The three unique factions encourage a variety of playing styles. Each faction requires distinct strategies, tactics and techniques in order to exploit their strengths while avoiding having their weaknesses exploited by the enemy. The player who likes to hog resources and pump-out units in large number will feel right at home as China's General. The USA General has the coolest toys to play with. A clever and devious GLA General will be rewarded for thinking outside the box.
China embraces nuclear power to provide electricity as well as devastating weapons. The Nuke Cannon is the ultimate siege weapon and China's superweapon is the Nuclear Missile. Once the Nuclear Missile structure is built, depleted uranium shells and nuclear power are available for tanks as upgrades.
GLA relies on mobility, surprise and unconventional means to overwhelm the enemy.
USA emphasizes air power, high-tech systems and stealth, allowing fewer units to do more. The Particle Beam is the game's only precision superweapon that can safely be used on the battlefield in close proximity to friendly units. High quality is expensive, both in terms of price and power requirements.
The three factions also have commonalities. Each has access to a special hero/heroine unit and a "superweapon". All factions can produce a basic infantry unit, a rocket soldier and a basic tank. All rocket soldiers are effective against mechanized units, aircraft and structures, but are relatively ineffective against troops. The 'Building Capture' upgrade is available to all factions' infantry.
China's Command Center does not come equipped with radar, requiring a structure upgrade to provide a radar's essential situational awareness. A small but effective force can protect the base early on, while waiting for the advancements and resources required to build the "bad boys".
The Nuclear Reactor is required before most structures can be built, but a Barracks can be built immediately. Red Guard and Tank Hunters inside Bunkers provide an early defense. China's unique Speaker Tower is essential to an effective base defense. It requires a War Factory and then a Propaganda Center as prerequisites; by then, an additional Nuclear Reactor will be needed as well. Gatling Cannons provide the essential base defense; however, the equally effective Gatling Tank is mobile and won't go offline if power is lost.
"Strength in numbers" is literally true with China's 'Horde Bonus' which rewards groups of five or more troops or Battlemaster Tanks with an increased rate of fire. China can dominate the early game with readily-available and relatively cheap Red Guard, Tank Hunter and Battlemaster units created in number. The Propaganda Center's 'Nationalism' upgrade increases the Horde Bonus.
Frying your enemy in napalm is low-tech, but quite effective. China's Flame Tank, Inferno Cannon and MiG are capable of creating a BBQ out of your foe's units. In numbers, MiGs and Infernos can generate a 'firestorm', a devastating blaze that persists for a short time. The Flame Tank can eject a continuous 'arc of fire', for effective short-range area denial. The War Factory's 'Black Napalm' upgrade increases the firepower of all flame units.
The Overlord is the "biggest and badest" tank in the game. It is also the most versatile. Your enemy's worst nightmare is a handful of Overlord Tanks marching toward their base. Versatility lies in the ability to upgrade to one of three variants. Adding Propaganda speakers allows the Overlord to repair or heal nearby friendly units. The Bunker upgrade allows up to 5 troops to fire from within and safely transport vulnerable units. A Gatling Overlord is equally effective against troops and vehicles, and can detect Demolition Traps and simultaneously attack two targets. Although they do not benefit from the Horde Bonus, they work well in combination. An effective assault force should include at least one of each Overlord variant.
The humble worker is perhaps the GLA's most important unit. First and foremost, they are cheap and expendable. More versatile than the other factions' resource gatherers, the worker also replaces expensive and vulnerable construction dozers. Being smaller than a dozer, he can repair defenses and structures in a crowded battle-space. A base with a formidable defense can be quickly created by using several workers building separate structures simultaneously, then workers can resume resource gathering when done. No power is needed; so the time, resources and space required to build power stations does not apply to the GLA. There is also no need to worry about defenses going "offline" due to mismanagement or the loss of a power station.
Speed, resourcefulness and improvisation are the GLA's most important strengths. "Unconventional means to fight an unconventional war" is key to success for the GLA. A head-to-head battle with like-type units is likely to fail. Utilize the speed advantage of GLA mechanized units for quick hit-and-run attacks. Free upgrades for Technicals, Quad Cannons and Marauder Tanks are obtained by scavenging parts from defeated mechanized units. Additional upgrades can be obtained for vehicles, at a reasonable price, from the Black Market. An anonymous benefactor is willing to pay cash for each enemy unit eliminated.
Want an Overlord, Paladin, or any other enemy vehicle? Just steal one with a Hijacker, or Jarmen Kell can snipe the driver, making it available for capture by any friendly troop. No friendlies nearby? A Rebel Ambush can instantly remedy that situation.
Zip a worker behind enemy lines inside a Technical to build a Tunnel Network. Units can enter any tunnel entrance and exit from any other tunnel in the network, and a unit in trouble can quickly duck into a nearby tunnel and emerge in full strength. Several units can wait inside the Tunnel Network and be dispatched to a trouble spot on a moment's notice. A Rebel Ambush is available to dispatch Rebels anywhere on the map; and with Camouflage upgrade, they can lurk unnoticed inside an enemy's base, awaiting orders at just the right moment.
Deception is another important element of the GLA General's strategy. Terrorists can hop into civilian vehicles, turning them into bombs that can wait in ambush or storm enemy positions. Likewise, the powerfully destructive Truck Bomb can be disguised as any vehicle, even an enemy's. Disguised units combined with camouflaged and stealthy units can make for an unpleasant surprise for an unprepared enemy. Throw in a Hijacker or two, and they won't know what hit them until its too late. Strategically placed Demolition Traps that are invisible to most units can provide a defense against an enemy advance.
The USA General must get the base up and running quickly. The Command Center comes already equipped with radar and the ability to call on a satellite to reveal a small portion of the map. The often overlooked Spy Satellite is a very useful asset that becomes ready again after only 30 seconds. Base defense relies on the Patriot Missile System which is great against vehicles and aircraft, but needs to be guarded against troops. A few Rangers should be trained immediately, and loaded into a Humvee when available.
USA relies on the high-tech advancements which take time and resources to develop. Fortunately, the Chinook Helicopter is the most efficient resource gatherer in the game. Chinooks ignore terrain, and additional Chinooks are handy for quickly making a bee-line to nearby or distant resources. If used carefully, they can even sneak behind an enemy base and collect resources from the enemy's Supply Dock.
The Strategy Center is an essential element for USA's strategy. In addition to making certain unit upgrades available, it unlocks the ability to construct important structures and the unique ability to select one of three Battle Plans. The Battle Plan can be changed at any time, as circumstances change.
Air superiority, intelligence and precision weaponry are the USA's greatest strengths. Used in combination, this faction can truly "do more with less". With the Raptor, Stealth Fighter, Aurora Bomber, Comanche Attack Helicopter, A10 Air Strike and even the Chinook in its secondary role as a transporter, the USA can deliver "death from above" and control a battlefield.
Of course, "boots on the ground" are required to conquer territory, and the USA has the units to do it. With intel gathered from the Radar, Spy Satellite, Spy Drones and Pathfinders, the USA can deliver the right stuff to the right place at the right time in order to insure victory.