Command & Conquer: Red Alert
Command & Conquer, Westwood's phenomenally successful real-time wargame, was a runaway success. During the peak months of its popularity, it sat on more hard disks than a dyslexic prostitute manages throughout an entire career. You played it, I played it, we all played it. Some of us even linked up and played it head-to-head, in an orgy of tactical manoeuvring and relentless bastardry that would have given Ghengis Khan a cob-on you couldn't dent with a steak tenderiser. And now we have a sequel, of sorts. Red Alert is, apparently, not Command & Conquer '2'. No, it's more like Command & Conquer: The Previous Generation. As if you didn't already know, the action is set in an alternative version of the past in which Hitler never made it to power. In fact, he never made it very far at all: Albert Einstein, no less, managed to nip back in time to 1924 and bump off the would-be Fuehrer before he could wreak much in the way of havoc. How's that for a successful bit of reverse-engineering?
Far from ideal, actually. Einstein's time-travel assassination may well have erased the malevolent Zebedee from history altogether, but it also had an undesirable side effect. Aside from robbing the world of an easy insult to hurl at traffic wardens, it paved the way for another moustachioed despot to start entertaining the prospect of total world domination, namely big Joe Stalin. Without World War II to keep him and his troops busy, he decided that the ideal way to stave off that indefinable, omnipresent sense of ennui (commonly known as 'peacetime') was to invade as many countries as possible. Painting the globe red, if you like. So, the lights are going out all over Europe - and it's down to you to switch the buggers back on.' 'Unless you're playing as the Soviets, obviously, you pedantic tosser.
C&C carnage factory
Now, assuming that you're familiar with C&C numero uno, what you'd probably like to know is this: how does Red Alert compare to that and, most importantly, which bits have improved?
Well, the graphics, for one thing. If you happen to be playing under Windows 95, it's SVGA city for you (a slightly non-comformist 640 x 400 resolution to be precise). I won't even start to bang on about how lovely and detailed it is (because you can see that for yourselves) since natty visuals aren't exactly the point here.
It's the gameplay we're interested in. And while that seems to have remained more or less the same, the wealth of new units and structures send the fun factor scaling to new heights. Paratroopers, guard dogs, submarines, medics, spies... on paper they sound like small beer, but in the game itself they're a godsend.
The single-player missions display more variety than the ones on offer in 'old' C&C; they're also a damn sight harder (unless you play on the 'easy' setting), with the learning curve resembling a brick wall on occasion. Some of them will induce a severe case of desk-thumping, tooth-gnashing 'monitor rage' (get through mission five playing as the Allies without swearing out loud and I'll send you 1,000). As ever, you can choose to play as either side, with the Soviet missions being, to my mind, faintly superior to the Allies' equivalent.
But the multi-player options... ahhh. Now that's where things start getting really cool...
Red Alert has loads of new (and amusing) multi-player options- my favourite being the Allies' sneaky (and shockingly handy) ability to construct fake buildings - a la 'Blazing Saddles' - in order to fool the enemy. There are radar jammers, ore thieves and invulnerability devices. But all these new additions - superb though they are - are not the special thing about the multi-player options.
The special thing about the multiplayer options is that they all work. They're easy to set up (even I managed it) and incredibly good fun to play. Within 30 minutes of installing the game on my home pc, 1 was playing head-to-head (via Westwood's server) against a guy in New York. Despite the odd slowdown, the game ran smoothly and with no visible glitches. Incidentally, my opponent pissed all over me. Being an American, he celebrated his victory with grace, dignity and by sending the message, "YoU sUcK!!!" about a million times. Such decorum.
So the Internet option works. Head-to-head modem mode works. And anyone who's got access to a network can start rubbing their hands together at the prospect of seamless eight-way action. But what about those of you who don't have any of those things? Aren't you going to feel left out?
Nope. Because thanks to the superb 'Skirmish' mode, you can play against up to seven computer-controlled opponents, with all the special multiplayer features switched on. It's a great way of trying out some of the more advanced hardware, and widens the old 'addiction window' considerably. Oh, and there's even a map editing program bunged in, so you can build your own battlefields. Neat.
