Review by EDDY555

""We Want War! Wake Up!""

Marching boots and that famous, five-word burst followed by blistering guitar music, otherwise known as the song Hell March, is what most people remember about the original Red Alert, one of the most popular games of all time. Released in the mid-nineties, it further established the now extinguished Westwood Studios as a solid strategy game developer and was so well-received that the next game in the series, Tiberian Sun, naturally got too hyped for its own good. A lot of people didn't like it, feeling that Westwood had created more of a movie than a game and let the power go to their heads. Tiberian Sun ran at a very slow pace, featured an unintentionally farcical collection of units and took things far too seriously for a C&C game, even though the brilliant Joseph D. Kucan was back as Kane. Fans of the series longed for the tongue-in-cheek antics of yesteryear, the absurd Russian accents and a cast of actors more interested in putting forward amusing performances than demanding high paycheques. Knowing that Tiberian Sun had been a universal disappointment, Westwood listened to its fanbase and its development team gave birth to Red Alert 2!

Events take place a few years after the original Red Alert, in which the Allies defeated the Soviets and Stalin died, in turn replaced by an apparently harmless democratic puppet dictator, Alexander Romanov, at the request of Michael Dugan, the American President. However, Romanov has secretly built up a vast army and longs for revenge against the Allies. The Russian Premier chooses a bright afternoon to launch his full-scale assault on the United States. Soviet paratroopers are dropped in key cities, ground forces move north through Mexico and Romanov's armada of airships close in on the east and west coasts. When Dugan is told about the invasion he threatens Romanov over the phone with a nuclear strike but Romanov refuses to call his troops off. Dugan orders the strike, but the entire American nuclear stockpile never leaves the silos. Romanov's creepy right-hand man, Yuri, psychologically manipulates personnel in the silos so they don't open the silo doors even when the missiles have been launched...

With only one Allied commander left alive and the US army in complete disarray, you can fight for FREEEDOMMMM!!! and drive the Soviets back home, or scream “Glory to the Motherland!” and annihilate the Americans on their own soil.

Well, whichever side you choose, you'll be granted the classic briefing videos before every mission. The bad news is, seeing as Mr. Kucan is behind-the-camera acting as director for this one, Kane isn't in it. The good news is that the leading roles are all played with cheerful wit and a refreshing sense of fun, with appearances from the likes of Kari Wuhrer, taking the reigns of hot, rebellious commando Tanya and Udo Kier, his whispery voice bringing a compelling air of mystery to the Yuri character. There's also Ray Wise playing the Prez (believe it or not, he was a baddie in Robocop!) and even Barry Corbin, previously seen in the chiefly flat C&C: Retaliation on the PSX, in which his outrageous General Carville easily stole the show. Another nice touch with the voiceovers is that Westwood have retained an authentic nature found in Tiberian Sun and given the two sides separate field lieutenants. One can't help missing the uproarious English Bloke from the original Red Alert (“A-Bomb launch, detected”), but there are TWO nice young women on offer here, one being the smartly dressed and pretty Lt. Eva for the Allies and the other a Russian brunette called Lt. Zofia, who possesses so much raw sex appeal I can barely finish typing this sentence. We all know girls are the most gorgeous things in the world, so maybe the loss of English Bloke is not so bad!

The core point-and-click gameplay is very similar to the game's predecessors. Grouping units and ordering them to attack, scout or retreat is blissfully straightforward and ensures Red Alert 2 has a light to non-existent learning curve. You can also set way-points for your War Factory and Barracks, allowing your units to zip to a specific spot when they're ready, which might make the difference in a crucial encounter. Furthermore, a lot of units have a secondary action and can be “deployed”. For example, gung-ho American GIs are mobile and carry 9mm pistols normally, but when deployed they station themselves around a mound of sandbags and whip out a heavy machine gun; an ample group of GIs can mow down swathes of the Red Army in seconds.

