If you want a deeper strategy game, look elsewhere. If you want one of the most entertaining arcade war games ever made, look no further.
- Fast paced, intense action
- Universe is filled with weird science and equally weird characters, adding a layer of humour and charm
- Fun multiplayer with balanced sides and unique units for unique countries
- 2 great, lengthy campaigns to play
- Lots of multiplayer modes, including Co-op missions
- Good sound effects
- What other game has Udo Kier!? :D
- Cool soundtrack. Also Hell March still rocks.
- Shallow, arcade style gameplay compared to other RTS games
- Co-op missions often require specific settings to work right
- Outdated visual effects (even for the time)
- Sometimes bum rush strategies can be annoying
- Naval battles are often uneven
- No ability to rotate or change building placement, limiting your bases layout
- Various annoying compatibility issues
The Bottom Line
I hate admitting it but after playing recent games like the incredibly deep and nuanced Company of Heroes
and other modern RTS games it is hard to look back on Command & Conquer
and call it the deep, nuanced strategy game that I called it back in 1995. Yet despite that does it mean that C&C isn't fun? Hell no! It still is a joy to play as long as you don't expect something up to modern standards.
What makes C&C so fun is that while being "arcade style," it is extremely fast paced and while it may not have you pondering your every move and setting up complex strategical maneuvers, it will always have you on your toes and you will still have to use the thinker to get yourself out of any predicament your foe imposes upon you. If you want an RTS that cuts to the chase and gives you plenty of action, C&C still holds up gameplay wise.
Red Alert 2 doesn't change the core gameplay much - but the cosmetic changes are massive. If you are unfamiliar with the universe created in the original Red Alert, let me catch you up. During World War II as Europe is being crushed by the Nazi armies, a desperate Albert Einstein creates a powerful machine in a desperate attempt to spare the world from the horrors that lie ahead. This machine happens to be able to go back in time, and he uses it to go back before the war and wipe Hitler from history entirely.
Yet as we all know messing with the past isn't such a hot idea. Since Nazi Germany would not be there to oppress them and force them to join the Allied nations, The Soviets instead rise to the power under the name of Stalin. The war that ensues is even fiercer as futuristic technology comes into the fray, harnessed from masters such as Edison and Tesla. Red Alert 2 takes place in the 50s, I'm guessing about 5 or 6 years after the events of the original. The Allies and the Soviets are at peace and a new Russian Prime Minister is in charge who is on good terms with the US government.
Yet the alliance doesn't last long, and the soviets prepare an attack straight into the American homeland itself. Aided by his mysterious advisor, Yuri (PLAYED BY UDO FREAKIN' KIER :D) Romanov has his eyes set on crushing the heart of the Allied nations.
What makes Red Alert 2's universe so great is that it is stupid. Really, really, really stupid. The game does not bend to the laws of physics let alone the laws of science, and the amount of weird science is mind blowing. Half the stuff you'll see seems like the sort of thing a 6 year old on a sugar high would come up with. There are giant squids, dolphins with lasers attached, psychic warheads, soldiers with electrified cannons strapped to them, trained war monkeys, saboteurs dressed in leather an eye patch and carrying a whip, and so forth. Yet being so epicly stupid, the game is absolutely hilarious. The cut-scenes are filled with tongue in cheek humour and as the game gets stranger, the characters get stranger and they are extremely fun and entertaining to watch. If this game doesn't put a giddy smile on your face there is something wrong with you.
As I said, the gameplay relies largely unchanged. The campaign has two campaigns on two discs, in which you can play as the Soviets or the Allies. Both campaigns are lengthy and carry lots of variety, meaning you will have a lot to see and do. You often command a small handful of units, build a base, make more units and try to crush your enemy. Yet as I said, the campaign mode tries to shake this up as often as possible. You will have missions where you must command a single unit to infiltrate a base, missions where you must defend or attack a specific area and fight of waves, there are missions where you must escort and keep convoys safe, and a good chunk of other objective based styles.
The game is extremely fast paced and furious. As I said, it's about the action more than it is the actual 'strategy.' You will see plenty of action and as you progress, the game will become very cruel and if you do not react with a cunning counter-measure you will be crushed by an iron fist. Yet as frustrating as it may be once you find a way out of your predicament and crush your foe beforehand, it is ever so satisfying. These are the "deeper" moments of the game, when something happens that you are unprepared for. You will either be given a chance to prepare, or you will have to make do and find a way to use what you are given to find a clever way out of a situation.
The sound design is the highlight of the otherwise mediocre production values. You'll hear shrieks and cackles, guns and explosives, and it sounds like a battlefield just as it should. While it can be grating to hear your units response voice over and over, the game as a whole sounds terrific. It is aided by a great soundtrack from series mainstay Frank Klepacki. One of the common complaints about the score from Tiberian Sun was that the music was mostly ambiance and somewhat depressing in tone. Thankfully Klepacki had his ear out and listened to the fans, because the soundtrack in RA2 returns to the fast paced and catchy industrial tunes that highlighted the original C&C and the original Red Alert. We get a new version of the Hell March, and while not as lengthy as its original counterpart it is just as awesome as ever.
Multiplayer is a blast to play and there are still tons of players online even today; though I honestly have the most fun playing with my wife or friends mostly because its easier to establish and enforce no "Bum rushing with tanks" house rules. The multiplayer suite is surprisingly varied, carrying more than just your traditional "Destroy the other base" modes. There is even a mode where you can join a friend and play objective based co-op missions. One of my favourite modes for a long play session is the "Unholy Alliance" mode where you are given both a Russian MCV and an Allied MCV. This means you get both techtrees, and if you can get your friend to agree to at least 30 minutes of no rush this can lead to massive and epic battles with all units of all kinds fighting.
The biggest problem with multiplayer, ignoring gameplay, is that setting up a game can be tedious and some players will DEMAND specific settings out of you, and the settings aren't always clear in instruction. This is especially a pain in co-op missions, because while you can adjust the settings of a regular MP match and play it fine a co-op match requires a specific setting. More often then not, if you choose a faster speed the co-op mode is unplayable because it will go by too fast, and some missions will require you to toggle other settings individually.
The problem with multiplayer in actual gameplay stems from crap like tank rushes and super-weapons. While super-weapons can add some spice and a rush to preserve yourself, it can be annoying to have a super-weapon pop up before you've even finished telling your soldiers which way to point their gun. Yet if you can find a way around these issues, there is no denying that multiplayer is a blast to play with a group of friends.
Overall Red Alert 2 isn't the deepest strategy game out there and it never has been, but it more than makes up by being packed to the brim with entertaining action and having a bucketload of style. Red Alert 2 might turn off 'hardcore' strategy fiends, but if you just want to take control of some nasty toys to blow the ever living hell out of your best friend with, Red Alert 2 is one of the most entertaining action games ever made.