Command & Conquer: Red Alert 2
Following the circus that surrounded the delayed Tiberian Sun, it's perhaps understandable that Westwood has kept its cards close to its chest, and the announcement of this sequel came as a surprise to everyone. However, work has been in progress for more than a year and, if current estimates are to be believed, we'll be playing it before Christmas. So, was announcing it at this relatively late stage a deliberate ploy following the saga of Tiberian Sun? Never ones to shirk a confrontation, we asked executive producer, Mark Skaggs, who barked: "Not really. We always like a marketing window of about eight months to a year. Of course that has to change when a game slips."
Clearly it does, and Tiberian Sun slipped more often than a new-born foal on a frozen lake. But it's Red Alert that we're concerned with here and, despite raised eyebrows all round, in retrospect it's a fairly blatant candidate for a sequel. As Mark says: 'The idea was pretty obvious when we started it about a year ago. We wanted to capture the essence of Red Alert 1 and take it a step forward. We started wondering about what the Soviets would be doing after the war and where the next war would be. The idea of a world war being fought on American soil and having the United States call on the allied nations of Europe for rescue was too good to pass up.
"Moving forward, ideas for the wonderful off-beat technologies both the Allies and Soviets would invent just started flowing. Mind-control and psychic warfare were perfect for the Soviets. The United States and the European Allies invented prism technology and a weather control device. Our imaginations ran wild.
"Once we had our design direction, we were excited about the game we knew we could build. It's great when key ideas merge and take on a life of their own. It's as if the game makes itself and your job is to make sure it becomes the game it wants to be."
The original was an immensely popular game, and Mark says this was due to a number of reasons. "Some major and some minor, they all combined to make a great game. One, the gameplay is fast and fun, but still deeply strategic. That's a tough balance to get right. wvo, the Red Alert world felt real, but altered and interesting. It had exotic technologies, but it was easy to make a connection with the concept of conventional warfare. Three, it had a great personality with the art, voices and sound. It was an inviting place to wage war."
Clearly the RTS genre has been flooded since the original Red Alert? So does the name still carry a lot of weight? Mark thinks so.
"Absolutely. Red Alert is one of the best selling games ever played, and it's still quite popular. More than 140,000 games of Red Alert are played every month on Westwood Online." The genre has become a lot more sophisticated over the last few years. Mark claims this will be reflected in Red Alert 2. "We'll show this in a couple of important ways. First of all we're creating a huge variety of units with multiple purposes, which leads to a huge array of tactics. We stayed away from creating 'mirrored unit' lists where each side had basically the same units with different colours.
"Next, we're balancing the game 'high'. With this roller coaster style of gameplay, at any moment, you could be one step away from an amazing victory or a crushing defeat. One way to easily see this philosophy is that super weapons like the nuke or the Allied Weather Control Machine do a tremendous amount of damage when you fire them off at your enemy.
"Finally, we're making the interface more powerful, yet easier to use. We've switched to a tab interface for unit creation and have added the advanced command bar to bring some of the more complex interface elements to the surface."
2d or Not 2d?
Interesting stuff, but the fact remains that Red Alert 2 will still maintain the traditional 2D top-down view. Correct?
"We won't be dabbling in 3D this time. In general, we use technology to support great gameplay. Rather than just throw '3D' at RA2, we knew we could make the great game we wanted, with the style of art we wanted, using the top down (really a bit of an angle) point of view. As a side note, there are some key technical limitations to not going 3D at this time.
"We wanted to have a game that had a large number of good-looking units on the screen, while at the same time having a very rich and filled landscape. Right now, this isn't possible in 3D with anything but the highest spec machines. We didn't want to turn RA2 into a 'squad based' game due to polygon limitations. Additionally, we want as many people as possible to be able to enjoy RA2, so we're putting gameplay as the first priority and technology that needs the best and fastest machines as second priority."
Much like Tiberian Sun which, while a perfectly playable game, was labelled by cynics as no more than a hi-res C&C. An accusation that could feasibly be levelled at Red Alert 2? Mark thinks not.
"I doubt it, but there will always be detractors. If cynics weren't cynical what else would they have to do? In fact, the original Red Alert had a few critics, and it still went on to be one of the most popular games ever created."
Welcome To The Real World
As the surrounding pictures would appear to confirm, much of the action in Red Alert 2 will take place in a variety of key locations around the world, featuring lots of recognisable landmarks and buildings. So where does Red Alert 2 sit in the C&C universe?
Mark explains: "When Einstein went back in time, he changed history and split the timelines from the C&C universe. If we were to set the two timelines side by side, we'd see that RA2 is a bit earlier still than the original C&C, but again definitely on a diverging path."
