Format: PC Genre: RTS Released: 2000 Developer: Westwood Pacific
Command & Conquer: Red Alert 2 is not only the greatest C&C game but one of the finest RTS games ever made. Yes, you read that correctly. Stick that in your non-Command & Conquer: Red Alert 2 RTS pipe and smoke it!
Ok, before I justify such a bold statement (I’m sure there are literally… 6 furious people right now) a bit of background. C&C: Red Alert 2 is a sequel to, unsurprisingly, C&C: Red Alert, itself a spinoff to the original Command & Conquer games. The C&C series are real time strategy (RTS) games. Essentially you build a base, collect resources, build an army then attack. A simple idea but when done well RTS games are as fiendish and tactically minded as a game of chess (note – I don’t play chess).
Set in a more or less separate universe to the first Command & Conquer, Red Alert depicts a world where Hitler never rises to power (somehow he’s stopped by a time travelling Albert Einstein – no, really). Instead of WWII we get a war with Stalin’s USSR. The suggestion is the people of the world just really wanted a war in the 1940s. Good thing there was another totalitarian one party state led by a psycho with a moustache. Otherwise we’d have just got bored. You play as either the Allies, pushing back the massive Red Army and defending freedom, or as the Soviets, bringing the revolution to the capitalist pigs of Western Europe.
Red Alert 2 is set a few years after the first game (in a world where the Allies won) where the Soviet Union still exists under the rule of Allied puppet leader friendly to the West. Except he’s not! He’s just pretending you imperialist idiots, and before you can say Fyodor Dostoyevsky there are Zeppelins in the skies above New York and Soviet tanks rampaging through Texas. The Cold War just got Hot.
I’ve always loved the C&C games. I was there at beginning, getting the very first C&C game on, slightly bizarrely, the Playstation (alright, I know technically Dune 2 was first but I never played it so it doesn’t count). One of my all time top gaming moments is the end of the NOD campaign where you get to decide which famous monument to destroy (for patriotic reasons I always went for the Palace of Westminster). Of course the gameplay is great, yadda yadda yadda but C&C games are known for their full-motion video (FMV) cut scenes.
FMV was already a bit of an oddity by the time of Red Alert, with most games preferring to use CGI intros and cut scenes. It was cheaper and I’m sure many designers probably felt they were less jarring than video scenes. But the FMV makes those games. In Red Alert 2 they are over the top, bombastic, ludicrous and hilarious they totally bring you into the games. Just watch the intro above. How can you not love a game which opens with an American President talking to an intern who looks suspiciously like Monica Lewinsky?
The C&C games which, to me, have been the weaker entries to the series are C&C: Tiberium Sun and C&C: Generals, and I put this down to the lack of/poor FMV. Generals dispensed with FMV cut scenes entirely and while Tiberium Sun still had them, the characters in them did not talk directly to ‘you’. For me at least it really made a difference. It made playing the game a strangely detached experience.
Red Alert 2 also has the most finely balanced sides in the game, each with corresponding strengths and weaknesses. Being the Allies or the Soviets isn’t just window dressing, you really do play the game in a different way depending on which side you’re playing as.
There are just enough units to make the gameplay varied and interesting, but not too many to become overwhelming. I’m working my way through Red Alert 3 at the moment and while it’s fun they seem to have dispensed depth for variety. Though Red Alert 3 does have a lot more women with big boobs in it than the last ones. Swings and roundabouts.
There is a sense of joie de vivre which can be seen and felt throughout Red Alert 2. Considering it’s a war game it doesn’t take itself to seriously, in fact in so many ways it’s stupid. You’re talking about a game where one of the military units at your disposal is a giant squid. Yet Red Alert 2 is a properly satisfying gaming experience.
Now, if you forgive me, I need to dig out my Russian hat and turn the Eiffel Tower into a giant electric weapon again. Or maybe fight for freedom and try to stop the Commies from blowing up the Statue of Liberty. ‘Incoming Transmisson’…