Red Alert is one of those 'time sponge' games. You think you've been playing it for half an hour, but a quick glance at the clock reveals that it's now the year 1999. It's brilliant - the gaming equivalent of an 'unputdownable' book. What more can I say? Not a lot, really. Check the score.
There are more weapons in Red Alert than you'll find in all the schools in South London put together (and that's a boast that even our own armed forces can't make). Many are familiar friends from the original C&C, but there's a decent quota of new big boy's toys chucked in too. Here we present a brief list of some of our favourites - and a few of our unfavourites - from the new batch.
Dogs? Dogs? What use are they, then? What are they going to do, sniff the opponent's arse until he runs away in embarrassment? Er, no. While your pooch contingent is admittedly rather less use than a glass hammer when it comes to mammoth tank invasions, they come into their own against lone enemy characters bent on sneaky base infiltration. Their unerring habit of leaping unexpectedly at the throat (instantly killing the throat's owner) makes them deceptively deadly.
Wahey! Now you can have complete control over your very own fleet. Gunboats, cruisers, transporters and full-on destroyers (or submarines, if you're playing as the Soviets) are a laugh and a half. Cruisers, in particular, are capable of blowing all they survey into powder, often before the enemy knows what's coming.
Once you've built an airfield, why not let your opponent know - the nasty way. Parachute bombs are just what you think they are - albeit slightly deadlier than you might expect.
Red Alert's female equivalent of C&C's commando character. Tanya is nails. Absolutely nails. A sharp-shooting demolition expert, she's the ideal choice for bundling into a Chinook and landing unannounced in the centre of your opponent's base. And she's got a nice line in catchphrases, too (if I ever shoot somebody in real life, I hope remember to shout, "Cha-CHINGGGI")
The atom bomb is a major let down. It takes an age to construct - and for what? Let's face it, if you've got to the point where you're about to drop one of these on your enemy's head, you want to see something special. You want widespread destruction. Roaring, 'Independence Day'-style walls of flame. Radioactive, mutating victims vomiting blood all over their new trousers. 'Genocide: the movie' - that's what you want to see. A weedy little mushroom cloud effect that's gone in a puff of smoke just doesn't cut the mustard, I'm afraid.
I have yet to deploy paratroopers and watch them do anything remotely useful. Five of 'em just aren't enough - especially since it takes them a while to float down to earth (during which time the opponent invariably decides to get a bit of target practice in) -and since they're only armed with standard machine guns, their lifespan tends to swing towards the 'Mayfly' end of the scale.
The sequel to quite possibly one of the greatest games ever is now very imminent - well, ear-marked for around September anyway. Command & Conquer: Red Alert is not a sequel in the real sense of the word, but more of a prequel, as it is set before the original Command & Conquer 'happened'. Why"? Well apparently. Westwood have decided to go back to the very beginning and try to set the story straight as far as the rise to power of the infamous nod and explain just how and why Tiberium came to be so important.
The tale will be told in the familiar in-yer face video flick fashion and there will be loads of the ultra cool cut-scenes interspersed between all the action to keep the plot rolling along at a respectable rate of knots. And as far as the actual gameplay is concerned, Westwood maintain that as well as coming up with some stupendously tricky missions (if you've seen just how hard The Covert Operations mission disc reviewed on page 67 is, you'll know that they mean serious business), they've been tweaking away at the AI (Artificial Intelligence) and sorting out the one or two minor, but incredibly annoying, bugs that plagued the original game (ie those stupid harvesters and dubious sandbagging shenanigans).
Graphically, it looks pretty similar to the original. There's still no sight or sound of a hi-res mode, though if the screenshots we've got are anything to go by, it still looks hunk, and indeed dory in an 'I know I'm small but isn't there a lot going on?' kind of way. 'Hie music is also apparently well up to the standard of the original game and the new mission disc (ie F.A.B.) and there's allegedly loads of new weapons.
