you get GLA supporters against Dr. Thrax.
Converging Stream Weapon: If you look closely at the American Particle Cannon when it's charged, you'll see that there's several beams pointing towards one large dish.
Cool Bike: The GLA gets scout motorcycles in Zero Hour which can be loaded with any infantry to make them more mobile, and let them climb up and down cliffs with ease. Oddly, they self-destruct if the rider leaves the motorcycle without a replacement.
Gen. Granger's air power is second to none, but he can't build even the basic American tank.
Gen. Fai's infantry hordes can chew apart armor or aircraft, but will fall quickly to napalm, anthrax and flash-bangs.
Thanks to patches after release, Dr. Thrax is only effective against infantry, leaving him up a polluted creek if he has to stop a tank rush.
Speaking of which, General Kwai loves to use Tanks so much that he can't even use any artillery. So he's pretty much screwed if the enemy has built a very formidable defense line.
General Townes will laugh off any attacks with missiles and vehicles. On the other hand, base defenses and infantry rushes are what gives him big headaches. Unplug his power grid and all of those fancy lasers become sitting ducks.
In both offense and defense, General Alexis is not much in a straight up fight. But if she is given the chance to amass a lot of Aurora Alphas and Particle Cannons, then victory will become a foregone conclusion.
Prince Kassad is excellent at hiding and sneaking into enemy positions but he totally sucks at fighting big battles out in the open and besieging enemy bases that are sealed up very tight against infiltration. He also has to steal tanks if he wants them.
Critical Existence Failure: Averted. Vehicles and buildings will start looking worse for wear and catch fire when their health gets low, and any foot unit will limp instead of running. Pretty much all units except the Technical, Rocket Buggy and aircraft will also move at about half the usual speed when badly hurt.
Curb-Stomp Battle: The first mission of any campaign. First, the Chinese, after suffering a nuking by the GLA, launch an armored assault that wipes out the GLA forces around Beijing and takes their nuclear weapons stockpiles with very few losses. Then, in the GLA campaign, they launch their own armored assault, first destroying a small Chinese base mostly staffed by infantry with two bunkers with suicide bombers and technicals, then destroying a large Chinese base (complete with infantry, bunkers, tanks, and minigun turrets) in an armored assault, then finally blowing up the nearby dam, which drowns an entire Chinese armored battalion. In the USA's first mission, a large group of American tanks engages a large group of GLA ones and destroys all of them with zero losses on the American side. When another, equally large group of tanks starts moving towards the Americans, they're all instantly destroyed by an airstrike. note The last one is pretty close to real life. During the Gulf War, not a single American tank was destroyed by an Iraqi tank, whereas the Iraqis suffered huge losses. The parallel was likely intentional since the mission takes place in Baghdad.
Damn You, Muscle Memory!: While the original Generals still uses C&C style left-clicking, the expansion added in the option to swap control to Warcraft/Starcraft style right-clicking. As expected, this can prove a bit confusing.
Death of a Thousand Cuts: Granted that you will lose several infantry, you can destroy any ground unit and building with swarms of rifle infantry. Even the GLA's Angry Mob is a very good example of this.
Dummied Out: General Fai and General Juhziz lack their own Challenges in the official release of Zero Hour. There were also plans for a USA and GLA Boss General as well (General Ironside and General Mohomar, respectively). They can still be found within the game files, and many mods have re-enabled these levels.
Easy Logistics: The PRC somehow gets thousands of troops shipped to Germany in hours.
Ejection Seat: When a USA combat vehicle expires, a Pilot will be ejected from the vehicle, assuming the vehicle's Pilot has seen enough combat to gain ranks.
Enemy Exchange Program: Notably the only game in the entire C&C franchise that doesn't use an Engineer to seize a building. Instead, you train your basic infantry to place flags on a building for a set amount of time until it becomes yours.
The Lotus special agents can also do what the grunts can; only better.
The developers also seem to encourage a lot of hijacking, seeing how the GLA have specialist Hijackers for the job.
Zero Hour ups the ante on hijacking sprees with China's crew-killing neutron bombs.
