Don't be compelled to buy Yuri's Revenge, the official expansion to last year's Red Alert 2, just because the box shows a mind-controlling maniac giving you the cold stare--besides that, there are plenty of perfectly good reasons for owning the game. This impressive add-on to the fun and frantic Red Alert 2 does what other great real-time strategy expansion packs, such as The Conquerors for Age of Empires II and Brood War for Starcraft, have done before--it makes an already great game even better, not only by piling on new features, but also by adding enough significant enhancements that the result stands out as being not just broader than its predecessor, but legitimately different. That means Yuri's Revenge will more than likely renew your interest in Westwood's over-the-top game.
The original Red Alert 2 was set during a near-future war between the Allies and the Soviets--a serious-sounding premise, but Red Alert 2 didn't take itself seriously. Actually, the game's sense of humor proved to be one of its strong suits, as it gave the designers license to come up with some truly bizarre units--the Soviets could deploy mind-controlled giant squids, while the Allies had access to elite troopers whose special weapons could literally erase their foes out of time. Yuri's Revenge steers Red Alert 2 even further toward the absurd--most notably, the game introduces an intriguing, all-new playable faction headed up by the titular Yuri, a renegade Soviet psychic. Yuri, played with panache by veteran creepy-character actor Udo Kier, has assembled a truly unusual army composed of various evil gadgets, mind-control weapons, and experiments-gone-awry. Yuri's forces are the enemy in the two new campaigns featured in Yuri's Revenge--one for the Allies and one for the Soviets, each with seven big missions. It's too bad that Yuri doesn't get his own campaign--but you can control his forces in skirmish or multiplayer modes.
Many of Yuri's units are very interesting. His Gatling tanks fire faster and faster upon their targets--if you can protect them long enough, they'll eventually be dishing out huge damage at a tremendous rate of fire. These flimsy units can be great for defense from within Yuri's tank bunkers--immobile fortifications that let his tanks fire on attackers without fear of retaliation. Meanwhile, the mastermind unit, a strange tanklike vehicle, can automatically mind-control any enemy unit that crosses its path--it mind-controls units automatically, but the catch is that it starts short-circuiting if it mind-controls more than three. Yuri also commands legions of Incredible Hulk-like mutants called brutes, which can go toe-to-toe with enemy tanks. He has defensive structures that automatically mind-control groups of units that enter their sphere of influence--truly an imposing obstacle. Plus, he's got a very nasty nuclear submarine in his arsenal. Altogether, Yuri's new faction is very different from those of the Soviets and the Allies--even his ore harvester, called the slave miner, is nothing like the harvesters for the other sides. It's a self-contained refinery, and slave units automatically shovel ore into this armed platform to fuel Yuri's war effort. Like the other two factions, Yuri's side has a lot of personality and largely consists of units that are well designed, memorable, and worth using in most any battle. Yuri's forces are physically weak when directly compared with those of the Allies and Soviets--but they can be used to devious effect.
Fortunately for the Allies and the Soviets, they each get several powerful, new weapons that can level the playing field when up against Yuri's dirty tricks. For instance, the Allies get what's called a battle bunker--a vehicle so large that it can crush enemy tanks under its powerful treads. Up to five of any kind of infantry can be placed into a battle bunker, allowing it to be an extremely powerful multipurpose weapon that can keep the enemy guessing. The Allies also get a powerful new addition to their already strong infantry division: the Guardian GI, whose antitank weapon can wreak havoc on enemy armor and flying units alike. The new Allied robot tank is another great new unit--this mechanized weapon can hover over any surface, including water, and it's immune to mind control. But Allied players who put all their eggs in one basket by investing in many robot tanks have to be careful, because if the enemy knocks the Allies' power plants offline, all robot tanks in the field will go dead.
The Soviets gain some equally versatile additions--for example, the siege chopper can attack most enemies from the sky without fear of retaliation, but its true power lies in its ability to convert into a powerful long-range cannon. The new Soviet hero unit, a haughty fellow named Boris, can easily hold his own against armies of enemy infantry--and, using a laser designator, he can call in MiG air strikes for good measure. The Soviets also gain a facility that boosts the production speed and drastically decreases the cost of all their vehicles, allowing them to fill the battlefield with their armored forces and gain an advantage in sheer numbers. These and other new units make both the Allies and the Soviets play quite differently from the way they used to in Red Alert 2. Though the Allies can still use their prism tanks to quickly demolish most anything on the ground, the new units and structures introduced in Yuri's Revenge do add a new level of tactical depth and will make you reevaluate most all your strategies both on the attack and on the defense--you'll find that even some of the old, unchanged units have newfound strengths in their ability to combat some of the new ones. All told, between Yuri's new forces and the additions to the Allied and Soviet sides, there are more than two dozen new units and structures in Yuri's Revenge.
The two new campaigns in Yuri's Revenge are completely entertaining and quite funny, though linear and relatively short. Most of the missions will take you between 30 minutes and an hour to finish. Objectives are numerous and varied even within individual missions, and Westwood once again makes good use of full-motion video sequences to keep the game's wacky semblance of a plot moving right along from one mission to the next. Some video is even incorporated right into the game's scenarios. If there's a problem with the campaigns besides their somewhat short length, it's that the computer doesn't use Yuri's forces all that capably. Often, it'll just send droves of Yuri's weak infantry toward you, like lambs to the slaughter. The missions aren't easy, though--if anything, you might be thankful that the computer doesn't use Yuri's forces to their fullest potential.
Yuri's Revenge also adds 10 missions that can be played cooperatively with another player. This is one of the various ways in which the expansion enhances Red Alert 2's already solid multiplayer game. Online matches now support six players rather than just four, and numerous other improvements to the multiplayer options and the proprietary Westwood Online player-matching service promise to make Yuri's Revenge a long-lasting multiplayer game, like Red Alert 2 before it.
It's no surprise that Yuri's Revenge looks and sounds about the same as its predecessor, as it uses the same isometric 2D graphics engine that was used in Red Alert 2 and in Command & Conquer: Tiberian Sun before it. The colorful but small units in Yuri's Revenge can be a bit difficult to distinguish from one another at first, but you'll get an eye for the differences between them quickly enough. The full-motion sequences found throughout the game are hammy and enjoyable and as well-produced as ever. Yuri's Revenge sounds like Red Alert 2 did, meaning the repetitive unit acknowledgments tend to be amusing enough that they don't get tiresome. The fast-tempo soundtrack fits well, and the new units generally sound good, like many of the Red Alert 2 units did in the first place.
All its new features combine to make Yuri's Revenge ideal or even downright necessary for anyone who enjoyed Red Alert 2. Like its predecessor, it's a well-designed, fast-paced, flexible, and ultimately very fun real-time strategy game with a lot of variety and a lot of appeal. The enhancements it introduces to the gameplay of its predecessor are meaningful, well thought out, and diverse--so much so that you'll probably find it impossible to go back to vanilla Red Alert 2 after you've tried Yuri's Revenge. Those who couldn't get past Red Alert 2's hectic pacing in the first place probably won't get what's so great about Yuri's Revenge, either--but the game's combination of action and strategy elements, tied together with Red Alert 2's streamlined interface and precise controls, really are a blast. Even if you somehow missed out on Red Alert 2 these past 12 months, Yuri's Revenge is good enough on its own terms that you'd be well off to give it and Red Alert 2 a try.