Westwood are also rumoured to have been developing the multi-player network side of the game (which, if you haven't played it yet. is quite tremendous), though there is no official line on whether Red Alert will be Wireplay compatible. Let's hope they sort something out sharpish.
With the Bitmap's Z still tucked up in bed catching up on its beauty sleep while the team tear all their hair out trying to get the network play well and truly sorted, it's feasible that Westwood could pull off the coup of the decade and manage to get a mission disc and a sequel out in the same time that it has taken the Bitmaps to produce Z. Now that would be something.
OBJECTIVE: Rescue Tanya. Destroy all Soviet air defences and then all other building and units
Yep, we're starting at mission 5. Completely stuck on levels 1, 2. 3 or 4? Then Red Alert is not the game for you - try Barbie Fashion Designer or something. Okay, this one is fairly tricky. Your spy is only detectable by guard dogs, but getting him to the weapons factory in the middle of the base will probably take a few attempts. The best advice is to sit and observe the patterns of the guard patrols before moving. You should save often, of course.
Once in, the spy drives a truck south to the prison. Tanya emerges, but is immediately fired on by Yaks. The trick here is to head north straightaway, pick off the infantry and dogs, shoot the barrels and destroy the aircraft runways. Blow up the four SAM sites; Tanya is taken away in a helicopter.
With the reinforcements that arrive in the north-west, you've got to destroy all the Soviet units. The easiest way is to capture the construction yard, weapons factory and barracks. You need to attack the buildings first, as they must be 75 per cent damaged before they can be captured by engineers. Once yours, repair the buildings and then construct a refinery. To storm the Soviet base, you'll need to build up a huge number of tanks. It helps if you can stop its ore trucks. But watch out for heavy - albeit predictable - attacks from the south and south-east. The V2 rocket launchers are particularly nasty. If you took over the Soviet weapons factory, you can build your own V2s, plus heavy tanks and Yaks (build a radar dome to access these), making the level much easier.
OBJECTIVE: Rescue Tanya. Destroy all Soviet air defences and then all other building and units
The objectives of this mission are exactly the same, the only difference being the actual map. Head across the bridge and go to the weapons factory via the east entrance of the base. The truck then takes you a long distance to the prison. With Tanya freed, shoot the nearby barrels to destroy two of the SAM sites and set charges on the others. Don't blow a hole in the bridge - it's easy to get stuck. Reinforcements arrive from the south. Now, as with 5A, you should aim to capture as many enemy structures as possible. And then clear up. This is the easiest of the three mission 5 options.
OBJECTIVE: Rescue Tanya. Destroy all Soviet air defences and then all other building and units
Again, exactly the same bar the map. To get into the base, follow the dogs west, cross the ravine below the base and then enter from the south. Tanya has six SAM sites to destroy in this mission. Whatever you do, don't destroy the Tech Centre - it attracts unwanted attention. Reinforcements arrive in the north-east. While it's easy up to this point, taking over the base and wiping out the enemy can be a little tricky with this mission, making it the hardest of the three options. You've got no chance of taking the barracks - they're surrounded by barrels - so destroy it straightaway and get moving fast.
OBJECTIVE: Get spy into a Soviet Tech Centre and destroy all enemy Deploy your MCV straightaway, then build a power plant, barracks and a refinery. The Soviets attack from the south very quickly, so build some pillboxes around your base as soon as you can.
You'll also need plenty of rocket soldiers to protect you from air attacks. Oh, and you'll need to watch your ore truck too -they come after it. Between attacks, build up some medium tanks and attack the base to the south. Do not destroy it! Capture the barracks with an engineer and infiltrate the radar dome with a spy (this enables you to see what the enemy is doing). Build a naval yard and block the coastline with tanks to stop the Soviets reaching the island via landing craft. Build AA guns around the naval yard and deploy rocket soldiers to prevent air strikes and put gunboats around the small island to the south, to stop attacks from the sea.
