Red alert 2 (retro review)

Discussion in 'GBAtemp Reviews & Guides' started by Taleweaver, Jun 13, 2017.

  1. Taleweaver

    Taleweaver Storywriter

    Dec 23, 2009

    Real Time Strategy games aren't that popular anymore as they were around the turning of the century. Back then you had a whole bunch of 'em (age of empires, rise of nations, homeworld, ...) but the two overpowering studios leading where the genre was going were westwood studios and blizzard. While the original command & conquer (later redubbed 'tiberian dawn' to distinguish from the franchise) and first warcraft game weren't that different, they branched into different directions. Blizzard focused more on the abilities of the units and how they interacted on the battlefield (a part of the game that would get the name "micro"). The command & conquer universe was more simplified: it was more a matter of creating the right kind of unit, as each unit had a counterunit (tanks fired relatively weak shots against infantry). Westwood was later acquired by EA and was (IMHO) a scholar example of a bad idea: the universe ran out of steam or ideas, and ultimately lost relevance. It did, however, went out with a bang. It's this game - Red alert 2 - I want to talk about, because even today, it's one of the highlights in the genre.


    The command & conquer franchise is split into two different...I guess you could call it timelines. The tiberian universe takes place in the (near) future. The discovery of a strange and poisonous resource causes a conflict between the government-represented GDI and the vicious Nod's. The red alert universe takes place in an alternative past: Hitler is murdered before he could rise to power, but this causes another worldwide conflict: the one of the allies versus Russia. Typical in all games of the early franchise(1) is that one side is somewhat portrayed as being "the good guys" while the other side represents a...more selfish side. Each game comes with campaigns for each side, and the 7-10 missions on each side are started and ended with cutscènes.

    For the red alert universe, the progression is best described as "like saints row". The first game was fairly serious in tone. It dabbled in science fiction a bit (the chronosphere and tesla technology), but was for the most part revolving around warfare. Red alert 2 put realism aside and went with all sorts of wacky ideas like fighting dolphins, mind control, weather control, prism beams and so on. This made the cutscenes hilarious rather than serious(Einstein that comes up with a tank that disguises itself as a tree?), but it was clear that the developers just went all out on creativity.
    Red alert 3 continued the madness with fighting bears, a mobile ion cannon painter and units that transformed, but I always felt like it had jumped the shark. The memorable units were introduced in red alert 2, and it required more micro. But I'm getting ahead of myself.



    Before I talk about the battlefield, I've got a question for you: why are doom 1 and 2 considered classics, despite the fact that you couldn't jump or even aim upward? The answer is elegance. It's not so much about how many features a game can have, but how well it utilizes the ones it does have. In that aspect, less may even be more. It's certainly not always, but it's an important thing to consider when it comes to red alert 2.

    The thing is: you could play the game with just one hand. You obviously wouldn't do very well if you attempted to acutally *do* that, but you wouldn't be that terrible either: you click on a unit to select it, then click on somewhere else to move or attack something, and if it had a 'deploy' button, you clicked on it a second time to deploy (or undeploy) it. Deployed units were better, but couldn't move. Building was the same: blizzard's RTS'es allowed you to build two units at the time, but you had to individually click each factory first. The C&C universe always only allowed one type of units at a time from one 'primary' factory, but sped up production time if you had many of said factories.
    Of course assigning control groups, type select and such were important, but weren't really necessary to do well. The point is: this all was easy to come to terms with. Or "easy to grok", to use a fancy word.
    Red alert 3 was still simplistic compared to starcraft, but really did require micro. And while it certainly was fun to parachute engineers or beers from the transport vehicle into the battlefield, you still had to click the unit, point out a destination spot and then fire. Doesn't sound like much work, but simplicity shines when there are dozens of units fighting at the same time.


