Review by EDDY555

"Probably the most incredible prequel of all time."

After their blockbuster strategy sensation Command & Conquer, Westwood continued what was to become a huge franchise with a sort of sequel, Red Alert. It is the “follow-up” to the original, but the events are set before that of C&C, back in the 20th century.

The year is 1946. World War II has ended and millions have died. The one and only Albert Einstein has developed Chrono technology, which allows the user to shift through time and space. Einstein teleports back to the 20's and eliminates a young Adolf Hitler in the hope of preventing World War II in an alternate timeline.

Back in the 40's, it appears that there was never a World War II. But a certain dictator that was friends with the Allies in World War II, according to the original timeline, has his own plans. After all, nobody has tried to take Europe for themselves yet, have they? In this timeline, Josef Stalin takes the initiative and his enormous army invades Europe. City after city falls and the Russians outnumber defiant but comparatively feeble Allied forces 5 to 1. Stalin is seemingly invincible!

From here, you can administer continental destruction as the Soviet Union or attempt a bloody counterattack with the Allies of Britain, France, Germany, Greece and the US. Stalin wants to blast through Allied strongholds on every front and unite the whole of Europe as Red in his campaign, and, after hopeless origins, the Blues are eventually required to capture Moscow in theirs. A lot of these missions are very taxing, but the objectives have much more depth than they did in C&C. Even the non-production missions, such as guiding commando Tanya through a valley to destroy bridges, feel genuinely covert and are not just minute-long mad dashes, unlike the non-production missions in C&C, where you'd fly into the enemy base, grab a weapons crate and run away.

You get one of Westwood's CGI briefing videos to enjoy before each mission. One of the most memorable things about RA is that it never really takes anything seriously, although it's set in a Cold War scenario full of murder and despair. This is especially true of those videos. The two Allied commanders, Von Esling and Stavros, share understated yet very amusing chemistry, a certain bald superhuman from the original C&C has a creepy cameo in the Soviet campaign and you even get my personal pick for the most intentionally outrageous moment in gaming history: holding a glass of champagne, it's Josef Stalin himself in bed. Shirt undone and all, Uncle Joe is enjoying dirty antics that concern one of his hottest female officers, who is young enough to be his daughter. On top of that, a Comrade General back at HQ is observing the affair over CCTV! Not to be missed.

Both sides have different units and structures, which makes sure that if you use the same tactics for one side as you do for the other, you will fail in a spectacular way. The Allies rely on state-of-the-art technology, hit-and-run ground tactics and a spectacular navy, while the Soviet war machine's strengths are its fearsome base defences and thickly armoured tanks. Westwood tried to balance things out, but ultimately the Soviets have the edge, as a Soviet rush consisting of their fat, double-barrelled tank cannons on an Allied base is hard to impede.

C&C is a point and click RTS. Player selects unit, player selects where to move unit to/who or what the unit should attack, unit carries out orders. It really couldn't be simpler. There's also the addition of grouping teams in RA. Instead of having to select all of the units over and over again, you can group them with your mouse, and hold down CTRL + [insert number here] to make that team 1, for example. If you want to select all of those units again, just press the relevant number on your keyboard and Bob's your uncle.

A new game mode for RA is Skirmish. Here, you select a specific country from the Allies or Soviets, each with a special enhancement (i.e. the Russians have 10% cheaper building costs), select a map, tweak the game rules and prepare for battle. Fed up of Westwood's maps, think you can do better? Prove it. A bonus program installed from the RA disc, Map Editor, will allow you to customise dozens of new warzones. Skirmish mode is perfect for either an hour or so of practice if you're a newcomer, or to give seasoned veterans a fresh challenge. Indeed, the only disadvantage to it is that it makes one wish the original C&C had a Skirmish mode, making you feel less ecstatic about that particular game!

Maybe you'd like to sample a Skirmish against human players for a change? After buying RA, you can have comprehensive Internet options set up the same day. As long as you meet Westwood's minimum requirements, the game will play smoothly across any connection; I live in the UK, and have played many a fast-paced game with the likes of German, American and Portuguese fans over 56k.

Music-wise, Frank Klepacki has done it again. RA features his most successful soundtrack to date, which has garnered various awards over the years. The flagship song for the series, Hell March, with its marching boots, battle cries, guitar riffs and catchy beats, fully earns its status and is as good a track as you'll ever hear on any game CD, while some of the great backup tracks such as Crush, Vector and Face the Enemy are well worth waiting for your system to shuffle to.

As long as you've got RA running on Windows 95 as opposed to DOS, the graphics still look slightly tasty for an RTS in 2004! The maps are more zoomed in than they were in C&C, resulting in sharper infantry sprites especially. Who cares if it's 2D, honestly? All because EA's C&C: Generals effort has awesome visuals doesn't mean it a great game, because it, like, isn't. The “proper” C&C games will give any realist who can see past graphical specs a lot more pleasure than Generals.

C&C: Red Alert 1 is one of the best and most addictive strategy games I have ever played. You can tell a quality RTS game apart from a poor one by addressing the sole question: do you ever want to stop playing it? Indeed, until you've finished it, this masterpiece (I said it) is the equivalent of reading 1984, by George Orwell: it's unputdownable.

Reviewer's Rating:   5.0 - Flawless

Originally Posted: 11/29/02, Updated 08/09/04

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