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SummaryThe Cold War gets a whole lot hotter!
The GoodAfter plunging through the PSX version of the first Command & Conquer (which I'll from now on refer to as Tiberian Dawn), it took quite a few years before I laid my hands on the later games in the series. It was only after buying the First Decade compilation that I eventually took the opportunity to play through the rest of the C&C series, starting with Red Alert.
While Tiberian Dawn took place in a realistic modern day setting, Red Alert takes on the battlegrounds of alternative history. It starts off with Albert Einstein (yes, THE Albert Einstein) using a self-made time machine to transport himself back in time to eliminate Adolf Hitler before his rise to power as leader of Nazi Germany. And Einstein does so not by shooting or stabbing him, but by the mere power of a handshake! Yeah, somehow Hitler disappears from direct physical contact with a guy from the future. Makes no sense, but hey, this is Red Alert, the game series that would feature mind controlled squids and psychotic Japanese school girls in its sequels, so just throw all sense of logic and real life physics out of the window right now!
But things didn't exactly go the way Einstein thought they would, as now the Soviet Union led by Joseph Stalin himself has free reign to commence their own plans for world domination! In a desperate attempt to stop the Commies' march, the Western nations (including Germany) join forces and become the Allies and so a devastating conflict begins for control over Europe.
The gameplay of Red Alert is very similar to its predecessor's. Once again, it's a Real Time Strategy game (RTS) wherein base building, unit training, resource gathering, attack and defense all have to be taken care of simultaneously. There's little time to think things over, as your enemy may be sending an army of tanks your way while you're casually building a few more ore refineries or silos. It is very important to prepare yourself for any possible situation. Base and unit building remains the same, click on the icon representing the unit or structure you want to have built and watch as the icon slowly starts to light up. Once it's fully lit, your unit will appear on screen or your structure can be deployed next to another of your buildings. Just make sure to have enough power plants built as some structures require quite a lot of energy to operate. You don't want your defenses to stop functioning just when you need them the most!
Just as in Tiberian Dawn, you have two playable factions each with their own unique set of units, structures and storyline consisting of about 15 missions each. Both these storylines will eventually lead to your chosen faction standing tall over the dead and broken bodies of the other side. Once again, the game uses live-action cut scenes to tell its story and they are significantly better than Tiberian Dawn's mainly because they now have a true Hollywood movie feel to them. In the previous game, it was just one person briefing you about your next mission, but in Red Alert, there's a lot more going on than just plain mission briefings. Some memorable scenes include Tanya's escape from the Soviet prison camp during the Allied campaign and Gradenko's death at the hands of Nadia in the Soviet campaign by drinking her excellent, self-made (and poisoned) tea. In other words, the cutscenes are a lot more action packed, engaging and therefore more fun to watch.
But story isn't the only thing that Westwood improved to the C&C formula. The gameplay is also significantly faster in pace. Building structures, training units and gathering resources goes quicker, allowing you more time to spend on the fun stuff, that is blowing your foes to kingdom come! Not only is the game more exciting thanks to its faster gameplay, but there's also a ton of new stuff added to the game including naval and aerial combat. Both sides have also received better balancing and overall they feel completely different from one another.
When you play as the Allies, you have access to fast moving, rapid-firing lightweight tanks, naval cruisers and you can steal intelligence or money using spies and thieves respectively. The Allies therefore specialize in meticulous planning and unit efficiency. The Soviets, on the other hand, use big and powerful assault tanks, jet fighter planes and submarines. They emphasize brutality and land-based attacks combined with the best air force units in the game. The Soviets' heavy emphasis on tanks can be effectively countered using Allied bazooka troops and landmines while the Allied naval prowess can be kept at bay using Soviet submarines. And while the Soviets have fast and powerful aircraft, the Allies possess excellent anti-air defenses. In other words, there is a suitable countermeasure for every unit or situation in the game.
The alternative history setting is used to full extent here, as new, weird sci-fi technology becomes highly prevalent in this game. The Allies, for instance, have access to the Chronosphere, which basically allows their units to teleport across the entire game map. The Soviets can use the Iron Curtain force field, which makes units or structures completely invulnerable for a short period of time. The Soviets also have Tesla coils, probably the coolest base defense weapon ever created. These are electric poles which zap every enemy stupid enough to come close enough!
The game's soundtrack is once again made by Frank Klepacki and he easily outdoes his already great Tiberian Dawn musical score with this iteration. The soundtrack is once again a mix of heavy metal with electronic music and military styled orchestra. Some tracks are very upbeat while others are dark and sinister. This is also the first game to include the now famous Hell March theme, definitely one of the most iconic video game music tracks ever created! Sound effects are pretty good (although I prefer those from Tiberian Dawn). Particularly Tanya and the spy units are fun to listen to. Tanya, like her predecessor the Commando, likes to spit out one liners for every kill she makes or building she blows up. She loves to laugh out loud or shout "let's rock" or "ka-ching!" The spy has a awesome cliché British accent and wears a tuxedo like James Bond. For king and country indeed!
The BadThe game's difficulty is pretty cheap. You have three difficulty levels but they only change the number of hit points your units have compared to your enemy's. It doesn't change the enemies strategy at all, so expect the AI to attack you as ferociously on easy as they will do on hard, they will only go down easier.
The game's super weapons (Chronosphere and Iron Curtain) are pretty much useless. They only allow you to use it on a single unit at the time and in the case of the Chronosphere, the teleported unit will eventually return to its original location.
Unfortunately, the Soviets do not have a unique hero unit. I really wished they had a fun counterpart for the Allies' Tanya. Even a recolored and renamed Tanya unit would have been enough for me. Just imagine playing a few Soviet missions controlling a Soviet girl named Natasha and have her blow up Allied tanks using a portable Tesla coil or something like that.