Evil Laugh: Dr.Thrax has a wheezing, phlegmy chuckle, while Shi Tao "the Nuke" has a dangerous giggle once his missile silos are ready to fire.
Excuse Plot: This game has the least development to its story of any game in the C&C series, with only some cutscenes explaining what happens and no characters.
Faction Calculus: The USA is somewhere between Balanced and Powerhouse, featuring a large number of above-average units with various special abilities. The GLA is Subversive, favoring stealth and poison. China, in a variation, fits the Horde archetype more closely than the Powerhouse, with their basic infantry and tanks receiving bonuses when in large numbers.
Fast Roping: Using this method, the USA's Chinooks can lower a number of Rangers into an occupied building to clear out anyone garrisoned inside.
Final Boss: In the Generals challenge, PRC ubergeneral Leiang "Tigress" Leang, who has a base combining all three factions' units and structures. You start the mission racing the clock before she hits you with a simultaneous Nuclear Missile, Particle Beam, and Scud Storm.
Frickin' Laser Beams: American laser technology. It's used for a lot of things. Took off on a humble start with the Paladin Tank's dual-purpose point-defense laser and the Missile Defender's Laser Sight in Generals. In Generals: Zero Hour, laser technology matured to give all American factions the anti-aircraft Avenger Humvee. Specialist Laser Army faction commanded by Gen. Townes uses Laser Turrets, Laser Crusaders and procured Avengers, while USAF Gen. Granger dumped Paladins for aircraft with multiple point-defense lasers.
Hypocrite: The GLA are this in droves. At first, they scream incessantly about oppression, imperialism, and how just they are. Other comments, however, underscore that they're basically ill-tempered, sadistic, sociopathic low-lifes to a man. Except for the lowly Workers, who are some of the single most hilariously down-trodden, abused schmucks in gaming history. This is prevalent in the 2nd mission where they steal relief aid from some peasants.
The Hyena: Dr. Thrax punctuates his mustache-twirling evil one liners with frantic giggling.
I Love Nuclear Power: China love it. There's a Chinese General in Zero Hour who specializes in nuclear warfare.
Kill Sat: The Particle Cannon, subverted. The Particle Beam actually fires up from a ground installation and reflects off an orbiting satellite. Then, it hits the battlefield.
Kill It with Fire: The PRC have flamethrowers, incendiary shells and napalm missiles. They're capable of walling off approaches with constant firestorms.
Knight Templar: The GLA troops call themselves "liberators of the poor oppressed peoples of the world" while stealing humanitarian aid from those very people and slaughtering entire villages and cities. The GLA tries to excuse the former by claiming they'll find a "better use" for those supplies.
The GLA news anchor from Zero Hour, Omar bin-Gazali, ramps this up by praising the GLA and demonizing the USA and the PRC.
Landmine Goes Click: Careful, now. Make sure that you have your surroundings checked before capturing that building, because it's probably going to be set up with traps, and it'll be too late to fall back when one of these things beep.
More Dakka: More or less what Chinese Gatling operators want the longer they're putting their weapon in action. The Gatling Tank crewmen invoke More Dakka. Hell, it's even in their selection quote: "Need a bullet barrage?"
Motive Decay: The GLA's self described purpose was to drive the Americans and Chinese out of Central Asia and the Middle East. They then proceed to invade Europe for no real reason. Yes, Europe. Not even the formerly Muslim held lands that religious extremists would want, like southern Spain or Greece, but frickin Germany.
Multiple Life Bars: All GLA structures, except the Demo Trap, has two layers of Life Meter: the first is its original functional form (like most buildings) and the second is the remaining foundation (called a GLA Hole) that's still standing. If a GLA building's left unharmed long enough at its second Life Meter, it'll slowly restore itself into its functional form for free. Needless to say, this feature gives the GLA a lot of tactical leverage to survive attacks that only last long enough to level buildings without Multiple Life Bars.
Names to Run Away From Really Fast: Dr. Thrax, Gen. Tsing Shi "The Nuke" Tao and Gen. Leiang "Tigress" Leang. The first one threatens you verbally, the next does it by demonstration of force and the third goes with a combination of both and a little hinting from Gen. Kwai.