With your bases well protected, it's easy to find the time to build a huge battalion of tanks (we used something like 401). Load them into transports and send them across the water, to unload at the bay in the very north-east. From here on in, it's a piece of cake to overrun the enemy, but remember to get a spy into one of the Soviet Tech Centres before you wipe them all out!
OBJECTIVE: Get spy into a Soviet Tech Centre and destroy all enemy
Same objectives as 6A but a completely different map and a tad easier. Finding space to deploy your MCV and build up a base in the starting position is tough but possible (just plan carefully). Build pillboxes to guard the crossing as soon as possible. Deploy rocket soldiers to prevent air attacks. Build a naval yard on both sides of the crossing and have gunboats on guard, particularly in the south-east comer. Watch for Soviet landings to the west of your base.
Build a group of medium tanks (say eight) and destroy the nearby base (don't bother taking it over - it's too difficult to defend). Build more gunboats for protection and get at least three harvesters to work - you need the cash. To do it the proper way, you should get a spy into a transport at this point, and land in the north-west corner. It's easy to get him into the Tech Centre from here. Now concentrate on building at least five transports and fill them each with medium tanks. Again, land these in the north-west (together, and under protection of gunboats). Now destroy the Tesla coil and get to work destroying the rest of the base. If the mission won't finish, there's probably still a Soviet sub in the sea.
OBJECTIVE: Capture Radar Centre and destroy Soviet sub pens
Straight into the action with this one. Kill the small group of enemy troops and set up base as soon as possible, mining the ore field on the west coast. You'll need to defend your ore truck and base from heavy air attacks throughout (watch out also for naval attacks on your base later in the mission). Build some medium tanks and attack the mini base to the south. Capture the radar dome with an engineer. You can then sell it if you want to, but we took over and then defended the whole base, using the new facility to control the ore-rich area.
Make sure you keep attacking the enemy ore truck and keep everything well defended. With your position consolidated, you'll have plenty of time to build up a huge force. Send a large group of tanks into the enemy base in the east and you shouldn't have a problem mopping up - but watch out for the Tesla coils. The sub pens which need to be destroyed are in the south-east corner.
OBJECTIVE: Protect the Chronosphere and Advanced Tech Centres. Keep power on
Top mission this, but a little tricky. The first thing to do is to get the units in the south up into the main base in the north. You can fight your way through the enemy tanks on the road to the west, or try to simply rush past - just make sure you protect the mine layers and the MCV. Moving the destroyers along the water to the west can help. Get the ore truck to work as soon as possible and repair any damaged buildings.
When your convoy is inside the base, deploy the MCV and get building rocket soldiers, AA guns, pillboxes, turrets and tanks. And then more tanks. And then some more. You'll need them to defend from heavy attacks from the south and west. Use the mine layers to heavily (and we mean, heavily) mine the entrances to the base and, in particular, the coastline (this prevents enemy transports from landing). Replace detonated mines regularly. Remember, there is no need to attack the enemy base - just make sure you defend the Chronosphere and Advanced Tech Centres and that the power is switched on when the timer runs out. Sorted.
OBJECTIVE: Get spy into Soviet Command Centre. Take Kosygin back to your base
Deploy the MCV and build a small base with all the usual essentials. Make sure you defend the north of the island with at least 15 rocket soldiers. Build light tanks to block the shorelines from enemy invasion (it soon becomes apparent where the enemy likes to land).
You need to get a spy into a transport to get to the Command Centre in the top-middle of the enemy base on the other island to the north (you must build a radar dome before you can train a spy). You can land to the south of the island and work your way carefully through the base, but you may find it much easier just to land in the far north-east comer. Make sure you don't accidentally get squished by tanks though, and remember the guard dogs will soon sniff you out and kill you. We took a couple of spare spies for emergencies!
Once you're in the Centre the defector, Vladimir Kosygin, appears. More guard dogs emerge and you probably won't be able to get him out without sending in some tanks or infantry (just make sure that you keep him protected - the position behind the Centre is pretty safe). Get Kosygin back into your base to finish the mission. Incidentally, it's possible to win by wiping out the enemy base, but it becomes a huge struggle that can take hours. Persevering with guard dog dodging is a much better option.
