Expand your mind, comrade.
Expansion packs have a long tradition of gypping the consumer out of his hard-earned bread. Most expansions simply toss in three or four new units, some new mission maps and, if it's extra special crispy, some sort of new mini-Campaign. Few actually offer the gamer a truly new, fresh experience in a familiar world, and almost none of them are really worth the full price of admission.
When I first caught wind of Yuri's Revenge, I was skeptical. Sure, I'm a fan of Red Alert 2 and RTS gaming in general. I've always liked the series and hoped for the best, but when you hear 'expansion', you quickly think 'contraction' - as in wallet shrinkage.
But when Westwood came by recently and showed off the latest build of Yuri's, the crotchety GR editors were floored. This looks to be the kind of expansion that not only does what it's supposed to, but actually manages to bring a whole new level of strategic gameplay to a title already brimming with it.
The game picks up where RA2 left off. Having won the last battle by conquering Red Square, the Allies finally put an end to the Soviet uprising. However, dastardly psychic warrior Yuri managed to wriggle free of Allied grasp and went underground. Having been mistreated by Soviets and Allies alike, the brainiac has chosen to take matters into his own hands, er, mind, and prepares to unleash his mind control forces against the world by setting up psychic dominators in various locales. Guess Miss Cleo pissed him off, too.
It's your job to stop Yuri's madcap antics across a brand new campaign, featuring 7 Allied and 7 Soviet missions. Our beloved cast of characters makes a strong comeback - lovely Tanya, patriotic President Dugan, kooky premiere Romanov and of course the creepy Yuri return in plenty of tongue-in-cheek live-action footage to help flesh out the story.
In addition to the new Campaign, Yuri's Revenge will give you 10 new Co-op missions and over 20 new skirmish maps across Urban, Arctic and Desert terrain. Plot that out over a bunch of new areas like San Francisco, London, Hollywood, Egypt and even a romp on that wheel of cheese orbiting Earth. I guarantee it will be better than Moonraker.
But these aren't the real reasons why you want Yuri's Revenge. Nope - the reason you want this game is for the deluge of new units and structures designed to alter the way you play RA2.
Much of the new unit design has been geared towards thwarting the 'tank rush' tactics that ran rampant in both single and multiplayer Red Alert 2, leading to battles that generally last a bit longer than some of the K.O. skirmishes in the past.
Of course, the most impressive addition in this regard is the brand new side - Yuri's army. The infantry starts out with Initiates, basic infantry who fire blasts of pyrokinetic energy. Virus units are snipers who can turn an enemy soldier into a cloud of poisonous gas. Brutes are lumbering genetic monstrosities that are immune to tank crushing, dogs or psychic control and are particularly useful against enemy vehicles. Hulk smash! Yuri himself is represented in Clones or the supremely evil Yuri Prime, who can mind control units, infantry and buildings alike. He can also kill things with his wicked brainpower. Think Firestarter meets Carrie with a twist of Professor X.
The vehicles are equally violent, particularly the new Gatling tank. This machine is effective against both air and land units and its fire rate increases the longer it targets a unit. Very brutal. Flying discs make an appearance, which are basically UFO's that can both drain energy from power plants and steal money out of refineries. Oh yeah, and it's got lasers. Hehe. There's the Master Mind and the Magnetron, two units that work together to suck in enemy units and take over their minds. The Slave Miner, a roving miner and refinery in one, handles ore collection.
One other particular building of interest is the Grinder. Toss some friendly units into this thing and get your money back. Yuck. Reminds me of a Gwar concert.
Thankfully, the Allies and Soviets have been outfitted with some new toys to deal with Yuri (and each other). The Allies enjoy new GI Guardians who are outfitted with anti-tank missiles. Remote controlled Robot Tanks cannot be taken over by Yuri's mind control forces. Then there's the Battle Fortress, a big, slow, vicious Assault/Transport warmonger that can crush enemy vehicles, infantry and walls. Awesome.
Soviet forces include Boris, a machine-gun toting maniac who can also call in air strikes, a Siege Chopper that can drop cannons in hard to reach places, and the Battle Bunker, a heavily garrisoned defensive encampment that can wipe out tank fleets like so much hooey.
Multiplay is, as always, a big part of the game, and in this case it's also the only way to actually play as Yuri's army. With a more streamlined feel through some tweaks to Westwood Online, it should be even easier to conquer the world.
Again, the point of all these units isn't just to impress the hardcore fan, but to alter the gameplay. No longer will the person with the quickest tank production strategy win the war. You'll find that tactics useful in RA2 are suddenly less useful, leading to a totally new outlook on an old game.
And that, after all, is the objective of any good expansion - to lengthen the life of the original by changing the way you play it. By this definition, Yuri's Revenge is one of the most impressive expansion packs in recent memory. The Cold War returns to your hard drive at the end of September.