Command & Conquer: Red Alert The Aftermath
Imagine yourself as a Westwood designer. Your task: to design an add-on pack for Command & Conquer: Red Alert. Imagine the excitement with which you could approach your job, secure in the knowledge that no matter what you did, you couldn't make the game worse -- after all, you're adding on to Red Alert, one of the most impressive real-time strategy titles ever produced. The worst you could do is produce something of no consequence. Even then it's still Red Alert.
Red Alert: The Aftermath is Westwood's newest update to their super-star war game. I'm happy to report that not only is The Aftermath decidedly not of little consequence, but it is in some ways an impressive addition. New maps and, more significantly, new weapons and units are introduced to the mix. For me it all had the result of renewing my interest in a game I had spent all of last winter playing, but which had since been supplanted by newer titles. If The Aftermath did nothing more than simply remind me that Red Alert is a tremendous adrenaline rush and just flat-out fun, then I'd call it successful. As it turns out, the additions in The Aftermath serve to help the game evolve subtly, requiring new strategies and presenting new challenges to even the most seasoned of Red Alertwarriors.
Since The Aftermath rides piggy-back on the original Red Alert -- without which The Aftermath won't function -- there's not much new to say about gameplay. Not directly, anyway. The Aftermath includes seven new units and 100 new multiplayer maps. Twenty-five of the new maps are something called "Mega Maps" -- these are just what the name suggests: really, really big maps designed especially for multiplayer games between as many as eight combatants. So while the basic goal in Red Alert: The Aftermath is the same as that in Red Alert (that is, to control all resources and crush all opposition), the introduction of new maps and especially of new units enhances the ways you achieve that goal.
The new units are the following:
- Teleporting Chronotank
- Vehicle-repairing field mechanic
- Explosive Demolition Truck
- Tesla Tank
- Sea-to-land Missile Submarine
- Shock Troopers
- M.A.D. Tank
All these new units are intriguing; some of these new units fill gaps left in Red Alert; some are more useful than others. Here's how each one rates.
Teleporting Chronotank: A great idea. Since tank assaults generally prove to be one of the most effective tactics in Red Alert, especially for picking off harvesters and thus gaining control of resources, why not introduce a tank that can pop in, do its damage and then pop out before your enemy can send in reinforcements? Unfortunately, another of the realities of Red Alert is that one unit seldom creates enough significant damage to make a difference in the game -- a dozen tanks picking away at a harvester will always enjoy better success than a single tank; six Migs swooping down on a base will do what a lone Mig never could. And the same is true with the Chronotank -- you can pop up unexpectedly somewhere. But once you do, it's only one tank and as such it really can't do much. You might create a battalion of chronotanks, but that would require great quantities of wealth -- these puppies are expensive at 1900 smackers. The best use for this new unit might be to materialize in your opponent's base and pick away at a few buildings while he's off trying to attack your base. But that turns the chronotank into simply a very expensive sniper -- heck, if you can penetrate the other fella's defenses, why not send in Tanya and really do some damage?
Field Mechanic: Ah, now here is a useful addition to the ranks! It used to be, before The Aftermath, that if you wanted to repair a vehicle you had to drive the thing all the way across the map back to your base, park it on the service depot pad and wait for the little green triangles to work their magic. With the introduction of the field mechanic, though, you can now repair a vehicle anywhere on the map you happen to be -- providing you can keep this defenseless little foot soldier alive. I will admit that I am not usually very conscientious during a game about taking the time to repair my units; I fight on the Doritos principle: I crunch all I want and then make more. Therefore my experience with the field mechanic has exclusively been as one trying to defeat an opponent who's got a slew of them running about his base. In our last game here at the GameFabrique offices, my opponent was quickly building a satellite base very near my base. When I discovered him he had a construction yard, war factory, power plant, a couple of turrets, six tanks and a handful of mechanics. I sent in six tanks of my own, thinking that might well take care of his forces. As it turned out, as quickly as I could fire on his tanks his little mechanics were ratcheting away on them, repairing the damage I was inflicting. End result? His mechanics kept enough of his tanks alive long enough that they were able to snuff out all of mine. He won that battle in no small measure thanks to the mechanics. These guys are not glamorous, but they are definitely worth much more than the small amount you'll spend on them.