Westwood have again tried to balance out the two sides and are (largely) successful in doing so this time. The Soviets boast your typical villain persona, considering all of their units expendable and habitually having them vaporised for the greater good without regret, especially the Conscripts. Having dozens of them rush an enemy position will cost lives, but also do the business. Soviet tanks are bigger and slower than their Allied counterparts, are more concerned with fat, reliable cannons than the latest stuff and they rely on brute force and determination, rather than speed and intelligence. The sole Soviet air unit is the Kirov Airship which is unbelievably sluggish but also unbelievably strong.

Aside from regular GIs, the Allies have skilled Navy SEALs at their disposal and Spies, who sport horrendous Sean Connery-esque accents and can duplicate an enemy uniform, infiltrate their base and screw around in various ways, like pilfering enemy cash, shutting down the power and stealing technology for you. Allied tanks, meanwhile, have Albert Einstein's laboratory science to play with. They can hide from the Soviets with their stealthy Mirage Tanks, then pop out of nowhere for a quick slaughter, while the expensive Prism Tanks spurt long-range beams that level enemy structures in a flash. The Allied air force is comprised of Harriers, which are swift and devastating en masse but also thinly armoured, and Nighthawk choppers, which are transport helicopters invisible to radar.

The two navies are a different story, however. Each side has four units that travel on or under water, and you really do need them all this time to stand a chance. The Allies have Destroyers, Aegis Cruisers, Dolphins and Aircraft Carriers, while the Soviets have Typhoon Attack Submarines, Sea Scorpions, Giant Squids and Dreadnoughts. Each one is designed to stand up to the others: the Carriers can send lots of miniature bombers at you, which can only be shot down by flak from a Sea Scorpion, while Dread rockets can only be shot down by Cruiser anti-aircraft fire. Giant Squids can drag Destroyers, Cruisers and Carriers to the bottom of the ocean, and Dolphins have a sonar pulse which is the only way to release their grip. Destroyers have helicopters on their decks which take off and sink the subs, and they can fire at Scorpions and Dreadnoughts at the same time with their shells, but Scorpions can shoot down the helicopters in the process. Subs are cloak and dagger units which shoot torpedoes at unsuspecting Allied ships and are great in “wolf-packs” of half a dozen or so. Provided you and one opponent (maybe, more than one opponent!) have gigantic navies in an open space of water, sea battles can be thrilling in Red Alert 2.

Another exception is the psychic abilities of the Soviets which are unavailable to the Allies. As the Soviets you can build Psi-Troopers, which can take control of enemy units if you wish, or deploying them creates cold, focused waves which fry all infantry units in a certain radius. You can also build Psychic Sensors, which pinpoint the plans of Allied offensives and allow you to prepare in advance. Then again, the Allies have an exclusive Spy Satellite which reveals the whole map, which is better than the Psychic Sensor overall.

The ore trucks are different in Red Alert 2 to boot! The Allied Chrono Miner, when full of minerals, will automatically chronoshift (teleport) back to your ore refinery, while the Soviet War Miner is more conventional and, as opposed to instant deposits, is armed with a machine gun turret to protect itself from attacks somewhat. The Allies have the upper hand as far as money is concerned; they mine it faster and an advanced structure called the Ore Purifier gives minerals extra value.

The most dramatic characteristic of each side is their Super Weapons. They each have their old favourites from Red Alert, the Iron Curtain and Chronosphere, although both have become much more useful now (oddly, the Chronosphere retains its integral nature to the plot while the Iron Curtain does not). For those that don't know, the Chronosphere has the ability to chronoshift units from one place to another, meaning that they vanish from their current position and appear intact at another one which you can pick, it can be anywhere. The Iron Curtain makes units invincible for a short period of time, which is perfect for tank rushes, as the tanks won't die and you should have time to target enough key structures to cripple your opponent's base (if you do this against a human opponent it can force them to surrender outright). The two brand new Super Weapons are the Weather Control Device for the Allies and the Nuclear Missile Silo for the Soviets…okay, so Nukes aren't new for C&C, but they're better than ever here, as they are lethal against structures, especially War Factories and Power Plants, and the aftermath of the explosion will kill all the surrounding infantry. The Weather Control Device is interesting; an invention of Einstein, it messes with the rain clouds and conjures up an immense lightning storm over an enemy base. It's more complex than a Nuke and, depending on how lucky you are, can have greater or lesser effects than one. Sometimes more than you expected to die will do so, other times a casting will disappoint.

