Command & Conquer: Red Alert


Virgin Interactive Entertainment

graphic line

to view advertisers
Click on image to visit site

With the absolute success of Command and Conquer, people everywhere vigilantly awaited the release of Red Alert. Personal web pages about it went up as long as nine months ago, and the Usenet Redalert forum has been in place for at least eight months. Westwood had a following on their hands like no other software company has ever seen.

With all this hype and expectant excitement, what's a smart software company to do to keep the spirit alive? What about a web page with a countdown? That would be a good idea? Right? RIGHT??? - Wrong!! What a countdown it was. Fraught with more drama than a cliched American soap, anxious players waited and watched the Westwood homepage to see the countdown stop, change, stop again and change again. Until finally it was delayed on the eve it was to be released because of a small North American Windows 95 incompatibility.

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. For every delay that occurred, for every pang of anguish you felt, someone, somewhere in the world was feeling it too! The anticipation was terrible, but the reading to be had on Usenet, from fellow sufferers also awaiting the release was brilliant entertainment in itself.

Then finally, it came out! Welcome to the modern world where Union strikes no longer cause production to slow - but the release of a computer game does. You wouldn't believe that one game could cause the corporate cogs of the world to slow so emphatically. In my little neck of the woods, local software distributors with advanced orders of about 600 units each all sold out on the first day! Stepping aside and slyly interviewing said retailer, he frankly told me that the majority of customers who made the big purchase (first thing in the morning we might add) had all strangely reported in sick to work. The modern epidemic isn't carried by rats ala the black plague, it's carried on shiny little disks called CD ROM's.

Picture 1
Mission successful,
the base has been destroyed
So what's it all about? What is so special about this game that makes hundreds of thousands of people around the world prepare nine months in advance, and take off time for work to play a game? Perhaps it's the fact that Red Alert sits in a genre called the real time strategy game, which combines the strategy thinking required in a game like Panzer General, the fast reflexes and skill as required in a game like Doom, and the resource management that is found in games such as Civilization. Perhaps it's the fact that the game incorporates interesting and detailed plot lines, with high quality video sequences that address the player in the first person. Perhaps it's the fact that this game allows gamers to play against each other across a network, or with Kali - across the Internet. Or to steal a little of Kali's thunder, two player across the Internet using Westwood's own server.

Most likely it is all of these, combined with the fact that Red Alert is a strategy game, but not slow and turn based. Instead, it is real time and dynamic. A good strategy is just as important as fast reflexes. Red Alert, like Command and Conquer is a type of strategic/tactical based shoot em up. Combining the best of many genre's. Not only that, but it is great addictive fun.

He who controls the past,
commands the future
He who commands the future
conquers the past.

Kane, Brotherhood of Nod

So begins Red Alert. After the obligatory Westwood snappy setup program, you are met with the above quote. Kane, the evil and NOT dead bad guy of Command and Conquer has snuck back into time to change the course of events. His goal in the past, to ensure that GDI is no longer around in the future to thwart his tyrannous plans.
Red Alert was always intended to be a tie in. A complex mission disk per say to keep everyone going until C&C 2 - Tiberium Sun. Red Alert is more than a new set of missions though, it is a faster, more dynamic and entertaining game with newer, err I mean older (we are in the past after all) units.

Designed primarily for Windows 95, Red Alert brings the C&C world to you in 640 by 480. This makes such an immense playability difference despite the fact that building and units are the same size. Some have commented that the units are too small, but the overall advantage of such a bigger play area makes it near impossible to return to C&C. Or to run Red Alert in Dos mode. For in Dos, much to many users dismay, Red Alert is 320 by 200 only.

Everything about Red Alert is much faster than C&C. Tanks zip about the field at very fast speeds. Mini gunners sprint to their destination, and even the harvester is in a hurry. Where the harvesters in C&C were on permanent go slow and actually stopped at the refinery to unload, the harvesting trucks in Red Alert drive full speed to the ore field, collect the Ore and then drive full speed to the Refinery. The big difference, however, is that the harvester just dumps the load and goes. In all, it takes a harvester less than a second to drop off the goods for refining. This not only makes for instantaneous and large cash flows, but multiple harvesters can use one refinery quite effectively!

Picture 2
Chasing a Russian tank
There is also much more money to be had in Red Alert. Where it was possible to quickly run out of funds in C&C, Red Alert gives you plentiful ore fields with gold and jewels to dig up and cash in. Resource management is still a big part, but in Red Alert you tend to build bigger armies and generate more destructive mayhem.

The AI problems in Red Alert are no longer a real issue. A few little errors have slipped through, like the great harvester shark circle. If a harvester loses its own refinery, and tries to use someone else's with another harvester already in route, then it will just circle the refinery endlessly. Old C&C issues such as the sandbag bug where the AI would not shoot through are definitely fixed. Likewise problems such as the harvester taking the most indirect route and plodding through an enemy base is also, thankfully, fixed.