Demolition Truck: This one's a kamikaze on wheels. Pretty simple, really; it's a truck with an atomic bomb strapped to the back that you drive up against the side of a building and detonate. I'm really not too impressed with the demolition truck for the same reason I can do without the Chronotank: the sucker is expensive and, as powerful as its wallop is, it's a solitary unit in a game where group attacks work best. I drove my demolition truck into my opponent's base as part of a tank attack. Unfortunately the truck was so slow that by the time it arrived in the base the bad tanks had all but finished my good tanks, so my truck was a sitting duck. I detonated without reaching my original target. The failure there was partly mine -- my strategy was weak on that attack. But it should be noted that the atomic bomb on the truck, once detonated, wiped out a few enemy units, bruised a few buildings and little else. I think the best way to use the demolition truck, and perhaps the way its designers envisioned it, is as a softening device. That is, as an advance vehicle to a tank assault, or one element of a larger advance than the one I made. So you park the exploding truck next to a power plant, it goes powee, knocks half the life out of the plant and your tanks come in to finish it off. You use the demolition truck to save the other unit's time. The demolition truck is effective when it's used correctly, but it's pretty costly so it might amount to only a minor addition to the game.
Tesla Tank: This one you will use. No doubt about it, the Tesla tank is a major addition to Red Alert and it adds a significant wrinkle to any battle strategy. Because I usually play the Allies when I play Red Alert and my usual opponent customarily takes the role of the Soviets, I'm well aware of the horrific power of the Tesla coil. To defeat that bugger you've got to think a whole lot faster than I usually seem to be able to think -- I see a Tesla coil and my thinking gets scattered, I forget what my plan of attack was, I go three ways at once and then get zapped into a quivering skeleton. Now Red Alert's designers have taken the power of a Tesla coil and made it mobile. Scary. The only ray of hope for the allies with regard to the Tesla tank is the fact that while it carries a doozy of a zapper, its hide is pretty thin. So if you can get off a few well-placed shots at it before it lights you up like a Christmas tree, you should be able to pick it off effectively. For those of you taking the Soviet role, use the Tesla tanks as part of a standard tank brigade and you'll have a fun time watching the Allies cry. Tesla tanks are an exciting addition to Red Alert. My only complaint is that I think they should have been Allied weapons instead of Soviet weapons. The Soviets already possess superior tank strength, superior air power and the Tesla coil -- now with the addition of the Tesla tank, I'm afraid the balance of power is too heavily weighted toward the Soviets.
Sea-to-land Missile Submarine: Evil. Evil. Evil. Evil. Evil. Evil. My God, is this one a scary weapon. Two shots to take out an ore refinery. Two shots to take out a war factory. Three shots -- THREE SHOTS -- to obliterate the construction yard and completely cripple my opponent. I've dumped atomic bombs on construction yards and done less damage. I built three missile subs ten minutes into the game, sailed them over to my opponent's base and ripped him apart. Meanwhile, somewhere, my harvesters had been destroyed by Allied tanks, but it didn't matter: I had seven dollars, no barracks, three tanks and I won the game because I also had three missile subs. This one's fun and awe-inspiring, but it may be too powerful. The Allies didn't seem to know what to do about my missile subs -- I was playing the computer and you'd expect if anyone knew the solution to this weapon it would be the computer. Ultimately, the missile sub severely skews the balance of power the Soviet way. It's a great innovation, but I don't see anything comparable on the Allied side to counter it. For those of us who enjoy playing Allies vs. Soviets, the attraction of being the Allies just got less. That complaint lodged, however: Man, what a cool weapon!
Shock Troopers: Imagine Tesla coils in the hands of angry young infantrymen and you'll know what a shock trooper is all about. The Red Alert Soviet scientists really have a thing for killing people with electricity. Enter the shock troopers: ground troops with portable Tesla generators that shoot an arc of electricity several yards forward. These guys are useful as one element in a charge -- put them in with tanks and Tesla tanks and you've got a pretty formidable attack force. The drawbacks to the shock trooper are pretty self-evident: they're vulnerable because they're on foot and, therefore, unarmored; they're slow for the same reason; their shock is annoying, but by itself can't really do much against a tank or any other vehicle. Against other infantry and as specialists -- like rocketeers -- they're very effective, though, especially since they can't be run over by any vehicle.
