Command & Conquer: Red Alert

a game by Westwood
Platforms: PC Playstation
Genre: Strategy/War
Editor Rating: 7.9/10, based on 4 reviews
User Rating: 9.0/10 - 2 votes
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See also: Command & Conquer Games, Red Alert Games
Command & Conquer: Red Alert
Command & Conquer: Red Alert
Command & Conquer: Red Alert
Command & Conquer: Red Alert

Before World War II, before Hitler rose to power, before Command & Conquer, another enormous empire was about to storm across Europe: the U.S.S.R. The prequel to the bestselling Command & Conquer, Red Alert puts you face to face with the mighty Soviet Empire, which is poised for conquest under the leadership of the tyrannical Josef Stalin.

Fighting on land, at sea, and in the air in this combat strategy game, you manipulate a new arsenal of machinery, munitions, and manpower, including attack dogs, chemical bombs, saboteurs, subs, paratroopers, land mines, bombers, and cruisers. Among the game's other new features are an enhanced A.I. that's tougher than ever, a Skirmish mode that lets you practice maneuvers, and larger maps that are double the size of those in C&C.

With three paths to victory (two as the Allies and one as the Soviets) and at least 13 missions per path, Red Alert provides a full combat experience. Here's your chance to "Just say nyet" to Communism.

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Game Reviews

Anticipation overload! Command & Conquer: Red Alert is finally here after a brush down and a facelift that will delight its many devotees.

Stormin' Stalin

Red Alert is a prequel in the C&C universe timeline, charting a new history in which Hitler never comes to power and the West is threatened by the marauding forces of Stalin. Two CDs contain the 40 singleplayer missions (20 for each side of the conflict), 20 multiplayer maps of varying sizes and styles, 20 skirmish mode scenarios, a map editor, and Westwood Chat software.

Fortunately, the singleplayer missions have plenty of variety, ranging from using a single mercenary to spy chases to all-out obliteration of the enemy. Some missions take place within buildings, giving the story line a more detailed air that's backed by superb cut scenes.

The historical setting means that the technologies of the units are not advanced into science fiction, although some "experimental" weapons were included. The Chronosphere (a teleportation device) and the Gap Generator (shrouds an area from the enemy's sight) are very useful and add greatly to the strategic planning needed for success. New air units and sea units--destroyers, submarines, and gunboats--add a whole new angle as well.

Land, Sea. and Air

For C&C veterans, the more detailed SVGA graphics will stand out. The screen layout, however, remains identical to the original. As for effects, explosions are plentiful and sound great. The acceptance of commands from units is at times a little strange but ultimately endearing.

Moving the mouse rapidly over the screen, selecting units, moving them, and ordering them into combat is generally a breeze. Be sure that your orders take effect, though, as occasionally the limited A.I. of the units causes problems with your well-planned, carefully plotted attack.

More of the Same

For C&C fans, Red Alert is an absolute must. The new units, the great story, and the variation of mission styles make up for the limited improvement in the A.I. The multiplayer action is still superb, so rely on the intelligence of your buddies to uncover Red Alert's lasting and compelling gameplay.

ProTips:

  • Create units of grenade launcher infantry to defend against air attacks.
  • Coordinate attacks to use the sea and air forces as well as land. Beware of submarines lurking in the depths.
  • In multiplayer mode as the Soviets, build some heavy tanks and storm into enemy bases. Take out the turrets first.
  • When attacking a base, aim for the oil drums to cause a huge explosion. Use tanks to run over infantry--it's often more effective than trying to shoot them.

Overview

What if you could travel back in time and assassinate Adolf Hitler prior to World War II? Every science fiction reader has pondered this very concept. Countless books have treated us to variations on the theme. (Those who enjoy this type of storyline should pick up a newly reissued copy of The Proteus Operation by James P. Hogan -- highly recommended.) This thought-provoking idea is the premise of Westwood's new alternate-history wargame, Command & Conquer: Red Alert.