Infantry from both sides can take advantage of what was then a new addition to C&C: garrisoning buildings. Most neutral buildings, anything from a tiny cottage in a Soviet hamlet, to a beach hotel all the way to the deliberately asinine fast food joint “McBurger Kong” (basically Westwood poking fun at themselves for being unlicenced!) can be packed with your guys, increasing their range and muscle and protecting them from enemies until you either move on or the building is blown up, in which case the occupants will emerge and be back in the line of fire. It's a cheap and effective form of defence, and has an element of surprise too, as an opponent could be pushing his tanks through a tightly-packed metropolis and…

Oh, it gets better than that. A feature that was included in Tiberian Sun but rarely touched upon was the promotion of units, which means not only soldiers but tanks, rocket launchers, boats etc as well. In Red Alert 2 it's more commonplace and therefore, can play a significant part in your strategy. As a unit racks up the kills he becomes a Veteran, with one stripe, and beyond that one of the Elite, with three stripes. Veteran is a mere stepping stone, but Elite units fire faster, further and with greater clout. It takes more to finish them off as they self-heal, and their weapons might even change altogether, like what happens to airships; when they go Elite they drop electrically charged Tesla bombs instead of the regular blimp bombs, which do UNFATHOMABLE things to everything. Accumulate an Elite army, air force or navy and you're near unstoppable.

Great games often have at least one “woah, this is going to rule” moment at the beginning. Resident Evil had the dogs jumping through the windows. Metal Gear Solid had Snake's elevator ascent and removal of the goggles (yes, we really did gawp at those graphics back then). And Final Fantasy VII had the zooming out of the camera to show the whole of Midgar in the first movie sequence (yes, we gawped at those graphics as well). Red Alert 2 has a pair of these moments, both kicking off respective campaigns. The Allied campaign begins with the decapitation of the Statue of Liberty, and even better is our introduction to the Soviet war machine: feeble American civilians are milling around on the streets of Washington D.C, the sirens go off and Soviet planes drop four groups of paratroopers, which cause the civvies to run wild and subsequently get pumped full of bullets. That just blew me away for some reason. All to the tunes of Grinder, a piece of techno music heaven.

Speaking of the music, Frank Klepacki, the trademark Westwood composer, proves that when it came to Command & Conquer compositions why he was the only man for the job. It's his best ever score. The flagship song for the series, Hell March (umm…never heard of it), has got a stunning revamp in the aptly-named Hell March 2. There's that Grinder. There's Destroy, a surreal (Frenchies waffling on in the background?) yet superb heavy metal track. Another excellent yet under-rated effort is the nameless track that plays on the loading screen; its slowly building and suspenseful tempo is perfect for what's to come. The other ten or so tracks are not as memorable, yet half-decent in their own little ways and not just plain filler to make you hope your sound card will shuffle to Hell March 2 again.