Noodle Incident: The Zero Hour manual is chock full of these. General Tsin Shi Tao (the nuke general) was the head officer in Mudanjiang when an unspecified disaster occurred that almost cost him his career. General Shin Fai (the infantry general) participated in the "Taiwan Conflict" and General Alexis Alexander (the superweapon general) was a logistical staffer in the "Second Korean War".
The conditions that led to the creation of Aldastan (from the union of Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan) are also unknown.
Nuke 'Em!: The PRC, as a whole, and Gen. Tsing Shi Tao in particular. He specializes in nuclear warfare, and when he isn't spamming nuke silos, he's steamrolling you with nuclear-powered tanks firing depleted uranium, or MiGs and Helixes dropping tactical nukes.
No Kill Like Overkill: While it's understood that anyone can pull this off, there's one in-universe case where Tsing Shi Tao starts off his scenario by routing most of your advance guard with his artillery. When the two surviving tanks try to flee, he drops a nuke on them.
Pillar of Light: One of the coolest features of the American Particle Cannon is how you can direct the laser to "draw" on the map. Nothing like writing your opponent a message in the smoldering ruins of his base.
Piecemeal Funds Transfer: How the hackers of the Chinese faction hack in money to fuel your war machine. As they gain experience, they find ways to increase the size of the pieces!
Point Defenseless: Averted. Given a proper antiaircraft or antimissile defense, ground vehicles that normally succumb to aircraft and missiles can become a battlefield powerhouse.
Poisoned Weapons: One of the GLA's turfs is biochemical warfare. Namely, with weaponized mixes of anthrax and liquid chemicals. But for someone who's into this trope, look no further than the dastardly Dr. Thrax.
Power Glows: Max veterancy units get red tracers for their weapons.
Refuge in Audacity: The whole plot involve an Al-Queda inspired organization managing to wage open war on American and China AT THE SAME TIME, using out of date weapons and converted civilian vehicles that wouldn't even scratch their intended targets in real life.
Spy Drone: The Spy Drones and the Sentry Drones. The former kind is the stealthy, Support Power equivalent of the Scout Drone. The latter kind takes a little bit of all three drone classes and puts them together in a nifty, buildable, controllable ground vehicle package.
Rule of Cool: Many, many, many units (like the Dragon Tank, The Marauder Tank and the Laser Crusader) can only be fully explained by this.
Rule of Fun: The American units tend to be a lot weaker than they are in real life, whereas Chinese and GLA units tend to be several times stronger note For example, Rocket Propelled Grenades can't hit airplanes or even decent helicopters, the Cold War era tanks the GLA and Chinese use can't fire while moving, American tanks are pretty much immune to said tanks' attacks and the GLA's RPGs, Raptors are incredibly fast stealth aircraft that can't be shot down anywhere near as easily as they are in game, real life Tomahawk missiles can be launched at enemies from hundreds of yards away, and aircraft have cannons in addition to their missiles.. This is because having the Americans curb stomp their enemy in every match wouldn't be fun or balanced.
Ruritania/Qurac: There is a Central Asian country called Aldastan where numerous PRC and GLA missions take place. Judging from the names of the cities, it incorporates bits of Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan and must have been formed sometime before 2020s when the game takes place. Considering the instability of some Central Asian Republics (Tajikistan being near the top), we may see this trope become Harsher in Hindsight.
Slap-on-the-Wrist Nuke: A jam-packed battalion of units will succumb to a nuclear explosion, but many buildings can withstand it, even at ground zero. However, with the exception of the Nuclear Missile silo (unless the optional "one of each superweapon" build-limit is disabled before beginning a skirmish/multiplayer game), there's no limit to the number of other tactical nuclear weapons you can build at once, particularly in the case of the Nuclear Cannon.
