Command & Conquer: Red Alert 2 - PC - Review
The gaming press can be a fickle lot. Last year, when Westwood Studios released Tiberian Sun, just about every game magazine and web site panned it for not being innovative. After several months of hype, the sequel to the original Command & Conquer went the way of Star Wars: Phantom Menace: too much hype, too little entertainment. In truth, no game could have lived up to the predictions about Tiberian Sun, and the game actually had some pretty well-crafted missions, varied units, and balanced gameplay.
The proper sequel to Command & Conquer: Red Alert is not exactly a Herculean leap in innovation, but pretty much matches the expectations you might have for one of the top tier game developers around. There was very little hype about this game, so it more than exceeds what little publicity the gaming community gave it.
Red Alert 2 does succeed is offering some basic innovations and much faster pacing over previous games. It's actually a return to the original game concept. Command & Conquer featured some tongue-in-cheek pre-mission cutscenes and 3D-rendered action sequences. Red Alert 2 offers even better introductions to each mission, thanks to well-acted scenes by some faces you will probably recognize from TV and movies. The rendered scenes are the best the genre has to offer and help get you pumped up for action.
Actually, the full-motion video is part of the actual game itself, helping carry the story. You will notice right away that Tonya has returned to fight for the Allied forces, and her video counterpart adds a sultry component to the game. More than anything, the missions are just fun to play. Each mission has some clever new objectives, and you will get to blow up a lot of stuff, wind your way through many mazes and develop your strategies.
The Red Alert 2 interface has improved. Unit queuing is a carry-over from Tiberian Sun, but you can now switch between modes to queue buildings or units. There's also a new menu at the bottom of the screen that allows you to perform grouping and guarding functions, something that used to be done (and still can be done) through key commands.
Unit variation is better than ever. I found that the rocket-propelled infantry units were very handy because they were not encumbered by terrain. As usual, finding the way to best use all the new units is part of the fun. I also enjoyed using the new Desolator unit to scorch areas of the map to make them impassable, thus thwarting the enemy attack.
Gone are the days of the tank rush, due to the fact that the costlier units can all be used for rushes and each unit has its own strengths and weaknesses. It's still true that the Allied forces are better equipped technically and the Soviets are basically better off en masse. This helps connect the game to the original and makes it feel like a true sequel.
One looming question with this series is how well it compares to the new breed of RTS games. True 3D games like Force Commander are very weak graphically, and Red Alert 2 looks a whole lot better even though it uses 2D maps and animated sprites. However, Dark Reign 2 is a more interesting game to play because it feels more realistic. Red Alert 2 always feel like a game, and there's never any attempt to make the graphics look realistic. Dark Reign 2 uses its game engine to full effect so that you can immerse yourself in the action and the strategy at the same time.
Gameplay = 6 The Red Alert series is rich in gameplay, due to the sheer number of gameplay options, varied missions, and developing strategies and storyline. The pacing of the game has improved dramatically, although it never gets quite as arcade-like as Star Trek: Armada.
Graphics = 6 For a 2D-animated game, Red Alert 2 certainly improves on previous RTS games. There's not as many brightly colored terrains and polygonal-rich units and structures in the game, but Westwood makes up for this by creating some gorgeous looking locales.
Sound = 7 One recent RTS game called Submarine Titans was sorely lacking in sound variety. All the units seemed to grunt the same, and the ships were hard to tell apart. Not so in Red Alert 2. There's a distinct sound for just about every unit. Bombs and blasts all contribute to the sense that you are part of some huge global conflict.
Difficulty = 8 This is where the game really shines. Red Alert 2 will have you pulling your hair out trying to reach your objectives and figure out the strategies behind all the units. The action is always furious, and there's always just one more objective waiting around a Soviet or Allied installation.
Concept = 5 Of course, Westwood invented the RTS concept, so they are really on the bock to re-invent it. Red Alert 2 never makes any claims about innovating, but there is a feeling of "been there, done that" on some missions. This will probably divide the RTS fan: either you want more of the same from the true masters of RTS, or you will wonder why no one can come up with a new gameplay mode for a tired genre.
Multiplayer = 9 One of the reasons that Red Alert 2 ranks so high overall is because the multiplayer game is so balanced and fun. It's great to try out new units for the first time in multiplayer where you are in a pressure situation to make them perform. Many of the maps are fun to play against as many opponents as you can find, and the interface for connecting with other players is just short of genius.
Overall = 8
Installation = No problems.
Buy the Game? RTS fans will really enjoy the faster pacing, new objectives to complete, and the well-acted cutscenes. Other fans looking for 3D graphics or new gameplay options will be disappointed, but the missions are still entertaining enough to keep them happy.