Review by EDDY555

"Think you can beat a Retaliation mission on your first try, you egomaniac? "If you fail...do not return.""

Following the ground-breaking Command & Conquer on PC - the game that made RTS hot - and its smashing sequel, C&C: Red Alert, originally released for the PC and later appearing on the PlayStation, Westwood (RIP), one of my favourite ever developers, decided to compensate PlayStation owners for the release of two PC add-on packs, Counterstrike and The Aftermath, with C&C: Red Alert Retaliation. It plods along the same storyline path, with a rematch of sorts between the wimpy Allies and the almighty Soviets. Sadly, what turned out to be the final C&C effort on a Sony console is about as credible a swansong as Raul Julia's last film before his death.

That was Street Fighter II: The Movie.

Now, as "shallow" a way to kick us off this is, the graphics have taken a massive step down from any Red Alert game on the PC. Granted, they look a scrap better than the release of the first Red Alert on the PlayStation, with nicer menus and a more polished "Mission Accomplished" message (the Westwood guys suffered a collective broken back tweaking THAT!), yet map landscapes, men, boats, whatever; they're all dawdling in "Nicole Bass" territory. If you never watched World Wrestling Federation programming in 1999 then ignore that comment and get on with your life, you don't need to know who Nicole Bass was.

One plays Retaliation by selecting an icon or unit you want to do something with then directing it towards an ultimate action. Whether it's building a Power Plant, having a grenadier trot about or ordering a jet to bomb a Construction Yard, it should be smooth, but the clunky PlayStation pad - a PlayStation mouse is rarer than a drab Quentin Tarantino one-liner these days - makes sure only hardcore console players could even stand playing a C&C game on PlayStation. The speed is reduced; as a result, proceedings become far more boring. For anyone who has enjoyed the series on PC beforehand, it's like adjusting to the pace of that classic Russian literary work: War and Peace: Long Version.

The way you start missions is different to what normally happens in C&C. For example, as the Allies, when you initially select "Campaigns" from the menu there are actually several countries highlighted with a few levels each. Depending on how important the campaign is considered, a certain military rank is required to be allowed to spearhead it by the fat bloke in the preview videos. The default rank is Sergeant - you must perform well as a Sergeant to be promoted to a Major, then a Colonel and finally a Captain. Instead of pounding Siberian outposts from the outset, then, "humble" beginnings in war-torn Greece will prove yourself as a competent strategist.

Um, right. The very first time I booted up the Allied disc and tried a Greek mission, the objectives were to destroy a truck convoy which had stopped in the nearby Soviet base, capture the Radar Centre and then dispose of all Soviets in the area. Not bad so far. I built up a solid base, scouted the area and amassed a sizable force of Light Tanks ready to storm into the base, wipe the stationary trucks off the map and then cripple the surroundings as best I could. I decided to send a spy into the Radome after I'd sent the first wave in of tanks in so any guard dogs would be slaughtered in the attack - dogs can sniff out spies and eat them. Suddenly: "CONVOY TRUCK ATTEMPTING TO ESCAPE!" The ticking clock had hit zero, which was fair enough as I'd failed to meet the deadline and should be punished.

Unfortunately, there was no deadline. No ticking clock. No visible representation of the time in any way, shape or form. Seconds later, a single truck leaves the map and it's Game Over. Very humble. If I bring the fact that the PlayStation C&C games have no mid-mission save game feature to your attention, 30+ minutes of my life was flushed down the toilet that day, due to one crucial piece of information I wasn't even told. It's totally unfair. And that's supposed to be the most straightforward level! Needless to say I was hardly looking forward to the later escapades with child-like glee.

The campaign selection is an interesting idea overall but, as well as spoiling the locations of the Allied counterattack, any claim that it's a free-roaming engine is laughable, as you're basically moving from campaign to campaign, one-by-one, with no choice as to which nation you're invading next. Also, the missions follow little resembling a coherent plot, you just press X and off you go, so the suspense of what might happen next is zapped to nothingness. This was also a problem that plagued the Red Alert mission packs.