Sound quality is not improved in RA but still of the exceptionally high quality that was incorporated in C&C. There are rousing military beats, soulful R&B tunes and Hollywood style theme music to keep you hyped. Westwood have however realized that the C&C tracks were very popular. A unique and interesting function of Red Alert is that you can't hear all the in game music tracks at once. As a type of reward, after a few missions you will receive more sound tracks to listen too.

The missions within Red Alert are very diverse and even more interesting. They all follow a theme with the Allies using Albert Einstein to develop powerful technology, and the Soviets using their already established sheer might. With cut scenes emphasizing Kane persuading Stalins' decisions, they develop stronger and cheaper units in an attempt to simply overpower the opposition.

Picture 3
Russian subs' base
As the allies, you have access to mini gunners, bazooka men with a more powerful air strike ability, engineers who can now only take over a damaged building in the red, spies for stealing information from an enemy base and medics that can heal troops. Allied tanks are much weaker than their Russian counterparts and include light and very fast tanks, medium tanks, APC's, and jeeps. Non-armored assault vehicles include harvesters and artillery. Tanya replaces the Commando, but in a unique twist, cannot be built. If she dies, you lose the mission.
Longbow choppers are slower orca's with the same missiles, however quite strong against anti aircraft batteries - keep them away from bazooka men though! Finally the allies have the AT mine layer which allows them to drop mines to stop the oncoming onslaught. Problem is though, the mines are so fiddly to drop, that you're better off focusing your efforts on producing more tanks to deal with the threat!

Where the war faring units are essentially the same, new buildings are the order of the day in Red Alert with the Allies focusing on technology and the Soviets focusing on raw muscle. The new buildings for the allies are the chronosphere which can move any unit to any location on the map instantly (No live matter can be transported however, eg. an APC full of men will result in one APC, dead men!), the tech center, which actually does something, building it will reveal the entire map for you. There are also base defenses that include turrets and pillboxes which just aren't very effective. Anti aircraft batteries however do an excellent job of wiping out Russian air offense.

Red Alert now allows players to duke it out in the water as well. As the allies, there is a definite immense naval advantage. At your disposal are destroyers which fire missiles to deal with aircraft threats and depth charges to deal with Russian subs, gunboats which fire depth charges and cruisers that are immensely powerful ground bombardment devices. Two hits from a cruiser will destroy any building. Finally transports are very fast ships that allow you to move armored units across the water.

The Russians, however, have immense might at their hand. Their units include mini gunners, same as the allies, grenadiers that pack a painful punch against walking and driving opposition, flame troops for char grilled allies, bazooka men, same as the allies, and engineers with the same conditions as the allies.
A new "unit" the Russians have are doggies! These German Shepherds won't fetch for you as they are very fast and will tear a man apart with one bite, but the armored side is where the Russians rule supreme. Their smallest tank, the heavy tank has 1.5 times the armor of the allies largest tank and two barrels instead of one, moves as fast as the allied Medium tank and is only 94 credits more expensive.

The Russian Mammoth tank (previously owned by the GDI in C&C) is a nightmare to face. With two turrets and anti-personnel missiles, they tend to plunder their way through most any base. They're faster now too (makes you wonder why they were slower in C&C, which is after all - the future).
In the realm of the air, the Russians have yaks that strafe the ground with machine guns removing any troop threat, migs that are three times faster than choppers and can deliver their payload of five missiles at once. Spy planes can uncover the map, and paratroops and parabombs can bomb the unsuspecting base.

Westwood were obviously on a roll with the Russians and decided not to stop, also at their disposal are Chinooks for ferrying troops and Hind anti-personnel choppers. The only real technological breakthrough the Russians received is in a device known as the Iron curtain. This will make any unit invulnerable for 30 seconds. A Mammoth equipped with the Iron Curtain device and two flanking heavy tanks can level a base without any trouble!
Finally, in the water, the only Russian naval units are transports and subs: transports for moving vehicles across the water, and subs for taking out allied ships. Luckily, the subs are extremely ineffective (Note bug - The Russian subs cannot hit a moving target. As long as the allied ship is moving, the subs will always miss) and do allow the Allied player some breathing space, if only in the water. In the solo missions, these stats won't really make a big difference. The missions have been designed and play tested well to allow for excellent balance, and never frustrating despite the difference in units.

In fact some new missions are so revolutionary as to allow a group of spies, troops and engineers to infiltrate an enemy building. Inside, you have to sneak around taking out enemy soldiers, whilst using your engineers to turn different devices on and off. These missions are extremely entertaining and add a great deal to the game.

Picture 4
Launch of nuclear missiles
Solo missions aside, the real crux to some people with Red Alert is the multi-player aspect. Especially now that it can be played so easily from the Westwood server. Needless to say, there are some balancing problems.

