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Review by: Nick Stewart
Published: November 3, 2000
Much like the once-stagnant realm of the RPG, real-time strategy has come an awfully long way these past few years. The genre pioneered by Westwood’s epic Dune 2 has since blossomed and flourished, leading to the creation of such timeless greats as the orc-thumping Warcraft 2, and the futuristically themed Starcraft. Technology has recently added an entirely new skew to the genre, as 3D RTS has not only become all the rage, but has almost established a sort of prerequisite for success; in fact, most fans have taken to expecting this feature from their titles. Nevertheless, one of the most beloved series of all time has, until the recent announcement of Emperor: The Battle for Dune, remained steadfast in its dedication to 2D: the ever-classic Command & Conquer line. Also a product of the aforementioned Westwood, the original sold so well that it also generated a few sequels, including the “unofficial” C&C installation of Red Alert, which also broke sales records the world over. Now, the developers are attempting to revisit the richly atmospheric world with the recently released Red Alert 2, giving RTS fans yet another chance to run amok among the modern-day urban setting of warfare and mayhem.
Fans of the original Red Alert will recall its vibrant setting within the fictionalized pages of an alternative history brought about by some of the most important individuals of the last century. Albert Einstein, wishing to prevent Hitler’s horrific reign, used a specially constructed time travel device to slip back to the despot’s youth, and murdered him. Einstein returned to find that while he had succeeded in preventing one madman from sweeping across the continent, he had effectively allowed another to run amok, completely unchecked: Josef Stalin. Though the Soviet menace had managed to spread its power through the land, a concentrated effort from the Allies effectively put a stop to the Red Menace’s war machine. After a time, the United States appointed a “puppet” political figure at its head, General Alex Romanov, who appeared to be loyal to the U.S.’ democratic views. Flash forward to the present: Suddenly, the country finds itself being invaded on three borders by the formerly-dormant Soviets, with extensive psychic resources gradually overtaking the American populace as major cities find themselves inhabited with their monuments in shambles: New York, San Francisco, San Antonio, St. Louis … nothing seems to be beyond the grasp of the Red Menace. As the leading general of either the Soviets or the Allies, it’s up to you to ensure that the U.S. truly remains the land of the free — or that it finds itself crushed beneath the heel of the brutal invasion.
Red Alert 2‘s basic tenets of gameplay will seem instantly familiar to anyone who’s picked up an RTS title within the last few years, as it appears on the surface to maintain the same basic format that its Command & Conquer predecessors established so long ago. In other words, players must scour the land for gold, use mining vehicles to collect it; and must constantly expand their base while developing the technology tree as well as their army. Of course, the manner in which you accomplish this will heavily depend on your given faction, as each side has its own set of advantages and disadvantages. For example, the Allies are cursed with relatively slow production times, though, they make up for it with incredibly speedy resource collection. Conversely, the Soviets have lightning-fast production speeds, though, their resource collection takes considerably longer to implement. Still, while these core RTS concepts may seem familiar, one shouldn’t make the mistake of assuming that Red Alert 2 is the sum of its basic parts.
All of this factors considerably into how you proceed throughout a given mission, though, the missions themselves will often rise above these patterns to present the player with a goal that requires a varying set of strategies, depending on the type and style of objective. For instance, you might need to deeply entrench yourself into the landscape and develop some heavy defensive tactics in order to protect your top-secret laboratory from being destroyed by the Allies. While the invasion of the Virgin Islands will require that you learn to balance your naval forces against the protection of your base perimeter. On the other hand, some missions do away with the production routine entirely, leaving you with a pre-determined set of forces to implement your goals; others give you only a structure or two and ask that you manage with your restricted resources. This particular approach stands as a break from the standard RTS formula, as does the modernized atmosphere which characterizes Red Alert 2. It’s an entirely regular sight to find yourself storming through the streets of a bustling metropolis, cars maniacally careening away as your troops punch holes in the landscape. All in all, the various missions are a distinct variance from the genre standard, and elevate themselves above the core RTS concepts.
One of the primary distinguishing characteristics of a Westwood RTS offering is that of its colorful and flashy units and structures — which Red Alert 2 possesses in abundance. Take the Allies for example: preferring finesse and subversion over raw power, they have a caste of units that reflect their philosophy. Embracing the Einstein-fueled intricacies of time technology, they can produce Chrono Legionnaires, which slip through pockets of time rather than simply walking from place to place. When confronted, these specialized troops can focus their energies on an item, teleporting it out of time momentarily — or permanently, if shifted for a certain duration. Mirage tanks are equally representative of the Allied personality, as they can make themselves appear as a tree or boulder when stationary, effectively disguising themselves from the enemy. Even throwbacks are beefed up, as the classic spy now has a greater range of skills, including the ability to shut down your foe’s power grid, or to reset his radar shroud, among others. The Soviets take the opposite approach, using sheer brute strength to impose their views: their cheaply and easily produced units, such as the basic conscript, are designed to be expendable in the hopes of overwhelming the enemy. Others, such as the V3 Rocket Launcher and the Kirov Airship, are simply meant to cause incredibly large amounts of damage. Certain classic Soviet units make a return within Red Alert 2, such as the dynamite-placing Crazy Ivan, and the mind-dominating Yuri, though both have been imbued with additional skills to render them fresh and interesting within the new context of war.
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