    Granted, it was mostly multiplayer starcraft 2 that taught me how to play RTS'es. You don't want a sparkly fancy new tank that looks shiney and that you instantly attempt to repair after it shot down one other want those factories producing units non-stop. I had played plenty of RTS'es, but before SC2 I had no idea that there was such a thing called "macro", which basically means "get money as fast as you can, and transform it into moving firepower as fast as you can". Games like red alert 2 puts you against an AI with a hugely fortified base, a huge amount of cash reserves...and the tactical genius of a shrimp. Let's get one thing clear: Red Alert 2's AI was extremely unrealistic. Pretty much no human would send in at most a handfull of tanks and units at a time, and certainly not a second time by the same route if said route is heavily guarded. But the AI isn't really the problem(2): for me, the fun is more in building a base and gathering an army. It's kind of building a sand castle: it may be more of an achievement to start and build one directly on the flood line, but I'd rather build one where the waves come when I'm prepared for it. I'm not the only one who prefers this chillax-approach to playing an RTS ("hey! no rushing before the 40 minute mark!"), and I know damn well that this isn't sustainable against a human. But this is a game. It's about having fun. And I'm having fun.

    It has some challenges as well. Unless you scout ahead early and abuse the lack of fog of war (yeah, yeah...starcraft veterans scout the map within the first couple of nanoseconds), you could really face enemies you're not ready for. As mentioned before: there is no universal "one unit against everything else". Rocketeers can fly and go everywhere, but the units with anti-air mow them down quickly. Prism tanks have long range and devastate entire bases in seconds, but their armor is weak. Basic units are the weakest, but they can scout and occupy buildings to shoot at enemies. Apocalypse tanks self-repair and can shoot both air and ground, but terror drones or waves of infantry are far more cost-efficient. And so on.

    Also forgotten in most other RTS'es: water. The arsenal on boats is relatively limited, but more than interesting enough. Both sides also have a large ship that have both the range and the power to destroy bases...but can be countered with anti-aircraft items. All in all, the approach is very varied.


    I gotta be honest: path finding isn't great. Moving multiple units through a narrow space can get messy: once a couple are busy going through, the units in the back decide that the road is blocked and take a detour. This can lead to stupid or even frustrating situations ("I said move over THERE...why do you attempt to take a detour all around the enemy base???"). This gets especially bad if you want long range artilery to stay at long range (one misclick and the tank happily assumes it means "get cosy directly next to the operational mind control tower"), but this is just part of the deal (and aside an option to zoom out about the only thing I would like to see changed in a remastered version).


    this is by far the most fun part of the game: the units. While there are different tech trees, each unit has their advantages and disadvantages. But even though not all units are used as much, they just FEEL fun to use, even if they're not very efficient. In theory, the spy can disguise himself as an enemy and infiltrate bases to steal money, add an extra unit to build or what have you. It pretty much always fails (the AI has dogs everywhere, and I doubt a human wouldn't notice one of their own units going directly against where he needs to be), but that just makes it more tense. Some have more than one purpose, or you build them to back up the group. The flak track, for example, can transport infantry...but I just build it for a fast-moving anti-air vehicle.
    On top of that, some units have tricks up their sleeve. I already mentioned basic infantry being able to garrison houses, but put a couple shock troopers next to a tesla coil and it shoots further and isn't affected by a power outage anymore. Or perhaps even the most convulated way to do things: mind control an infantry or even a cow with a yuri unit, strap a bomb onto it with crazy Ivan, and then move it into the enemy base. The chances of pulling it off are close to nill (those bombs detonate after ticking for 30 seconds) and it's controversial as hell ("what do you mean, promoting terrorism"?) but you gotta admit that idea got you grinning...right? :P

    Last but not least: unit voices. Since you'll be hearing them over and over during the game, this isn't a small thing. And it may be just me, but I absolutely loved most of them right from the start. From the enthousiastic marines ("Right away, sir!") to the sarcastic Crazy Ivan ("I've lost a you have it?"), they each nail their character's personality perfectly. And even the squids and droids somehow sound optimistic, even when you're about to send them to certain dead.
    Tanya deserves special mentioning, as she both is a special unit on the battlefield in a fair number of missions, as well as one of the main characters in the cutscenes (played by actress Kari Samantha Wührer). Feminists will probably critique her appearance because she leans forward revealing her decolleté the whole time, but I'd counterargument that she's probably the best actor on the set. Her timing for action is spot on and, especially given the goofy plot twists, is actually pretty believable.

