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Developer Westwood Studios Options
Distributer Virgin Interactive 1-2 Player
Game Type Strategy Link-up
Review Date December 1997 Mouse
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Setting the Scene
Without doubt the best strategy war game on the Playstation to date is Command and Conquer from Westwood Studios. The fact being that the programming team who were responsible for converting a PC game, which was deemed too complicated to feature on the Playstation games console, deserve the highest commendation. Adapting from keyboard to joypad buttons and mouse to directional pad took a little getting use to but before too long the control system seemed second nature. With over 50 missions to play, spread over two discs, value for money did not come into question, however there were a few grumbles at the lack of a two player link-up mode that would have provided the icing on the cake.

Red Alert is indeed the icing on the cake, in fact there are also a couple of cherries on top, a huge dollop of cream in the middle and and at least a dozen candles thrown in for good measure in a game that will surely brighten up the gloomy winter nights. There are a whole host of new building to construct, troops to train up and vehicles to acquire in this prequel to C&C where relevant points in history have been altered to provide the compelling story line.

Back in the mid 1940's a young Albert Einstein was messing around with time travel. He hatched an ingenious plot to travel back to the days when Hitler was a youth and remove him from the picture. In doing this he inadvertently leaves the way open for a certain Russian dictator, Joseph Stalin, to march his troops across Europe and create a whole new threat to mankind. Your mission is to assume the role as Commander of the Allied or Soviet forces during an alternative Second World War. Command or Conquer, the choice is yours.

Command & Conquer: Red Alert is a strategic war game. The player controls a number of platoons and vehicles by using a simple point and click method to issue your units with orders. Victory is achieved when you either complete your level mission or simply blow the crap out of every opponent on the map. Isn't war a thing of beauty?

The game comes packaged on two CD's allowing you the option to play one of the two distinct fighting forces, Allies or Soviet. This offers two games in one as the missions for each side are completely different providing an alternative outcome.

I say two games in one, but I stand corrected as there are actually five games contained within the Red Alert package. Skirmish mode allows one player to battle against one, two or three CPU controlled opponents in a fight to the end. Then there is Link-up mode where two Playstations are connected via a link cable and two monitors. In this mode you can battle it out with a mate in a head to head war over several special terrains. CPU teams may be added to offer an alternative tactical event.

The action in Red Alert is once again intermingled with many stunning FMV clips that have become part and parcel of the C&C series. Real actors provide a constant update of the unfolding story while some of the action scenes are genuine movie quality.

The in-game graphics have been vastly improved from the original Playstation game. Although they are still small, the units now look sharper and less blocky. Vehicles omit a trail of smoke as the damage begins to take it's toll, building smoulder as they are about to collapse while explosions are now even more realistic. When troops are annihilated they leave a smear of blood near their open graves which offers further insight into the horrors of war. The battlefields have lost that barren look as fighting now takes place over a wide range of terrain. Rivers run through richly cultivated civilian towns, oceans allow the war to spread onto the sea and, because the Russians are involved, there is lots and lots of snow spread around some of the levels. In the aftermath of battle the ground is covered with craters and scorch marks from aerial bombing raids which again was a nice touch.

All of the tiny sprites still manage to have their own individual look and personality, making it easier to tell the Commandos from the Engineers and the Rocket launchers from the Medium Tanks. They all move smoothly and at different speeds, carrying out attacking and defending maneuvers independently of each other.

I don't wish to spend too much time on the graphical content as the Command and Conquer series is all about gameplay and Red Alert has that in abundance.

Sounds and Effects
A click on each unit with the cursor will activate awareness from your troops with a simple "Yes Sir"," Right away Sir" or "Ready and waiting". Your orders are acknowledged with a response of "Affirmative" just to let you know that they understand your command and are on their way. Throughout the building process your actions are confirmed by the dulcet tones of a military overseer who gives you the nod when equipment has been constructed and more importantly, when your base is being attacked by those sneaky foes.

All of the weapons used by your troops have their own firing and exploding sounds which when combined recreate the tense atmosphere of bloody warfare.

The background music is precisely that. It stays where it belongs. Now that's okay with me because tunes that accompany movies such as The Dam Busters and The Great Escape tend to send you a little gun-ho and that is certainly not the frame of mind to play Red Alert.

Where do I start with a game that is as deeply gratifying as Red Alert?
Okay, single player mode seems like a good starting point.
After settling back and enjoying the FMV intro the option screen comes up to give you a nudge. Selection between Allies and Soviets matters not as you will undoubtedly end up playing both. The main difference is that the Allies tend to use foot soldiers and helicopters while at sea they are treated to Landing Boats, Cruisers, Destroyers and Gunships. The Soviets on the other hand train killer dogs, rather crap submarines and a wonderful range of air power that includes a spy plane and a rather splendid aircraft that parachutes men behind the enemy lines. Both sides get to use various forms of military tanks, vehicles and troop carriers.

Before each scenario you receive a briefing where the objective is explained to you. The missions vary from 'wiping out all building and enemy troops' to 'sneaking a spy into your opponents tech centre'. Not all of the missions take place outside as some involve sneaking around a fortified castle.

The whole view of the game is from above and to make your task more challenging, at the start of each level the entire battleground is blacked out, giving you no idea where the enemy is located. This forces you to set a few troops off on a scouting mission, to locate, but not disturb the enemy. In practice this is a very simple task, just hold the X button on the control pad and move the cursor over the troops and vehicles you wish to assign. As these scouts move, they uncover their surrounding area for all to see.