OBJECTIVE: Capture Soviet Command Centre. Disable the four Control Centres inside the building within the time limit
This is the toughest mission yet as you start with next to nothing and are immediately up against a sizeable force and base. The secret is not to provoke skirmishes early on. Build a base along to the east of the start position nearer the main ore deposits which run along the bottom of the screen. Scout around a little and protect your base from infantry (with pillboxes) and air attacks (with AA guns), but try to concentrate on building up a huge force of medium tanks and Longbows (we used around 20 of each). As your forces are growing, begin to pick off the enemy, particularly its ore trucks.
Once you begin destroying the enemy base, Stalin begins the missile launch sequence and a timer begins. From this point you must aim to capture the Command Centre (the heavily-protected building to the north of the enemy base) with an engineer as soon as possible. The time left on the clock is the time you have for the second part of the mission (don't worry if you fail the first time around - console yourself with the fact that Paris gets nuked!).
Okay, now you're inside the Command Centre - the first of the 'indoor' missions - with a handful of personnel made up of spies, engineers, medics and infantry. Send a spy south (carefully dodging the dogs) until you get to the room full of mammoth tanks. Head for the 'exit' and Tanya appears with all guns blazing. Use her to pick off the enemy one by one (healing her with a medic when necessary), with engineers following behind, disabling each of the four control centres.
If you gave yourself enough time from the first part of the mission (ten minutes, ideally), this part is pretty easy. Watch out for the flame turret though!
OBJECTIVE: Clear the way for naval vessels arriving in two hours time
Regular air bombardments aside, the Soviets shouldn't attack too heavily in this mission. But that's not the point - you've got to get them. Deploy both your MCVs, build two ore refineries and begin building Longbows and medium tanks as fast as you can. Make sure you build a Tech Centre so you're able to see the whole map (it's important on this mission as there are two islands to attack). Pairs of mammoth tanks patrol to the north and to the east - keep an eye on them.
When you've run out of ore to mine, it's time to move north and make an attack. You'll find that the Soviets start to ' build up the base on the east island. You can restrict this by destroying its ore trucks with your helicopters. Obviously, you need to take out as much of the base as you can. To destroy the area to the far north, filled with power plants and SAM sites, send tanks through the walls from the east, but watch out for the tesla coils.
If you build (or infiltrate) a sub pen, you can easily expose the Soviet submarines by building a decoy or using a sonar pulse. Don't worry though -if you haven't got all of the enemy subs (or attack weapons) when your naval force arrives, just make sure that you have your Longbows ready and waiting along the coastline to pick them off. Build enough choppers in this mission and it's pretty darn easy.
OBJECTIVE: Capture all Tech Centres. Destroy Iron Curtain prototype
There's probably some fancy way to finish this level but we just used brute force, destroying both Soviet bases (there's one to the west and one to the east) and then capturing the remaining Tech Centres with engineers (make sure you don't wipe them out -they're the ones with the little statues outside).
If you build your base where the MCV lands, as you should, you'll need to defend from both sides (the enemy typically follow the road). Pillboxes should keep Soviet troops at bay, but make sure you build plenty of AA guns to protect from the air. To get into a position to attack the enemy bases, you'll need a (very) large force of medium tanks and Longbows, so keep building as you defend.
When mammoth tanks attack and turn invulnerable (they'll glow red), lead them away from your base. You'll need to guard your ore trucks, particularly in the area in the south-west comer where the enemy frequently patrols. As always, take the Soviet ore trucks out where possible. The base to the west (which contains the sphere-like Iron Curtain building) is most active, so work on this first.
OBJECTIVE: Place explosives on all generators. Get out before nerve gas is used
Where do we start? This is the second 'indoor' mission and it's considerably tougher than the second part of mission 10. To get through you must use engineers to blow up the various flame turrets by activating the control panels in the walls. There's a panel directly above the top group - make sure you activate this before moving east or you'll get fried.