Red Alert plays around with time in more ways than one. It's the follow-up to the fabulously popular Command & Conquer: Tiberian Dawn, but the events in Red Alert actually occur before those in the previous game. It's a prequel rather than a sequel. The new full-motion-video cut scenes unfold a storyline that explains the world situation that led to Tiberian Dawn's conflicting GDI and Nod forces. The plot revolves around Albert Einstein. A grief-stricken Einstein, attempting to prevent World War II and the Holocaust, discovers a time machine and assassinates Hitler before he rises to power with the brown-shirts of Munich. With Hitler out of the way due to Einstein's time manipulation, the Nazis never rise to power, and World War II as we know it never occurs.

Unfortunately, Einstein has forgotten what we know today through hindsight: that the existence of a united Germany as a major military power was important for other reasons. British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain was universally reviled for his 1938 Munich Pact, which was called Nazi appeasement. Many forget that he had other things on his mind: namely, preserving Germany as a protective buffer between Western Europe and Soviet Russia. The idea didn't work out very well; but in the alternate world of Red Alert, it turns out even worse the other way around.

Without Germany to counter them, Stalin's forces make quick work of Eastern Europe in the forties and fifties, and then start west. They don't mention the exact date at the start of Red Alert's main story line, but the game seems to take place in the early 1960s. The Cold War has become a shooting war. The United States, never drawn into conflict by Axis provocation, appears to remain isolationist and uninvolved. Soviet forces are sweeping into Western Europe, and it's up to you to stop them (when you play the Allied side) or unite the continent under Communist rule (when playing the Soviet side). Your Allied commanders are German and Greek; as a Soviet you report to Stalin and his top generals. You'll receive several promotions along the way, and become privy to the inside politics of the Allied and Soviet commands. On the Soviet side, you'll learn that Stalin's inner circle is not a safe place to be, as assassinations and purges become routine. On both sides, you'll command several missions involving Einstein and his new Allied weapon invention, the Chronosphere.

United against a common enemy as never before, the Allied Command of Red Alert eventually becomes the [[Global Defense]] Initiative (GDI) that is familiar to players of Tiberian Dawn-. Watch the Red Alert cut scenes closely -- you'll notice that Cain, future leader of the evil Brotherhood of Nod in _Tiberian Dawn, gets an early start in the war business as an aide to Stalin. The only puzzling element to the story is that it's possible to conquer Europe and win the game on the Soviet side, which would seem to make the Tiberian Dawn future impossible. But perhaps that's an alternate universe.

About Westwood Studios

The Command & Conquer series comes to us from Westwood Studios, creators of the well-received role-playing titles Eye of the Beholder, Lands of Lore, and Legend of Kyrandia. The series actually began with the 1993 release of Dune II: The Battle for Arrakis. Both C&C: Tiberian Dawn and the new C&C: Red Alert are evolutionary products of the Dune II game engine. Tiberian Dawn has recently appeared on the Sega Saturn and Sony PlayStation platforms, and has spawned an excellent mission disk called Covert Operations. Now that Red Alert has shipped, Westwood plans to start work on the sequel to Tiberian Dawn, to be named Tiberian Sun. Westwood included a brief full-motion-video sneak preview of Tiberian Sun with the Covert Ops mission disk, and showed that the sequel will probably include Mech-style battle suits.

Westwood is gearing up to release Lands of Lore II for the 1996 holiday season, and a Windows 95 version of C&C: Tiberian Sun is due in early February of 1997.

Gameplay, Controls, Interface

C&C: Red Alert is a real-time strategy/action/war game for both the MS-DOS and Windows 95 platforms. In a way, it's somewhat similar to turn-based, hex-based wargames that you may have played on paper or computer, except that it does away with the turns in favor of real-time action, and makes the hexes invisible for a more realistic gaming experience. Most of the military units are very familiar (tanks, infantry, helicopters, etc.) while some of it tends toward the exotic side (Tesla coils, gap generators). The core of the game is Credits (money). You earn Credits by harvesting Ore (called Spice in Dune II, Tiberium in Tiberian Dawn). Credits allow you to build buildings and military units. The game is organized into missions; criteria for winning a mission vary, but usually involve the total destruction of enemy forces. You can play against the computer AI, or with up to eight human opponents on a network.