M.A.D Tank: The Mutual Assured Destruction Tank is another new weapon in the terrorist vein. Activate this baby and send it into your opponent's base. It builds up a powerful harmonic charge and detonates, damaging every unit around it in a large radius. Sounds pretty impressive. And I'll admit that the first time I heard that omnipotent Red Alert voice announce, "M.A.D. Tank deployed," I nearly vomited from fright. In practice, though, the M.A.D Tank is very slow and therefore vulnerable to attack from much faster tanks or helicopters. Also, as with the Chronotank, you spend a lot of money and get one vehicle with limited capabilities -- the cost-to-benefits ratio is not favorable. Not a significant addition. This one is a clever idea, well rendered, for which there's little use.
New Maps: This addition to Red Alert is perhaps a bit more difficult to appreciate than some of the units -- the reason being you can only experience one new map each game, while you can experience all the new units every game. Don't overlook the maps, though. The maps in Red Alert: The Aftermath follow the same patterns as the maps in the original Red Alert: Coastal, Inland, Island. The most significant new element is the sheer size of some of them -- they're called Mega Maps for a good reason. While it might have been fun to see Westwood deviate from the established model somewhat, these maps will serve Red Alert lovers well. The new maps assure that we'll be able to play new, untried locations for a long time to come without having to build them ourselves. And the Mega Maps, I think, will increase the enjoyment of large multiplayer games since it will now take players longer to find each other, which will give them longer to work on their bases and, in turn, result in more protracted and challenging battles.
The Aftermath's look is identical to that of the original Red Alert, which is to say it's quite good. More recent strategy titles like Age of Empires have pushed the edge of the graphics envelope beyond the quality in the Red Alert series, but graphics in this series are certainly among the best you're going to find. Movement is smooth, and details are very clear. This last point is an important one. I get terrifically frustrated with Red Alert-style "top down angle" games where the details are all smudged together; where you have no idea from looking at your buildings whether you've got a power plant or an ore factory. The designers of the original Red Alert hit upon some very creative and identifiable looks for various buildings and units and The Aftermath preserves that quality.
The box for The Aftermath advertises the fact that there are 8 new battle songs added to the soundtrack. Well, that's great, but to be honest I didn't notice them. However, you can put the game CD into an audio CD player if you want to and listen to the soundtrack that way. In fact, it was when I did that that I first noticed my interest in Red Alert returning from wherever it had been lying dormant. The songs on the soundtrack are peppered with many of the catch phrases from the game, including Tanya's hip "Shake it, baby" and "Let's rock." They do a good job of getting you in the mood to play. As for the in-game sounds, they're as good as ever. There are even some nice surprises, like the amusing voice and character of the field mechanic -- I'll leave it to you to discover it.
Documentation in Red Alert: The Aftermath is sparse -- it's limited to a jewel case insert that briefly explains each of the new units. But that's quite sufficient, since most people who play The Aftermath will already be quite familiar with Red Alert and how everything works.
Required: Pentium Processor, Windows 95, 8 MB RAM, 2X CD-ROM drive, 30 MB free hard drive space, 28.8 kbps modem or direct Internet connection, Winsock 1.1 compliant TCP/IP stack, 1 MB local bus video card capable of 640 x 400 or 640 x 480 pixels in 256 colors
Recommended: Above features with 16 MB RAM
When all is said and done, Red Alert: The Aftermath is a mixed bag. There is nothing in this expansion pack that is terrible; there are a few things that are quite wonderful. I give Westwood credit for not resting on its laurels with Red Alert, for continuing to try to enrich the game. The best elements to The Aftermath are the Tesla tank, the missile submarine and, though unglamorous, the field mechanic. Each of these new units will have an immediate impact on the game. They are versatile enough to be used in conjunction with Red Alert's standard units to enhance your multiplayer warfare. My complaint with Red Alert: The Aftermath is that the most powerful of the new units all belong to the Soviet side -- already the more powerful side in the original Red Alert. Players who enjoy taking up the Allied cause may find themselves backed into a defensive position before the game even begins as most of the Allied weapons, going one-on-one with the Soviet weapons on the open battlefield, come up a bit short. And two of the three new Allied units -- the Chronotank and the demolition truck -- are too slow and too singular to be really effective. Bottom line, though: Red Alert: The Aftermath makes an already challenging and interesting game more challenging and more interesting.