Command & Conquer: Red Alert Review

There are new weapons, enemies, and levels, but the game engine and basic play are essentially the same.

So you've played through Command & Conquer on the console systems, and you need more. That's where the title's thematic prequel, Command & Conquer: Red Alert, comes in. If you want a fix of what you enjoyed in the original, Red Alert certainly has it - though that's definitely a bit of a two-edged sword.

For the uninitiated, typical C&C gameplay finds you on a clouded playing field - in which territories become visible with exploration - with varying degrees of resources (such as money, troops, and buildings). You command your forces to set up bases, raise funds by harvesting minerals, build up manpower (tanks, planes, missile carriers, and so on.), take on the minions of your opposition, and carry out your objectives, which vary mission to mission from defending convoys to leveling enemy bases. It's not uncommon to play the later levels more than five or six times before accomplishing your goals, and since there are two discs full of missions (one for each of the two opposing camps), there's an incredible amount of gameplay time involved here.

The drama of war plays out much the same as in the first Command & Conquer, but the cast has changed a bit. Instead of GDI and the Brotherhood of Nod, the two groups are made up of the Allies and Soviets. It seems that some enterprising time-travelling soul (oh, maybe that Albert Einstein guy) has gone back a few decades to take Adolf Hitler out of the picture - for good. A bold move, to be sure, but not one without repercussions. In this revised timeline, the Germans now work along with the rest of Europe to defend against the machinations of Stalin.

Since we're now about 50 years before the time of the original C&C, some of the vehicles and weapons are a little less advanced - although, since Einstein is involved, there's a sprinkling of advanced technology to be found further along, as well. The units, vehicles, weapons, and structures are now fairly different and include MIGS, destroyers, submarines, attack dogs, medics, Tesla Coils (poles that guard your base by lashing out bolts of electricity at enemy troops), camouflaged pillboxes, the Iron Curtain (this stuff is poison), and more. The two sides no longer seem to be simple mirror images of each other, and they have their own unique plusses and minuses. For instance, the Soviets have attack dogs that can wipe out troops quickly, while the Allies have medics that can heal all their soldiers. Similarly, the Allies have vehicles that can move very fast but are short on firepower, while the Sovs have slow, superstrong tanks and missile carriers. Unfortunately, the balance of the two forces isn't quite what it should be, so the Soviets have a clear strength advantage early on in each round. This makes for a bit more of a challenge when playing as the Allies in the single-player game but takes away from a lot of the fun of taking on a friend over the two-player link cable mode.

The game also seems to have lost a bit in its conversion from PC to console. The graphics have taken a noticeable bite in quality, though they're still decent and, admittedly, graphics were never incredibly important in C&C to begin with. And, not surprisingly, playing the game with a PlayStation controller instead of a mouse takes away from the ease of play (it is compatible with the PS mouse, but good luck finding one). However, the main frustration is not being able to save at any point in the game. On the slightly frustrating side, this makes it necessary for you to ensure you have a few hours free before you take on an advanced mission. On the very frustrating side, instances frequently occur when you are an hour or so into a level and doing perfectly well, then you just start dogging it and have to start all over from scratch.

Otherwise, be warned that the difference between Command & Conquer and Command & Conquer: Red Alert isn't incredibly major. In fact, Westwood seems to have taken a leap similar to what id took from Doom to Doom II, then Doom II to Quake. There are new weapons, enemies, and levels, but the game engine and basic play are essentially the same. That's not necessarily a bad thing since it is still quite fun, but it's beginning to feel a bit dated. If you're looking for a true sequel to Command & Conquer, you're probably going to have to keep waiting a few more years for the console version of Command & Conquer II: Tiberian Sun. But if you just really want more of the same, with some nice improvements to boot, you'd be well set getting Command & Conquer: Red Alert.

The Good

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The Bad

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