You manage your battle campaign through an intuitive mouse-based user interface. Just click to select a soldier, click on his destination, and "Yes sir!" off he goes. Click to target an enemy and he'll attack it. Don't try this game if you aren't skilled with a mouse; in the heat of major battles I often find myself clicking over a hundred times a minute. Game speed is adjustable, though, which can make things easier on those afflicted with carpal tunnel syndrome (I sometimes feel I am after a few hours of total battle concentration).

The main screen shows a partial overhead view of the battle map, which you can scroll by moving the mouse to any edge of the screen. Blackness covers the unexplored areas. Westwood calls it the "Shroud." Warcraft II uses a more elegant term: the Fog of War (although unlike Warcraft, Red Alert's uncovered areas stay uncovered permanently).

Sending your units out to explore will uncover the black areas and reveal more of the terrain (although some enemy units can keep terrain hidden). In the meantime, enemy units will be out looking for you. When the two sides meet, battle ensues. Your forces will fight back automatically when the enemy comes within range, but it's always best to direct their fire yourself.

As the credits come rolling in, you have to divide your spending among base defense, building/expansion, and offensive unit production, with the cost of occasional repairs thrown in. It's the mental multitasking that this requires that makes the Command & Conquer series so addictive.

Relation To Previous Installment

While Red Alert uses the same basic engine, the creators have done much to improve the balance of gameplay over Tiberian Dawn. The designers' first order of business was obviously to remove the "easy outs" that allowed unfair advantages and/or quick endings in the previous game. In the original, you could build sandbags to your heart's content any distance from your base, and the computer-controlled enemy forces would ignore them. You could build a line of sandbags right up to the enemy base and wall his units inside until you were ready to deal with them. Red Alert tackles this problem by making the computer AI consider the sandbags as both removable barriers and as enemies. Not only will the computer destroy a line of sandbags approaching its base, but it will also run straight through a sandbag barrier on the way to wherever it wants to go. Tanks can squash sandbags simply by driving over them.

Another common practice in Tiberian Dawn was the "Engineer Raid." A single engineer was able to capture an enemy building instantly. Many players devised the tactic of loading up one or more armored personnel carriers with engineers, and driving them into the middle of the enemy base. Even a strong base defense couldn't prevent one or more engineers from getting through and capturing your construction yard. Essentially, this meant Game Over. In Red Alert, engineers can only capture buildings that have been pounded down into the red on their health bar. If you send a single engineer into a healthy building, he'll only damage it slightly; he won't capture it. To compensate for this major reduction in engineer usefulness, Westwood gave engineers the ability to repair any friendly structure instantly, just by entering it. This comes in handy during a pitched defense against a base assault when you don't have time to repair a critical structure normally.

Westwood also revised the structure-placing limitations. Now it's easy to build a base with an open layout so that your forces can move quickly to trouble spots. Structures no longer have to be adjacent to other structures; you can place them a short distance away. This makes for a much more flexible base design. Barriers (sandbags, barbed wire, concrete walls) don't count as buildings for the purposes of building placement. This means that you can't build a line of sandbags out from your base and put a turret out on the end of the line (another use for the old sandbagging strategy). Now buildings need to be near other buildings.

Base Defense is much weaker in Red Alert, and there are few effective long-range strike capabilities (no more Advanced Guard Tower, Ion Cannon and Air Strike). This makes for much faster-moving, mobile game play. You can't just sit in an impregnable base and whittle away at the enemy from afar. Single-player games in Red Alert feel much closer to the pace of multiplayer games in Tiberian Dawn. Compared to Tiberian Dawn, Red Alert removes two of the previous structure types and five of the unit types, while it adds ten new structures and eighteen new unit types (see the accompanying Cross-Reference Chart). Fixed-wing aircraft and seagoing craft are significant additions to the bread-and-butter units, while the new Gap Generator and Chronosphere add some interesting wrinkles. In particular, I really enjoyed the MiG attack aircraft, battleships and transport ships. Land masses are much more fragmented in Red Alert, with a lot more water space, and it's fun to be able to wage war in multiple ways. That keeps things from getting boring. When you send your MiGs to strike a cruiser that's firing on one of your tanks, you realize how well it all integrates.