    Speaking of feminists: this is one of those games that aims at (almost) mature boys/men: it has the power fantasy turned up to eleven (even after completing simple missions, your actions are praised as if they were performed by Jezus Christ the savior in person) and the women in the cutscenes are covertly flirting with you or are even wearing semi-fetish outfits ("these are the virgin islands. General...if you want to make a move, now is the time to strike"). Later C&C games jumped the shark on this one as well, but it's still here.



    RA2 comes with a skirmish mode (and a LAN variant that predates standard TCP-IP) where you and an opponent each build a base and find the enemy. It's pretty limited, but the Yuri's revenge expansion at least adds starting teams and positions to be set before the match.

    The main gist, however, is in the campaigns. As with other RTS campaigns, the missions are set up to gradually introduce you to new units from both your side and the enemies'. Some have a base, some don't, and in one or two you only have a few buildings to make the most of. New for the series (at that time) was that historic landmarks were chosen as the battlefield. Again, this shows that fun was a priority over realism ("we have located their secret's in the heart of London"), but this is more a praise than a complaint. And because the base game is from 2000, you can't really blame it for being controversial at times ("invade Korea"..."plant a psychic beacon between the twin towers"(3)).

    All in all, the missions were fun and invited to play far longer than you intend to. And perhaps it was me being out of habit, but just so you know: save often. There is no auto-save. ;-)



    Those already familiar with the game may already have noticed it: I've made a few references to Yuri's revenge here and there. The reason is simple: Yuri's revenge is such a good expansion that you really should get it (and at this point, it's probably harder to find a bundle WITHOUT it ;) ). Yuri's revenge not only added an entire third faction (which I'll get to in a moment), but added two new campaigns for allies and soviet as well. Both sides also got a handful of extra units that complement what is already there, though the soviet side loses a couple valuable parts to this third faction as well.
    You see, in the RA2 base game, Yuri is a mind controlling assistant of the Russian side. In this expansion, he goes off forming his own army. And that means: more units. Where allies have a focus on knowledge and agility and soviet still has the strongest tanks, Yuri's side is best described as sneaky. Their tanks aren't that strong, but they have mind controlling units which are pretty hard to come by, a gattling cannon that shoots at everything (and whose damage increases as it keeps firing), a UFO (yes...a flying saucer!) and some pretty nasty (but fun) tricks to do with their own units. Mind controlled units, for example, can be stored in their power plants or grinded to death for cash. All in all, their faction is rather small on units, but at the same time hard to play as as hard to play against (this both comes down to me, probably). And while you only play as Yuri's side in the multiplayer, they are certainly interesting.



    In case it wasn't clear before: I absolutely love this game. It's colorful, has a great deal of humour, has a lot going on (but not in an overwhelming way) and is a blast to play. The interesting part is perhaps when you look at the series as a whole. Ever since dune 2, westwood studios tweaked and improved their game. Of course opinions may vary, but to me, red alert 2 and Yuri's revenge were the company's swan song. It's not that C&C3 or red alert 3 were bad(4), but to me they simply didn't have that same spark. It's perhaps too easy to blame EA for that (petroglyph consists of former westwood employees, but grey goo didn't wow me in any way), but I kind of doubt it. But still...woe-ing for what might have been isn't really that important. Fact is that Red alert 2 exists and can still be played and...isn't quite dead yet. Granted: it may require some fiddling to get it to run under windows 10, but it can be done(5). Somewhere in the future, openRA - which does a great job of playing C&C and red alert 1 - may officially support red alert 2 (there's a mod for it, but AFAIK it's far from complete).
    And after posting a first draft of this review on my blog, I've been told that the modding community is still making and updating mods for it (that's SIXTEEN YEARS after release!). that's...pretty great! :D

    So...since I usually write reviews on steam, I'm not too familiar with (or fond of) scores on ten. I feel it both boils down the characteristics as well as generalizes things too much. But since I guess that some just skimm over the pretty pictures and go straight for scores, here goes:

    Visuals: 8.54213096 / 10 (decent and clear...but no zooming or even a modern monitor resolution)
    Sound & music: 27.156 / 10 (some great tracks and downright hilarious voice overs)
    Gameplay: a gazillion / 10 (just read the review if you want to know why)

    DL;DR: mind control a cow + attach bomb to it + send it to enemy lines = best RTS ever

