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  Command & Conquer: Red Alert
First off, a little history lesson for those of you who are not familiar with Real Time Strategy games. Real Time Strategy (hereafter referred to as RTS) originated with the creators of the genre, Westwood, in 1995 (back in the day when 486's were the cutting edge, and an amazing 30 MB of hard drive space was necessary to put a game into your hard drive) with Command and Conquer. Westwood was in close competition with Blizzard's Warcraft II series and immediately a huge Internet controversy erupted over which game was better. The average gamer emerged as the winner because now two excellent games were available. Skip forward a year, to 1996, when the even better Command and Conquer: Red Alert was released. This game introduced a bevy of new units, such as Medics and Spies to the mix, making the RTS world an even more enjoyably complex game. Blizzard fought back a year later with Starcraft, hailed by many as the best RTS of it's time (and still a current favorite). Many waited for Westwood's next salvo, but the company was quiet on the RTS front (aside from putting out expansion packs), instead choosing to put out other types of games, such as Blade Runner. It wasn't until 1999 that Command and Conquer: Tiberiun Sun was released to a lukewarm reception as many of the features were identical to the original C&C. Now skip forward to the present. November 2000 brought the release of the new King of the RTS field: Command and Conquer Red Alert II.

Initially, when I had the chance to review this game, I approached it with some reservations. After all, I had bought Command and Conquer: Tiberiun Sun and was hugely disappointed by it. For all the excellent graphics and interesting new additions such as unit veterancy or waypoints, it still felt like I was playing a rehashed version of Command and Conquer. Not that this is a bad thing, but after four years, you would think that Westwood would have come out with something a little more original. Well this time out, I was a little more prepared and although Red Alert is similar in some aspects to it's distinguished ancestor, a whole host of new graphics, options and units make it an incredible gaming experience. In addition to improved waypoint and veterancy abilities in Red Alert II (heretofore referred to as RA2), a new aspect has been introduced into the game in the form of garrison buildings. In battles surrounding buildings (and there is a lot of city fighting in RA2), infantry have the ability to garrison structures, thus providing extra cover for themselves and forcing the enemy to destroy buildings to get to friendly units. Add into the mix a variety of new units. They range from the Chrono- Miner (which instantly teleports back to your base) for the Allies, to the awesome power of the Nuclear Missle for the Axis (which impressively destroys darn near EVERYTHING). The units of Red Alert II have been obviously well thought out by the design team. Infantry can now build sandbag defenses, and Miner units are no longer defenseless (if you’re the Axis). In addition to the old standards, come new weapons such as the Allies Aircraft Carrier, which launches fighters on it's target or the Soviet Cloning Vats, which effectively allow you to double your infantry output or (if you’re a particularly cunning commander) allow you to telepathicly control enemy soldiers into your own vats, for a little extra money boost.

Initial installation is fantastic, with the exception of a few technical glitches, one of which is the sound would occasionally skip, then repeat itself. This happened on a test system with an Diamond MX400 soundcard and a ASUS V6800 graphics card; however, on another test system with a Vortex 3D Audio sound card and a Creative Annihilator Pro graphics accelerator, the install ran fine without a hitch. Also, the game is prone to crashing to the desktop for no apparent reason. This happens infrequently, but usually just when you’ve gone one or two levels without saving. Aside from this, it was a breeze to install. The introduction following the installation is particularly excellent, really putting you into the spirit of the game.

And what a game it is! Right from the start you’re immediately drawn in. The graphics are ¾ profile with sprite animation. Ground tiling is well done, with visibly different layers of ground, allowing you to literally "take the high ground" if you wish. Different levels of elevation give your units different bonus’ (or penalties) to attack and as the units experience more and more combat, they will gain experience, which in turn allows them to move faster and shoot more accurately, with greater damage. The musical background is absolutely without a doubt, the best music I’ve heard out a PC game to date. Anyone who played the original "Red Alert" will remember the "Jackboot Anthem" and this time it’s back, in spades. The most impressive compliment I can pay to the music is that I would listen to it even if it WASN’T on the Red Alert game itself.

In between missions, the movies, which are live human cut-scenes, are a bit cheesy, but in a humorous way, and you’ll be chuckling at a few of the jokes you see there. The production staff obviously had a lot of fun making these cut-scenes, because they poke a little fun at themselves, and that’s nice to see. For teen gamers (or those of us who are teens at heart) Kari Wuhrer (who appeared on TV shows, such as Sliders) who plays Special Agent Tanya is quite a looker. The story-line is moderately interesting, using the old "you’re the only one left to save us, get to work" plot. But story-line isn’t important. What’s important is the game itself.

The single player game allows you to play as either the Allies or the Soviets. Either way, you’re in for a treat. Right from the get-go, the action is fast and furious and soon you’ll be coming up for air after four hours of playing, wondering if you should call in sick for work to play "one more mission". Each side has approximately thirteen missions and once you’re done that, there’s always the multi-player option. As the Allies, you’ll be concentrating on more technologically advanced units, such as the Chrono-Legionnaire (who teleports around the screen) or the Mirage tank (which disguises itself as a tree when not moving). As the Soviets, you’ll be depending on brute force and psychic abilities, such as the awesome Tesla Tank (which zaps its targets) or Yuri (a powerful telepath who can control enemy units, or just fry them with his mental abilities).

The multi-player option allows you to either fight the computer in a skirmish mode (where you can choose the map, the computer opponents, how many there are, their AI, and which countries they are), or you can go on-line and fight against fellow humans in a variety of combat modes. From straight up One-on-One fights, to multiple combatants in a multi-user game (where every battle you fight and win advances your chosen side that much further across a map of Asia/Europe), the multi-player options to this game ensure that you’ll never grow bored with it.

So what’s the bottom line? Is this game worth your hard earned seventy-five dollars? If you’re a fan of RTS, or a Command and Conquer fan, the answer is undeniably yes. If you’re new to the genre or just plain curious, the answer is yes. This game is a completely well rounded product, with few glitches and many hours of fun ahead.

Review ID Number: 161
  Product Details
Westwood Studios
Review Date: 2001-04-20
Reviewer: Nick Sardy
Rating: 9 out of 10
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