There were a few new units, however, that I found less than useful. The parachute bombs don't seem to do much damage at all, and their Badger bomber is a slow and vulnerable target. Laying anti-personnel mines manually with the new mine layer vehicle took time that I could have spent more effectively elsewhere. The mines always seemed to get run over by an enemy vehicle, causing little or no damage, before any enemy infantry stepped on them. The cruiser's long-range bombardment is nice, but it's completely defenseless, and actually dangerous to use when you have to avoid blowing up a particular structure. It fires inaccurately at any enemy structure or unit within range, and can't be kept from firing (except by forcing it to fire continuously at a particular spot, which looks rather silly). The lack of a Soviet reconnaissance vehicle also disappointed me slightly. This forced me to do recon with heavy tanks or infantry. But these are minor quibbles.

Formations are more of a problem. This is a new feature in Red Alert, which allows you to group your forces and have them maintain a particular formation as they advance. It's less than successful in practice due to the long-standing problem of C&C unit movement routing. If you send two units across a bridge, for example, while the first unit blocks the bridge, the second unit won't wait for it to cross. Instead, it's liable to take a huge detour (frequently through enemy territory) to find another way across the river. This behavior persists in Red Alert, and plays havoc with the new Formation feature. If you send a formation through an area that's only as wide as the formation itself, the rear units will think that the front units are blocking the passage, and suddenly take off in the opposite direction. In fact, if a formation is composed of two types of units with greatly different movement speeds, they'll have trouble maintaining the formation even in open ground. All of this makes the formation feature rather useless.

Westwood talked about a "waypoint" feature during Red Alert's development, but that feature apparently didn't make it into the final game. This would have been a nice addition. C&C veterans are familiar with the tactic of sending their helicopters to a quiet corner of the map, then ordering them to attack their real target indirectly. That way, they avoided a flyover of an enemy SAM site on the way to the target. Waypoints would have allowed you to do this automatically. The lack of a waypoint feature is more annoying for the new fixed-wing aircraft, which you can't land anywhere but on a friendly airstrip or repair pad. The only way to make them attack indirectly is to order them to attack some other enemy unit off in a map corner. Just before they fire on the dummy unit, you redirect them to their real target. That takes some tricky mouse work, and if there aren't any enemy units in the area to use as dummy targets, well, you'll just have to fly over that SAM site.

In my reading of Internet newsgroups and CompuServe gaming forums, it seems as though some people are afraid that Red Alert would be too much like C&C: Tiberian Dawn. It is a fact that the engine is almost unchanged, but there are a lot of subtle and not-so-subtle differences in gameplay. Personally, I was afraid it would be too different from the original. In the final analysis, I think they've struck a very good balance between originality and appeal to fans of the previous entries in the series.

Enemy AI

Red Alert greatly improves the artificial intelligence. The computer will almost never make the same mistake more than twice. If you blow up an ore truck, the computer will accompany the next one with a guard patrol of tanks. If your SAM sites decimate the computer helicopters, they'll either stop coming altogether, or go off and attack your ore trucks out of SAM range. The AI doesn't have such a giant knee-jerk response to attacks on its ore trucks as it did in Tiberian Dawn. Computer units actually retreat sometimes if they face overwhelming odds. Rather than using the same attack strategy over and over, the AI does a terrific (or is that painfully efficient?) job of coordinating multiple simultaneous attacks. First, a flight of helicopters takes out a defensive structure; then, tanks attack from two directions at once. It's hard for a human to juggle things that well.

