davidn: (prince)
[personal profile] davidn
Three games (sort of) into the Westwood RTS series, Red Alert is now out the way! This was a... sort of sequel to Command and Conquer, or was it more of a scenario pack? I'm not really sure. Whichever way, it used the same engine as C&C but set the conflict in an alternative history where Hitler was removed from time by Albert Einstein. The plan had obviously been to prevent World War 2, but instead the change to the timeline resulted in a much worse alternative World War 2 where Stalin's Soviet Union was unhindered by Germany and he chose to act on his ambitions of conquering Europe.

This time I used the CNCNet source port of the game instead of the original DOS version, which is not too far removed from the Windows 95 versions of C&C/Red Alert. The fans have done an incredible job bringing the games forward to Windows with support for higher resolutions and a couple of other niceties like fixing some sprite work, but otherwise the game remains unchanged - Red Alert has the same build-defend-attack gameplay that made Command and Conquer the success it was, but with many new units and buildings (including the iconic Tesla Coil) and it adds snow-capped mountain environments to the grassy and deserty scenarios of the first game.

Many of the base C&C units are still around, but there have been some adjustments to rebalance them. Most notably, engineers have absolutely been nerfed to hell - but in a way that they totally deserved! My confusion in the original game must have come from here - this time around, the engineer can only commandeer a building if its health bar is in the red. This affects the engineer tactics in two ways - it makes it much more difficult to take over buildings rapidly, and means that once you do it successfully you inherit an absolute wreck that you have to repair quickly before an enemy gets to it and finishes it off. All of this makes it much more difficult to repaint an enemy base with a small group of engineers than it used to be - nevertheless, I kept playing a quite engineer-heavy set of tactics because in this game it's even more advantageous to take over buildings and get access to the full set of technologies that are usually only available to one side.

As I went through the scenarios I found myself feeling that despite the adjustments, Red Alert's new units were balanced a bit less well than the original - this is mostly due to the new addition of the Medium Tank, which has a good balance between strength and speed and you can pretty much predict who the winner of a conflict's going to be based on how many of them you build. The Soviet side has blatantly superior ground units and defences available to it, and the balance isn't quite redressed by the Allies' access to powerful naval units due to their use being limited depending on the map. The pathfinding also feels a bit worse than in the first C&C, specifically because it tries to be more intelligent - in the first game, when you told a massive group of vehicles to move through a narrow area, they'd stumble a bit, wait behind others before moving and sometimes get stuck. In Red Alert, they notice that they're blocked and try to rectify the situation by finding another way around, and this can often lead to tanks going on a massive tour of the map and running straight into enemy defences unless you're watching them carefully.

The AI is a bit more eager to tear down your defences this time, but not by a whole lot and it still seemed to prefer trying to drive around my walls and straight into ambushes rather than just demolishing them and walking in. It also seems much more aggressive than in C&C, and it's often very difficult to keep track of what's going on if you're dealing with more than one conflict at a time - the announcer man who sounds like Jarvis from Iron Man will politely say "Our base is under attack" or "Unit lost" a couple of times but you won't get any indication of where on the large maps you're being attacked from. In these cases I was glad to be playing at a high resolution where I could see much more than the restrictive VGA view of the DOS version.

However, a quirk of the AI is that even in missions that start off horrendously difficult, once you're over a hump it just sort of gives up and becomes very passive and easy. The place I felt this the most was in the final Soviet mission which bombards you with a ridiculous number of artillery units, boats and helicopters from all sides while you're trying to build your base up (mostly arriving from off the map so you can't even proactively stem them), but once I had finally struggled my way to taking the first small Allied base and capturing its construction yard so I could build my own navy, the whole rest of the map could be dealt with quite easily by trundling casually around and flattening buildings with my leftover tanks. Meanwhile, the non-base-building missions are even more interesting than before, with a lot of set-piece based ones where you have to make it past patrolling guards and defences in a more puzzle-like way.

Once again, the FMVs are the star attraction of this game for how absolutely bloody hilarious they are - they're much more elaborate than the original game's mission briefings where you mostly just had one actor talking to you directly. This time they're complete scenes with a whole cast of characters in a bluescreened futuristic base, dressed up as European military brass and putting on their bravest attempts at German and Russian accents, making it easy to forget that you're not watching Allo Allo. Despite the camp tone of the later series, the makers of the game hadn't realized how preposterous they were at this point and they're all done straight-faced, even at times when an actor has to 'die' from poisoned tea and crawls unconvincingly on to the table in a desperate attempt to remain in the shot. General Kukov then comes in and doesn't even bother clearing him off the table, just accepting this new centrepiece as the briefing goes on without him.

Tiberian Sun next!

Date: 2017-10-21 06:51 pm (UTC)
kjorteo: Laughing Bulbasaur portrait from Pokémon Mystery Dungeon. (Bulbasaur: LOL)
From: [personal profile] kjorteo
I was really curious how the serious and epic Tiberian games and the Adam West-tier Red Alert games are in the same series, but this does at least partially explain it! They were trying to be serious, but instead they made that, and then in the later games they must have simply realized what they'd done and rolled with it.

That table death is amazing, though.

Date: 2017-10-23 11:12 am (UTC)
tamakun: (Default)
From: [personal profile] tamakun
Interesting adjustment on the Engineer! I know that you mentioned attempting Dune II, and I remember there was a similar troop that takes over buildings, and it behaves similar to the adjusted engineer as you've seen here -- it will damage a building if it's got high health, but otherwise it will take it over if it's low health. I wonder if that was just an adjustment seen from Dune II that got brought into this version?

I remember attempting this tactic, but realizing that my units were still attacking the building after it was taken over was an oversight and we ended up destroying our newly-acquired building!

Date: 2017-10-23 11:16 am (UTC)
tamakun: (Default)
From: [personal profile] tamakun
I was also wondering if you were going to comment on Tim Curry, but I've realized that he doesn't show up until Red Alert 3.

(I have to wonder at what point do the developers realize that they've gone overboard and then just ham it up - like how Saints Row just became a parody of Grand Theft Auto.)

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