The day Red Alert was released, Usenet was alive with "Red Alert is out" messages, and stories of how people travelled up to three hours from their home to get it. Two days later, the same newsgroups were alive with "Red Alert multi-player sucks, Russians armor invincible". This reviewer has to agree with those statements. It's important to not bag companies like Westwood. They have to be rewarded for offering innovative sides with differing abilities. Even chess, uses the same pieces for each side. Westwood must first be congratulated on their initiative of different units, and then scorned for not testing it nearly thoroughly enough for inconsistencies.

The grunt rush, the tank rush, they're all the same, they're all pain. Before I discuss the "game killing" tactic, it's first worth mentioning that a number of new units are offered in multi-player to balance the Allied technological edge versus the Russian might.
Firstly, a new option is available to the Allied units to defend with, the Gap generators, which cover the base in a black shroud so the opponent can't see you to Nuke you, and mobile Gap generators for covering mobile units. Though for some strange reason the mobile gap generator won't actually follow anything, making it virtually useless. Allies can now also use Nuclear Weapons against their opponents.
These little defenses might make for a more intriguing Multiplayer game, except they require the Tech center, which will rarely get built, here's why.

As stated before, Red Alert is a much more dynamic, faster game. There are more resources on the map and more money which can be harvested much faster. This allows a tactic that no matter what side you're playing, be it Allied against Allied or Russian against anyone is a sure win - The tank rush.

Here's how the tank rush works. For every Ore refinery you build, you build another War factory that produces tanks. The more war factories you have, the faster you build tanks. In as little time as five minutes, you can have about 20 tanks. Send said 20 tanks to opposition, who if unaware of tactic is probably trying to build a tech center, destroy the base and win.

Those that try to defend this tactic can produce counter tanks, but the ability to build Mobile Construction Vehicles from just a service center allows you to move out closer to the Ore. Then building more refineries and more War factories means the best you'll have is a tank battle. There is never a need to build a tech center, no clever tactics, just many tanks, and within a while, win or lose, it's just boredom.

Let's just hope that Westwood get it right in time for C&C 2 - Tiberium Sun. Don't let it get you down though, there are many people on the net working very hard to find a tactic to beat the tank rush. No one has done it yet, but that doesn't mean it can't be done. Either by designing and distributing new maps (Red Alert comes with its own map editor), this reality may be broken. Besides, don't be disheartened, get onto Westwood's server and give it a go, you might be the person to discover "the" tactic.


In the end, Red Alert with its improved AI, bigger maps, inclusion of naval units and missions within buildings makes it a fantastically entertaining solo game that is even more enjoyable then C&C. As a multiplayer game, it is let down only in Westwood's desire to make a faster more dynamic multiplayer experience that failed because of no defence from "tank rushing".

Red Alert is a must have game for your collection, and with 1.5 million copies sold in the first four weeks, you would never be short an opponent on the Net.

Written by Jere Lawrence

Click here for screen shots.




Westwood Studios.

Web site: Westwood Studios
Internet Support: Westwood Studios Technical Support


In North America:

Virgin Interactive Entertainment,
18061 Fitch Avenue,
Irvine, CA 92714.

Technical Support:714-833-1999
Fax Support:714-833-2011
BBS Support:714-833-3305
Hint Line:1-900-288-4744 $.75 per minute

Web site: Virgin Interactive Entertainment

In Europe:

In UK:

Virgin Interactive Entertainment (Europe) Ltd
2 Kensington Square
London W8 5RB

Technical Support:+44-(0)171-3682266
Fax Support:+44-(0)171-4682003
BBS Support:+44-(0)171-4682022
Red Alert Hints:0891-333-527 45p per minute cheap rate, 50p per minute at all other times

Internet Support: Virgin Interactive Entertainment UK
Web site: Virgin Interactive Entertainment UK

In France:

Virgin Interactive Entertainment,
233 Rue de la Croix Nivert,
75015 Paris.

Technical Support:+33-153681000
Fax Support:+33-140450199
Hint Line:08-3668-9495 2.23 FF per minute

Web site: Virgin Interactive Entertainment France

In Germany:

Virgin Interactive Entertainment GmbH,
Borselstrasse 16B,
22765 Hambourg.

Technical Support:+49-040-391113

In Spain:

Virgin Interactive Entertainment Espana,
Hermosilla 46,
28001 Madrid.

Technical Support:+34-(91)-5781367
Fax Support:+34-(91)-575458

In Pacific:

In Australia:

Virgin Interactive Entertainment Ltd.,
The Novelle Building, Level 21,
201 Miller Street,
North Sidney, NSW 2060.

graphic line

[Homepage][Back issues][Send E-Mail]

All content Copyright © 1994, 1995, 1996, 1997 Coming Soon Magazine, Inc. All Rights reserved.