Still, the AI has some weak points (which is good; otherwise you'd never win). Helicopters will almost always attack the Tesla coil nearest the computer base, so you can make a safe bet on putting a lot of SAM sites in that area. Sometimes the computer will actually send its ore trucks straight through your base in pursuit of ore that it could have picked up closer to home. As in previous versions, there's usually some strategic weakness designed into the enemy base.

Graphics

Every unit in the Command & Conquer series can face eight different directions. Rather than drawing the graphics by hand, Westwood modeled the units in 3D and rendered them in each rotation. This makes the look more consistent. Each unit also includes a large number of animation frames -- turret rotation, weapons firing, smoke pouring out when the unit gets hit, etc. The graphics really add to the suspension of disbelief and immerse the player in the game.

Red Alert now supports SuperVGA, and this does take some getting used to. Since the resolution is higher, the size of everything on screen is smaller. C&C veterans will find the first few missions a bit disorienting. I felt like I was sitting too far from the monitor. It also makes some of the wonderful animation of soldiers and other units more difficult to see. I would have welcomed some kind of variable zoom feature, but in any case, after a few missions it felt like home again. Other than the resolution and size change, and change in appearance for many of the units, the graphics are the same as in Tiberian Dawn, except for the new interior missions. Yep, a handful of the missions now take place entirely indoors.

I halfway expected the Windows 95 version to have a resizable window and floating toolbars, a la Blue Byte's Battle Isle 2220, but no go. It's a full-screen-only DirectX title.

Audio

Red Alert retains its predecessors' excellent variety of sounds. Every unit responds verbally when you give it orders, and the battle sound effects are superb. The voice of the user interface (which provides such helpful information as "Silos needed" and "Your base is under attack") is now male.

The voice acting, and acting in general, is well done, although the foreign accents are not entirely successful. I have an opportunity to hear Russian spoken quite often, and it's a shame that Westwood couldn't find some Russian expatriates to do the Russian-accented voice acting. They aren't the worst fake Russian accents I've ever heard, but they could have been better. Sometimes it feels like all the tanks are piloted by Chekov from Star Trek ("Yes, Keptin.").

The FMV has a very good frame rate, which Westwood achieved by eliminating alternate horizontal lines, giving the video a bit of a "window blind" look that's not objectionable.

In the full-motion-video scenes, the actors for the Soviet side do the best job, with Eugene Dynarski as Stalin chewing scenery wonderfully at every turn. I have no idea if this is the same Gene Dynarski who's had bit parts in a dozen films or so, including Close Encounters, but I suspect as much. Arthur Roberts, as the German Allied commander Von Esling, can't quite figure out what nationality he's portraying, and Barry Kramer seems confused as Stavros, the Greek second in command.

System Requirements

Windows 95: Pentium CPU, Windows 95, 8 MB RAM (16 MB strongly recommended), 1 MB PCI or local bus video accelerator (ISA video cards not supported), Windows 95-supported sound card, 2X CD-ROM drive or faster, 40 MB free hard disk space, 14.4 (28.8 recommended) modem for modem play, IPX network for LAN play, mouse (for Internet play, 28.8 modem or direct Internet connection, Winsock 1.1 compliant TCP/IP stack, 16 MB RAM)

DOS: 486/66 or higher CPU, MS-DOS 5.0 or higher, 8 MB RAM (16 MB recommended), VGA graphics, SoundBlaster/SoundBlaster Pro/SoundBlaster 16/SoundBlaster AWE32/Gravis UltraSound/Gravis UltraSound MAX/Ensoniq Soundscape/Roland RAP-10/ESS Audiodrive/MS Sound System/Gold Sound Standard/Pro Audio Spectrum 16, 2X CD-ROM drive or faster, 40 MB free hard disk space, 14.4 (28.8 recommended) modem for modem play, IPX network for LAN play, 100% Microsoft compatible mouse

Documentation

Red Alert includes a full-featured 107-page manual, and two handy reference cards that show the structure and unit building precedence charts. There's a nice tutorial in the manual, but it lacks an index. All the hot keys and shortcuts left out of the Tiberian Dawn documentation are included (and some have been added -- like the "E" key to select every unit visible on the screen). It could have had a bit more detail on what exactly the various units do and what they cost, but I suppose finding out is part of the fun.

