The cruiser is armed with two 8-inch guns in two twin turrets which fires long-range explosive shells that can devastate bases. The heavy guns and armor came at the price of mobility and active defenses against aircraft and submarines. The cruiser relied on destroyers and gunboats for protection to ward off these threats.
The Battleship (Generals) has similiar configurations.
The firing range of the Cruiser is the longest in the game, being able to reach targets several screens away which gives it considerable coverage on maps (also it is possible to chronoshift a cruiser into firing range of an enemy base). The accuracy of fire decreases the further away the target is, and the Cruiser will often miss distant targets altogether. This problem can be negated somewhat by ordering the Cruiser to force fire (holding down ctrl) on an area next to or around the target, which often causes stray inaccurate shots to hit the actual target. Although it will not target submarines directly, a cruiser can be directed to force-fire on sea-tiles next to the submarine, and the submarine will take damage from near misses.
The Cruiser's naval guns are devastating against structures and infantry, each broadside having roughly three times the power of artillery. A couple broadsides will level most of the weaker buildings. They are less effective against tanks and armoured vehicles, though, and cannot hit moving targets unless they force-fire in front of where the target is about to move. For this reason the Cruiser is best employed against stationary or slow moving targets.
The Cruiser has no defense against air units at all, so the typical Soviet counter is a MiG strike, thus ships like Destroyers are needed to escort Cruisers.
The Cruiser cannot engage submarines directly (although it can force-fire next to the submarine), so usually they are escorted by Destroyers. The Cruiser is heavily armored and can withstand seven torpedo hits from submarines.
The Cruiser is portrayed in the cutscenes as a Iowa class battleship. However, the Iowa class is a battleship that has nine 16 inch guns in three triple turrets, while the in-game unit had only two turrets with two 8 inch guns.