In Westwood's favour, though, they have not taken the lazy option with briefings. Instead of bland text-based affairs, there are genuine videos, featuring the trademark cheesy accents and stereotyped characters (a loudmouth, overweight American general with a mustache smoking a cigar, whatever next?). They're not as much a joy as they were in the past, however: C&C: Red Alert had the AWESOME Stalin actor, the sexy chick who poisoned cups of tea, the absurd Albert Einstein actor and the hilarious chemistry between the two Allied commanders ("Mikos! Put your personal losses aside for one moment will you?!") while virtually all C&C games up to this one had generous helpings of the charismatic, mysterious and invincible Kane, played by Joseph D. Kucan ("Is that camera still running?", "Er, congratulations on your promotion."), the Coolest. Bald Actor. EVER. Retaliation retains none of this charm.

Perhaps positive everyone would hate the Campaign mode for its tedium and ridiculous difficulty level/learning curve, Westwood have recycled the passable Skirmish mode from PlayStation Red Alert, whacking on a few new maps to disguise its familiar nature somewhat. The Skirmish mode on PC C&C games is always extremely amusing, but seeing as a lite version is all the PlayStation can handle there is no Map Editor, less capacity for AI teams and less colours for your army ("Prepare to meet your maker, French frog, as I introduce to you: THE PINK MAMMOTH TANK!"). Expectedly, the entertainment value is decreased.

As it is derived from the PC add-ons, Retaliation is granted a small amount of bonus units you won't see anywhere else on PlayStation, including the Tesla Tank (think Tesla Coil on wheels with pathetic durability), the Field Mechanic (think medic that mends machinery instead of bullet wounds) and the Chrono Tank (think thinly-armoured mobile rocket launcher that can teleport here and there). None are particularly good nor interesting in the long-term - once you've got past the novelty value of purchasing them it's crystal clear they're poor and that's that.

A mildly redeeming feature comes in the form of music, which is always a strong aspect of a C&C game. Some of the original tracks on the CD are actually pretty catchy and Westwood have re-used a few of the better tracks from the previous Red Alert. Once a mission has dragged on for long enough and the tune bank has been exhausted (there are 13 on offer) the entire soundtrack will loop. I was shocked when this happened to me for the first time as I'd heard an entire Red Alert soundtrack with no "Hell March" variation on it. WHOSE BRIGHT IDEA WAS THAT? Hell March is the best C&C song ever and they left it out! The SFX can't make up for it either, they're basically the regular Red Alert sound bytes but a lot grainier, thanks to PlayStation - I'm not going to delve and discuss "the scream of a dying solider...the explosion of a well-placed shell" because EVERYONE does that with C&C now and it's excessively fluffy.

To top this all off, if you haven't logically worked out the replay value yet, you won't be able to bear C&C: Red Alert Retaliation for very long. Personally, I got...not very far on the Allied and Soviet campaigns, becoming stuck beyond assistance (seriously, Retaliation has to be one of the most unforgiving, harsh and practically impossible games ever produced, which is not hyperbole of the highest order; if you give the game a look - which is not advised - you'll find my opinion quite agreeable. Westwood have crossed the line between "good, satisfying challenge" and "utterly irritating rubbish"). I subsequently mucked about on Skirmish for a bit before more or less forgetting about Retaliation. Waiving the absence of Hell March for the sake of objectivity, the game has some wicked music and if you were a peerless, insanely patient C&C master you'd probably love it, as you could show off for being one of the only ones to get anywhere on the Campaign mode, but seeing as Retaliation is far too tough for most of us the score cannot be a decent one as the ludicrous difficulty acts as a vacuum, sucking up any enjoyment a normal person could get out of any perks the game has. Perhaps the only equally frustrating inanimate object which could demand a whole wasted weekend of you trying to find something fun about it would be...

Yep, you guessed it - War and Peace: Long Version.


Reviewer's Score: 3/10 | Originally Posted: 06/09/04


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