Using the money that is electronically deposited into your bank account at the start of each mission, you must first build a construction yard and then a power station to energize it. Barracks provide facilities for training up troops, weapons factories allow you build vehicles such as rocket launchers, tanks, mine layers and APC's, while on the defensive side there are flamethrowing contraptions, a wonderful electric pylon that frazzles anything that gets within range, gun turrets and camouflage pillars. All of this construction costs money which is collected by mining trucks that venture over the battlefield in search of valuable minerals. You need to keep an eye on the trucks at all times, during its search for wealth it will probably stray into enemy territory and get blown to pieces because the drivers are one hell of a set of dumb mothers.

So now you have the basics. The trouble is, the enemy are also mining and building. They may well greatly outnumber you in both numbers and weaponry. Many is the time when you will be happily building up your forces only to be ambushed by the enemy in a quick surprise attack, blowing up your factory, destroying your barracks and stealing your wealth. Yeah that's right, you don't have to destroy everything, you can acquire engineers that can sneak into enemy buildings and make them yours!

This means that you always have to consider that the enemy is building up its forces as well as you, so just waiting and waiting until you have piles of cash to spend on loads of heavy artillery just isn't the answer. Sometimes a quick and clever attack at the start of the level (when the enemy is still weak) can be the best answer.

The control system allows you to assign troops to defend your base and they will automatically engage the enemy if they get too close. You can split your forces into groups, sending some through the enemies front door, while simultaneously sneaking another group through the back door. Very quickly you will be carrying out quite complicated tactics with ease and without a technical manual in sight.

Vast improvement in the gameplay comes from the new items of military hardware. As many levels include some sort of sea to cross you can construct a shipyard and begin producing warships. This adds even more depth to the game as you must now ponder a while before building your construction yard. Too near to the shore line and a fleet of battleships will float up behind you and bomb the crap out of your base, too far away and the enemy will quickly surround your camp with similar results.

If you get fed up with those nuisance rocketeers and riflemen sniping your tanks then why not construct a couple of dog kennels. These allow you to train up a pack of vicious alsatians and then set them onto the foot soldiers with remarkable results. You can also place them as guard dogs around your camp and should a soldier get within sniffing distance, the dogs will take off like a shot to feed on their prey. Of course they can always be squashed by a rolling tank or fried on a skewer by the wonderful flamethrowing troops, but what the hell - this is war.

So where is the enemy camp? Ah, a common problem and could only be discovered in the original game by sending out a small unit or a kamikaze squad to stumble across. Not anymore because now you can construct a building that allows you to train spies. That's right, an undercover sleuth will don a disguise then wander through the enemy encampment and the fools will not even batter an eyelid. This will uncover the misty terrain so you can keep an eye on the enemies construction progress and be forewarned of an impending attack. There is a down side to this dastardly deed. Dogs. Yes, those vicious canines can sniff out your enemy spy and sink think razor sharp fangs in his butt.

Aside from the standard single player game there is the option to practice the two player mode by selecting the Skirmish option. Select from five countries, sixteen maps and up to three CPU controlled teams in a battle to the death. You decide on how many units each team will begin with and how many credits are deposited into the bank. There are also options to regrow the covering shroud and regrow the deposits of ore. While you are playing in this mode you may occasionally come across a small golden crate. By touching it you will unveil the mystery contents - some good, some bad. You may reveal a stash of cash, a powerful tank, another mining vehicle..... or it may blow right up in your face destroying all around.
Red Alert is superior to C&C in all departments but the gap is further widened by the inclusion of a two-player link-up mode. Yippee! You can now set up a Skirmish against your best mate by connecting two TV's, two Playstations and one disc in each for an event that nobody, but nobody should miss out on. There are sixteen special battlefields where each player is dropped upon with minimal supplies. Your future is then in your own hands.
Do you quickly seek out your foe and damage their base?
Do you gather as much wealth as quickly as possible and attack with force?
Do you construct a heavily defended fortress and cower behind your lines?
The possibilities are limitless.

Value for Money
There will be many readers out there who were put off playing Command and Conquer because of it's seemingly 'stuffy' style of gameplay. I mean who wants to play boring war games, that's for geriatrics. You are wrong in your assumption. C&C Red Alert is griping, thought provoking and probably the most addictive game I have ever played.

If you purchased C&C then don't miss this game. Red Alert is something special.
If you are a C&C maiden then go ahead and break your virginity with a two player link-up experience. I guarantee that you will always remember your first time.

GRAPHICS: 15/20 As a single player game Red Alert has so much depth and playability that I would recommend any strategy fan to purchase this product. With the inclusion of link-up mode I would say that any gameplayer who doesn't buy this game is stark raving mad.
I can't get to sleep at nights for dreaming up tactics to destroy my kid brother. He is so good at this game it makes me sick. I issue this warning :- one day, I tell you one day......
If there is one flaw with the game it is when you link-up with a second player and include either one or two CPU teams. There is too much movement for the console to cope with and the game will suffer several periods of frustrating slow down. However, as the inclusion of CPU teams is a bonus then you really can't blame Westwood for the PSX's limitations.
SOUND: 8/10
VALUE: 19/20
GRAPHICS: 14/20 This is easily my favourite PlayStation release of 1997. Westwood have managed to create a game that while being very difficult at parts, never gets frustrating to the point of wanting to give up and play something else.
The addition of the two player link-up mode gives this game lastability and opens it up to much younger players, who will get loads of fun out of just building up hundreds of troops and sending them all at once to face their enemy.
SOUND: 6/10
VALUE: 20/20

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