Sniping the Cockpit: One hero unit that can snipe pilots out of vehicles, leaving behind the unoccupied vehicle that can then be captured by a friendly infantry grunt. The Chinese Nuke Cannon (nuclear artillery), with researched "Neutron Shells" upgrade, and the neutron shells selected, does the same thing but on a larger scale, killing infantry, drivers, and pilots, and leaving vehicles as sitting ducks, ready for the taking (or making a convenient roadblock).
Support Power: The first C&C to field all three types. Of note is the General Powers system, which is works not by making stuff or by completing a mission objective, but by earning points and using said points to gain new powers.
The Starscream: Dr. Thrax, if you go campaigning. He intends to usurp control as GLA leader.
Tactical Rock-Paper-Scissors: Many of the units are extremely effective against a particular type or two, but get absolutely demolished by everything else.
Tank Goodness: Anything with the word tank on its name, while Zero Hour's Gen. Kwai is built around this trope.
Tech Marches On: In C&C Generals and Zero Hour, the main attack helicopter for the USA is the Comanche. The games take place sometime in the 2020s. When the games were released in 2003, the Comanche was still undergoing test flights with the intention of eventually being deployed as a support vehicle to the AH-64 Apache. In 2004, the Comanche program was canceled by the U.S. Army, and its budget was reallocated to UAV development.
Technicolor Toxin: GLA's toxins are, in ascending order of lethality, Green, Blue, and Purple.
The PRC Hacker infantry class is actually a Cracker for all intents and purposes,.
The PRC's Gatling guns have a "Chain Gun" upgrade, which is a misnomer; Gatling gun and chain gun refer to two completely unidentical weapons. A "Chain gun" has a chain-and-sprocket assembly (like a bicycle) to feed a belt of shells into the action, which discharge from a single barrel. Gatling guns use a notched wheel to do so, and fire from multiple barrels.
Terrorists Without a Cause: The GLA's agenda. You're actually told in the GLA campaign that their motive is to drive out who they feel are imperialist aggressors, though beyond this their precise goals are unclear. Many real life terrorist organizations had an ostensible goal of liberating their homeland from foreign occupaton, so the GLA is not without real life precedent.
The PRC ECM Tank is, put simply, a walking Trick Bomb: about half of all the enemy missiles caught within its effect radius will be grounded, which saves its general the trouble of paying dearly for his vehicle losses.
The GLA use anthrax biochemical gas bombs which put Universal Poison to full effect.
The USA Superweapon General faction with its EMP missiles. Because of its paralyzing effects, it usually spells "crash time" for fliers.
Phlebotinum Bomb: There are two types, both fielded by the PRC. The first is the air-dropped EMP bomb, which incapacitates anything but infantry. The second is the neutron warhead in flavors of artillery shell or land mine, which only kills infantry, including those hiding inside vehicles and buildings.
Tube Travel: The aptly-named GLA Tunnel Network, which involves building separate entrances that are somehow magically connected the instant the entrance is completed no matter the distance or location on the map.
There actually WAS a corrosive component to the GLA's brand of anthrax. But the patch fix removed that, making it useless against vehicles.
Units Not to Scale: Averted with the humongous aircraft carrier and battleships. However, due to pathfinding issues, these realistically large ships only appear in a select few missions and are unbuildable. The rest of the units play this rather straight.
Variable Mix: The background music changes based on how well you're doing or if you're fighting or not.
Warmup Boss: General Granger is usually the first opponent you fight in Generals Challenge mode. Unlike all other opponents in this mode, he doesn't use any support powers and never builds any superweapons. Additionally, he gives you noticeably more prep time than any of the other opponents.
Wretched Hive: The GLA's main stronghold is Kazakhstan. The majority of the USA campaign and a large portion of the PRC one takes place there, and there capital is Astana. Aside from that, they also mantain de facto control of Aldastan, a fictional Central Asian nation made from the union of Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan.
Zerg Rush: The Generals challenge battle against Gen. Kwai has you enduring a near-constant stream of his improved tanks. The PRC, in general, favor this tactic, too, where their grunt infantry and tanks gain a Horde Bonus if gathered in groups of five or more.
The Angry Mob functions like this too, you can mass them together and start a literal riot against your enemy.