Installation and Setup

Installation under Windows 95 was simple. The installation screen appeared automatically through Windows 95 AutoPlay; I simply clicked on the installation button and was up and running in minutes. Installation of DirectX display drivers is optional, which is handy for those who have a graphics card with third-party DirectX-compatible display drivers that have not been certified by Microsoft (e.g. Matrox Millenium). The DirectX setup program overwrites uncertified drivers automatically.

Difficulty

Red Alert has an adjustable difficulty level -- Easy, Normal or Hard. This is a first for the C&C series. According to Westwood, this setting affects several factors, including unit effectiveness, speed, and cost. As a veteran C&C player, I found the Normal difficulty to be just right most of the time. A couple of missions were too easy, but there were a couple that were too hard on Normal, and I certainly wouldn't want to play them on Hard just for the sake of making those easy missions harder.

There are a couple of timed missions that are very tricky. These missions are my only objection in the difficulty area. They're virtually impossible to get through on the first try. These are interior missions that require you to deactivate traps in a complicated sequence that you couldn't possibly get right the first time through. Plus, the timing is so tight on a couple of them that it's very, very tough to get done in time. There was a moment when I considered giving up. If you find yourself in the same situation in that mission, don't give up! It can be beat. However, a timer increase wouldn't hurt.

Customization

There are hundreds of custom levels for C&C: Tiberian Dawn floating around on the Internet. Lovers of the game took it upon themselves to create level-design utilities, and of course the inevitable crop of add-on-level compilation CDs have appeared to profit by the efforts of those who produced the free levels. This time, Westwood included an excellent terrain editor, but for some reason didn't include any way to place troops and other units on the maps. At any rate, look forward to lots of free add-ons, and probably an upcoming official Westwood mission disk as well, along the lines of C&C Covert Ops.

Bottom Line

If you've read through the above, I'm sure you've noticed that I've leveled a few criticisms in Red Alert's direction. And yet I gave it a very high score. Why is this? As the old saying goes, "the proof is in the pudding." I drove thirty miles to get the last copy of Red Alert left in stock anywhere in our metropolitan area on the day of its release. I've finished both the Allied and Soviet sides in the past couple of weeks, and let me tell you, that is not a small investment of time. I've ignored my spouse and my cats. I haven't gotten enough sleep. I've experienced frustration. I've experienced triumph. Basically, I've had one hell of a good time. All of this without a single bug or crash -- does it get any better than this?

No game is ever perfect, but this is as close to gaming Nirvana as you're liable to get. There are enough quibbles to knock a point off, but a Westwood patch could remedy this via some simple gameplay balance tweaks. I wouldn't be surprised if they did just that. There were several patches to Tiberian Dawn that did more to address gameplay balance issues than to fix bugs.

I do recommend, though, that you buy and play through Command & Conquer: Tiberian Dawn before tackling Red Alert. Red Alert contains enough advanced concepts that it's much easier for C&C veterans to handle it; and playing Red Alert first would spoil you for the original, which would be a shame, because it's a damn good game, too.

Thanks, Westwood.

Red Alert, the follow-up to Command & Conquer, is actually a prequel which explains the background of the aforementioned C&C. Red Alert's plot involves the Allies and Soviets, and although it begins in the 1940s and ends in the 1980s, the complexity of the game easily eclipses Command 81 Conquer. There are many more units consisting of land, sea and air weapons in addition to indoor commando missions. Experimental weapons such as the Chronosphere and Iron Curtain can be used (some with consequences), while some old favorites such as the Mammoth Tank and Grenadiers will still remain in the repertoire.

  • MANUFACTURER - Westwood Studios
  • THEME - War Sim
  • NUMBER OF PLAYERS - 1 or 2

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