Further east there's another flame turret blocking the way. The corresponding panel for this is to the east of the group of units at the bottom of the screen. Move the group to the top of the corridor and then send one soldier east to shoot the barrels (you should be able to avoid the oncoming trucks). Then send the rest in if necessary. You'll find the panel across the other side of the room.
And so it goes on. There's not enough room to explain every last movement, but here's a few pointers. Firstly, slow the game down - it gives you more time to think (don't hang about though, as it's easy to run out of time). Save often - one false move and you could be screwed. Make sure you use the spy intelligently, checking out uncovered areas before diving in (this is easier said than done, as there are a lot of guard dogs around). Needless to say, the medics and engineers are invaluable so keep them safe by following a distance behind the infantry. Finally, keep all your units under close control -leave them standing and they'll often fire at unimportant targets such as the dormant tanks. Where are the generator control panels? Now that would be telling!
OBJECTIVE: Destroy everything!
You've got to the last level (you've had far too much spare time on your hands!). This one's hard because surviving the first few minutes is tricky and the Soviet base is absolutely huge. It's not impossible though - just very time-consuming.
Move Tanya and the thieves south as soon as the mission starts to avoid the exploding barrels. Now send Tanya west carefully picking off infantry as you go. When you reach the coast, head north into the base, take out the power plants and destroy the truck (which drops a crate of money). Destroy all the power plants and you should be clear to send the thieves into the enemy ore silos to get you extra cash.
Reinforcements will have arrived allowing you to set up base, and from here on in it's a huge scrap. You have Chronosphere technology available for the first time, which enables you to temporarily move a unit across the battlefield. The most effective use of this is to build a destroyer and chrono-shift it into the lakes near the enemy base (you'll obviously need to build a naval yard near the coast). Watch for attacks from invulnerable mammoth tanks, as before. Mining the area around your base is a must. Surprise surprise, you'll also need plenty of air defences. As usual, destroying enemy ore trucks is vital. It'll take a cduple of hours, but charge into the main areas of the Soviet base with plenty of medium tanks and Longbows and you shouldn't have a problem cleaning up.
Although it's been more than two years since the arrival of C&C: Red Alert, Westwood's seminal title still has something special about it. The music is good, the effects are just right, the graphics are crystal-clear and the gameplay is perfectly balanced. A lot of its popularity is down to its real-world setting - jeeps, tanks, missile launchers and blokes with machine-guns inhabit a very recognisable landscape of oceans, trees, rivers, bridges and dirt tracks (Age Of Empires is similar in Cearthly appeal' but is set in the dim and distant past). You also get rather attached to the people you command - they get squashed, burned, torn to shreds, zapped, and they always shriek when it hurts.
The Red Alert interface works well, but it's now a long way behind every other game here bar WarCraft II. The most obvious criticism is that you can't build two things at once - even with four missile silos, you're still limited to just the one nuke. This keeps the pace of the game very slow, and often leaves you with no other option than to stockpile your weapons and attack en masse.
Red Alert has two sides to pick from: Allied or Soviet. Whichever you choose, the missions are varied and enjoyable; they also help demonstrate the strengths and weaknesses of units in different situations. This game was also one of the first to use cinematic cut-scenes not just to boggle you with graphics, but also to build the plot.
Network sessions are great fun, although players do tend to be unimaginative in their basebuilding; this is due mainly to the game's requirement that you build new underhand and surreptitious, not just by being the richest player and having the biggest arsenal.
Red Alert is unique in being the game that launched a thousand rivals, but that's about it. A few years ago it was a country mile ahead of the rest and everyone was playing it; nowadays it's behind the times and people have moved on to better things.
Limited by its Cone at a time' approach to building units, Red Alert suffers from the age-old problem of stockpiling. That said, the variety of units and their ability to exploit weaknesses in opponent forces means you're able to plan, assemble and carry out a highly efficient attack using only a small number of troops.
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Systems: Windows 9x, Windows 2000 Windows XP, Vista, Win 7, Win 8, Win 10.
Game features: Single game mode
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