Despite the disparate locations on view, the majority of the missions will actually be confined to the United States, and there will be 12 for each side. More crucially, will the gameplay differ from the original? Mark?
URA2 will play a lot like the original - fast paced and full of action. There will, however, be a number of key differences that are a result of changes to our interface and choice of units and tactics. "Besides balancing the game 'high' as I described earlier, we've created a number of units that, when used in combination with others, gives you deeper gameplay and cooler tactics. Take the tesla trooper for instance. This infantry unit carries a tesla gun which he uses to zap enemy units. Now if you take three tesla troopers and fire on your own tesla coil, they charge up the tesla coil so that it fires farther and, even more interestingly, it fires when the power to your base is knocked out! This is just one example, there are many more.
"Next, we've introduced the concept of'neutral tech' buildings that offer players something special if they take them over. Taking over an airport for example gives you the ability to drop paratroopers. Taking over an oil rig means that you'll get a constant trickle of money without having to send out your Ore Trucks. At the start of each game, we see players scouting the map to find and take over these buildings to get the 'tech' advantage these offer. Of course, you could also destroy these buildings if you wanted to keep them out of the hands of your enemy.
"Another cool feature is the ability of regular infantry to garrison inside a building. Because a number of the battles will take place in city settings, this allows players to create defendable 'choke' points which can alter the way that the battle progresses. "Unit experience and veterancy is another important change we've added. We're going to deliver on the promise of veterancy by making it easier to become an elite veteran unit and by making it beneficial to have veteran units completely obvious and useful. For example, when your V3 rockets become elite, they fire 'mini-nukes.' When Kirov Airships become elite, they drop 'tesla bombs' instead of conventional bombs. These are just a couple of examples. One of the great things about the Red Alert universe is that you can play with those alternative technologies from history that never really took root.
"Additionally, we're working on eliminating 'cheesy1 rushes. A 'cheesy' rush is where, two minutes into the game, a set of infantry come into your base and eliminate your Construction Yard, thus basically ending the game. The new tab interface helps this because it allows you to build units, vehicles, defence structures and buildings in parallel to one another. This way you can get some defences up quickly."
Are there going to be a load of FMV cut-scenes? What actors can we expect to see?
"Absolutely. We've got a great script and we're set to start filming in late May. There won't be any huge stars, but you will definitely recognise some of their faces from TV and movies."
It sounds as if they know what they're doing then, but there must be some pitfalls to making a sequel to such a successful game. Mark?
"I think the toughest thing is to stay true to the original game, maintain whatever magic made it special, and still add all the things you want to add so that it becomes a new experience." Nicely put, but surely the C&C label is a licence to print money. Why does it have such an enduring appeal?
"There are probably many reasons, but the one that might be the most important is the game dynamic that Brett Sperry was devoted to when he first started building real-time strategy games. He was driven to create games that were wide, in that they were both accessible and easy to learn, yet deep, in that there were always new strategies and tactics to explore. All of the C&C games have that," says Mark.
So what do you think will be the best thing of all about Red Alert 2 "Everyone will have a different answer for this. Personally, I love the fact that every time you sit down to play, you find new tactics to explore and new ways to use the units. It's very hard to stop playing when you're constantly thinking, 'I'd like to try just one more thing.' "We're playing the game every day and it's a blast. We look forward to releasing it so that everyone can see it and have the same fun that we're having right now."
That's very generous of you, but will it really come out in October? "We're looking at Fall."
What's The Story?
Red Alert 2's executive producer tells us a tale... "The game takes place a number of years after the original. The Soviets lost the first war and now they and the allied nation of Europe are rebuilding. The United States has entered a new era of prosperity and announces that it will take the role of leading the world into a future of freedom, peace and democracy. This doesn't sit too well with Romanov, the newly elected leader of the Soviet Union, so he hatches a secret plan. While the rest of the world is rebuilding, Romanov begins rebuilding the Soviet Union in a different and more sinister way. You see, he creates secret bases around the world where he continues to build new machines of war. He creates the Dreadnought warship to add to the Soviet navy. He creates the Kirov Heavy Bomber to add to their air force. His scientists delight in studying mind control and psychic warfare. Finally to make sure that he has troops to man these war machines and the battle field, he creates cloning technology. Once the final bits of new technology come online, Romanov places mind-controlled Soviet operatives in key military and government installations across the US. Then when the time is right, he gives the signal and launches the invasion of the United States, plunging the world into war once again."
Download Command & Conquer: Red Alert 2
Systems: Windows 9x, Windows 2000 Windows XP, Vista, Win 7, Win 8, Win 10.
Game features: Single game mode
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