It was fairly inevitable I would play Red Alert immediately after playing Command & Conquer as these games were some of the highlights of my gaming yoof. I remember going round to a dudes house with a mate to play Dungeons and Dragons, and while waiting for everyone to arrive and set up the guy (I don’t remember his name) was sat playing Red Alert. I had the original Command & Conquer but this “realistic” version with real factions blew my fucking mind. As soon as he turned off the game we started D&D where I immediately started a fight with the princess and was promptly killed by her guards, I then chose to spend the next 5 hours playing Red Alert on my own in the corner of this random guys kitchen while my mates played D&D. I was well cool.
Red Alert is a Real Time Strategy, so the general gist is you build a base, and build up an army and try to defeat the enemy. But rather than taking on the role of fictional factions, you are playing as real world factions in an alternate timeline, the Soviet Union in all it’s glory is led by Joseph Stalin, or the lame Allies, led by those damn Yankees. Rather than harvesting Tiberium here you mine Gold. It is functionally the same, except not poisonous and doesn’t contribute to the plot.
Einstein creates a time-machine and goes back in time to kill Hitler saving the world from the atrocities of World War II. Despite his noble efforts this affords the Soviets to ability build up their forces to a competent level and invade western Europe. Alternative timelines are interesting, as rather than Einstein working on the Nuclear Bomb, you have him working on the Chronosphere, a god-tier super weapon that allows you to teleport units, and fuck shit up. In practice this weapon is pretty shit, but if you choose the Soviet Campaign your mission, other than to Conquer Europe, is to capture the Chronosphere. Whereas the Allies are more about stopping the Soviets and their crummy invasion attempts.
The Soviets also get a fairly terrible Super Weapon in the Iron Curtain, and no, not the wall between East and West. It’s an invulnerability shield that can surround… One tank. It is wank to be frank. – Hey that rhymes – But this is where Red Alert Shines. The game is purposefully bad, the tech, the acting, and the story are all presented with a B-movie campy vibe. If anything this decision helps the atmosphere and that campyness is followed through with those super-weapons being a little more than a little bit of ass.
Joseph Kucan reprises his role as the enigmatic Kane, though he is silent for the most part and is unnamed in Red Alert mearely acting as an aide to Stalin. There is a “shocking” twist at the end where he mentions something about the Future being now where Red Alert almost ties in to Command & Conquer. This is until the sequels take both games off in very different directions. However Red Alert in it’s original concept was that it would be a prequel to Command & Conquer.
Like any good sequel, there is a little more variety. Be it in troop choice or the variety of missions on offer. Soviets are closer to GDI in the first game in terms of tech. They get the big heavy tanks (but are the baddies) and the Allies are more Nod-ey in that they get stealth/thieve units/Light Tanks (arguably the good guys) but there is more than a simple pallette spaw/resking going on with the game.
The main addition is however the inclusion of Navel Warfare and an expansion of air units. Command & Conquer had NPC very limited Navel equipment in the form of transports. But now you get Submarines and Transports as Soviets, and a series of differing and more awesome gunships as Allies, with the Destroyer being a heavily armed, long range monster (I spam it when i’m Allies because I’m a douche) . With the addition of sea battles it means some of the missions take on D-Day style missions where you have to assault a base on another island meaning you need to plan your arrival and coordinate the still shonkey AI path finding.
They missions are fun, but they can start to drag, especially if you are on a limited resource map and you have to wait while Ore regrows so you can afford that extra transport. There are also a few issues in that you might as well start the whole mission again if you time your attack wrong and don’t manage a clean sweep on first attack. This is because if you fail on some missions it could be 2-3 game hours before you can relaunch an attack. slowly waiting while ore regrows
Other missions have you inside a nuclear reactor as the Soviets disarming bombs planted by the evil Allies. Again, like the original Command & Conquer, these tended to be the hardest missions for me as my plan is mostly flood their rivers with my dead. One wrong move could wipe the game, meaning you either save scumm, or, you know, learning how to play the game. These can be frustrating though as you can (and will) die in the first 5 seconds. Thankfully these missions are relatively short so you can learn the level without save scumming.
The air units have been tweaked too, you don’t just get crappy choppers with machine guns. You get a mixture of helicopters with missiles and machineguns, as well as Soviet Warplanes. On missions where there is enough resources it means you can build up a strong and powerful Land/Sea/Air army and attack from 5 directions at the same time.
Oh, and let’s face it. Tanya Adams was pretty much every man’s dream woman in 1997.
The AI has been improved slightly as the path finding is not as terrible as it was in the first game, sure your Ore Trucks will decide they really need that Ore next to the enemy base and eat Tesla Coil as their reward, but at least they don’t hug cliff faces taking longest possible route home.
The biggest improvement is that the enemy attacks seem more coordinated. Towards the end of the game You will be attacked on all sides, keeping you on the backfoot and severely punishing you if you are not paying attention. Especially sea and air units. They don’t fuck around, they’ll attack the highest priority target to soften you up for the next wave of land units. This means the enemy no longer send wave after wave of attackers after a useless target such as the repair yard unless you are REALLY fucked.
This track is up there with Dr Wily’s Castle theme from Mega Man 2, Green Hill Zone from Sonic, and everything in every Final Fantasy game as iconic video game music.
Other versions and add-ons
Like any good PC game that sold well a Console version was not that far behind. Released in 1997 Red Alert would see me lugging a CRT monitor down the street and my PlayStation in tow to go round to a mates house to play Link Cable two player Skirmishes. Christ in hindsight this was terrible, as on the PS1 the game chugged in single player, but through in two mates that have agreed to both turtle up and then fight in the middle with massed hordes of tanks would slow the game down beyond belief.
Other than that the versions were faithful recreations that and a further release named Command & Conquer: Red Alert Retaliation would include some unique vehicles and missions that were seen on the PC add-ons Counterstrike and Aftermath.
Counterstrike and Aftermath were continuations of the premise with some daft missions like the secret Ant Missions that really upped the B-Movie vibe with a direct link to B-Movies… These were tougher missions, but successfully prolonged the shelf life of the game giving us more stuoid units to go to war with.
Red Alert builds perfectly on the foundations of Command & Conquer in the same why X-COM: Terror From the Deep builds on UFO: Enemy Unknown, you could look at it as a quick sequal with the same assets but it is more than that. It is a realisation, an improvement on the formula. The new setting, in an alternative historical setting is personally more interesting than alternative modern/future setting but this also allows for some creative ideas to take place. The Iron Curtain is a funny play on words, it is a fantastic military idea, but the tech itself is pretty shit. It is these daft ideas that are explored in later games. And like Cannon Fodder, war has never been this much fun…
Pros: Hell March! Tanya Adams is badass, Hitler dies
Cons: The D-Day style missions are a bit too long, a few too many additional purchases
Back in the Day:
Scoring low 90s in reviews, Red Alert was praised for the expanion in warfare to include more land, air and sea units it would go onto win most best Strategy Game awards in 1996.
Also Available on: PlayStation