A 4 year-old PC game, Red Alert 2 has magical graphics. No, not in that sense: they're neither striking nor revolutionary now, nor were they in 2000. A bespectacled Windows boffin would actually judge them as mediocre. Yet for C&C fans they're just what the doctor ordered. The maps are isometric, colourful and very attractive. The vehicles look like small toys and the infantry sprites are just as childlike, which is cool. Missions frequently have urban, daylight settings; as the Allies and the Soviets you will fight in American locales such as Washington D.C, New York, San Antonio, Chicago, Miami and St. Louis, with a couple of situations involving France, Germany, Mexico and the snowy USSR itself thrown in for good measure. Legendary landmarks to be found throughout these areas in real life, such as the White House, the Lincoln Memorial, the Eiffel Tower, the Kremlin and, spookily, the World Trade Centre (which Lt. Zofia refers to as “the pathetic capitalist shrine”, uh oh) are present in Red Alert 2. A neat touch is that, by representing your side's personality (i.e. the Allies have a “saviour” image and the Soviets have an “evil” image) you can receive bonuses; by repairing the spoilt American landmarks as the Allies you will be awarded weapons crates, and, in contrast, by wiping them out as the Soviets you receive your own special prizes.

Spread across multiple continents, the missions themselves are very intriguing. The ordinary “DESTROY ALL UNITS AND STRUCTURES” objective is thankfully unusual in Red Alert 2, and even when that is necessary there's a twist at some point in the mission which makes it more fun. You may be required to neutralise Nuclear Missiles, destroy the Pentagon, mind-control entire battalions, halt production of the ultimate Allied weapon or turn a historic European symbol into a mad instrument of murder.

On most maps you'll find unpopulated tech structures, which can be captured with a single Engineer. The Oil Derrick provides a steady supply of money, the Airport gives any country paratroopers, the Outpost is a spare Service Depot with a mounted rocket launcher and, as Red Alert 2 doesn't allow you to train medics, the Hospital is the only way to nurse your men back to perfect health except via the use of a health crate.

Although you'll want to beat both campaigns, which have three difficulty settings each, the real bread and butter of C&C has always been Multiplay. You can play locally against friends, play against somebody on the other side of the world over the Internet or challenge up to 7 opponents controlled by the computer (in Skirmish mode). Depending on the quality of a human opponent, you can be squashed without delay, put up a passionate fight but lose anyway, have an incredibly close and hard-fought contest or beat your opponent into submission with no trouble. Most people prefer to pay at a rapid and aggressive pace, churning out tanks to get the upper hand early on, then if the game lasts a long time build the state-of-the-art structures and units to bury opponents for good. This way Red Alert 2 is full of tension and made tremendously exciting.

What else will keep you hooked are the tactics involving your special unit. Depending on which country you play as, you'll get a unit nobody else is allowed. The Allies are America (free paratroopers available at set intervals), Great Britain (Sniper, effective infantry killer with extreme range), Korea (Black Eagle, an upgraded Harrier), France (Grand Cannon, a dawdling and costly defensive structure) and Germany (Tank Destroyer, equipped with unique shells that pierce tank armour deeply but are useless against infantry and buildings). The Soviets are Russia (Tesla Tank, the old-fashioned Tesla Coil on wheels), Libya (Demolition Truck, a kamikaze unit that sets off a small nuclear bomb when detonated), Cuba (Terrorist, a fanatic suicide bomber) and Iraq (Desolator, an insane masked troop that literally drowns enemy infantry in radioactive substances emitted from his gun and can make the ground impassable by polluting it). My personal favourite is the Demolition Truck, seeing as you can get an initial foothold in Multiplay if you're lucky enough to blow up an essential structure of the enemy's. If you get to their War Factory it halts tank production temporarily, which allows your tanks a better shot at winning a consequential battle thereafter.

There are so many things which make Red Alert 2 a superior game to Tiberian Sun. The entire package is charming and I am extremely happy that the series went back to the exhilarating battle pace, got back relatively realistic units and became light-hearted again with this instalment. It will always be one of my favourite RTS games ever. What was always so daring about C&C is that it spat in the face of the Cold War and wasn't afraid of expressing itself in a way that some people would consider tasteless. Westwood Studios was one of the last great North American developers. C&C existed to entertain and it did so wonderfully on the whole. So please, buy Red Alert 2 from somewhere if you haven't already and get it up and running on your system, you will feel enchanted and utterly addicted!

Reviewer's Rating:   5.0 - Flawless

Originally Posted: 07/27/04

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