    (1): the later versions introduce aliens, and generals is even an entirely different beast. However, I'm not too familiar with generals to give that much comment
    (2): I started playing RA2 after being disappointed by a media-praised grey goo. That the enemy rushes the whole time was one of the things that turned me away.
    (3): when I played it around launch time, I thought it was controversial that the US president patted his secretary on the lower back in the introduction movie. And for youngsters: in the nineties, that was enough of a controversy to nearly impeach the president. ;)
    (4): note that I've never bothered with C&C4. My gaming interests were elsewhere, and the "no base building" announcement was like nintendo introduced a Mario platformer without jumping.
    (5): I'm still pondering whether to get the full C&C bundle on origin. Money isn't the problem, but I'm hesitant for getting yet another estore, especially to buy a franchise of which I already have the games I'm interested in.
    Last edited by Taleweaver, Jun 15, 2017
  2. BORTZ

    BORTZ Tired of being the good guy

    GBAtemp Patron
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    Dec 2, 2007
    United States
    I'm telling you, you are going to want to check this out: Mental Omega
    Sick Wario likes this.
  3. kkusagami

    kkusagami GBAtemp Regular

    Sep 14, 2009
    Red Alert 3 and Uprising are as good as well.
  4. Reploid

    Reploid GBAtemp Advanced Fan

    Jan 20, 2010
    Serbia, Republic of
    Does a cow have mind to control?
  5. sarkwalvein

    sarkwalvein There's hope for a Xenosaga port.

    GBAtemp Patron
    sarkwalvein is a Patron of GBAtemp and is helping us stay independent!

    Our Patreon
    Jun 29, 2007
    This was one of my PC party games back in the day, together with HOMM3 and Worms Armageddon.
    It was fun.
  6. fatsquirrel

    fatsquirrel GBAtemp Addict

    Nov 11, 2013
    Good times indeed
    Couldnt count all the faps to Tanya even if I wanted.
  7. Taleweaver

    Taleweaver Storywriter

    Dec 23, 2009
    I absolutely am going to want it. Just finished Yuri's revenge campaign (again) on allies yesterday. Will do the soviet ones next...and then see what that has to offer. :)

    It's been since release day since I've played RA3. I tried getting into uprising recently (one of those games I got in a humble bundle for 'later'), but after one mission I could only think that while it was still a strong step up from grey goo, it just wasn't red alert 2...which just caused me to play red alert 2 again.

    Perhaps I didn't made myself clear enough in the review, but it's my personal opinion that I like 2 better (though I won't deny that things like pathfinding and point of view are better in 3). I certainly don't mind disagreeing with you on that one, though. :)

    It does in this game! ;)
  8. chrisrlink

    chrisrlink your friendly neighborhood serial killer

    Aug 27, 2009
    United States
    Elm street
    got a question how do you patch the Origin version with the mod? (got it OTH a few months back)
  9. Taleweaver

    Taleweaver Storywriter

    Dec 23, 2009
    Okay...just finished the Russian campaign today. Mental omega sure is impressive, but it's also quite a step up. :)

    @chrislink: you probably already found out, but the installation is quite simple:

    1) have red alert 2 and yuri's revenge installed and patched (1.001 for yuri's revenge). Probably: make sure that it works on windows 10.
    2) (optional, if you want to keep things clean...not sure how origin might react to it) copy the installation folder to another folder
    3) unpack the zip file to the same folder (so basically: mentalomegaclient.exe comes in the same folder as game.exe and yuri.exe).
    4) run mentalomegaclient.exe

    The first time, it runs an auto-update check and asks for screen resolutions.

    The game itself sure adds, changes and updates A LOT over the base game. There are three different campaigns that, as far as I can see, are done more than decent (except: no cutscenes).
    I'm not sure if it's the different resolution, but more than a few vehicles look different. There are some extra units, more infantry can garrison and thus far I love most changes.
    the only "problem" is the AI: I can certainly attest that the AI in skirmishes was a cakewalk, but the tweaks (probably creeping up over the years) go the other way. In a simple 1vs1, I got hit by a wave of infantry, an enemy spy, then a wave of tanks and then a second wave of tanks that were dropped in by parachute that crushed my base...
    ...and this was on easy AI. :P
    BORTZ likes this.
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