Your momma wears combat boots!
It's funny - the PS2 is here, but everybody is still waiting for it, even though the games look less than stellar. Like goons at a strip club we ask each other, when's she gonna take it off? When are we gonna see what the PS2 can really do?
With all eyes on the coy and conservative PS2, it's entirely possible that if a game as cool as a talking dog came along, we'd merely look at it blankly for a moment, then give it a quarter and return our eyes to the seductive powers of the new Playstation. While Command and Conquer: Red Alert 2 is no talking dog, it is definitely a worthy sequel and eclipses everything the PS2 currently has to offer, except for the hype.
The story is pretty simple and wouldn't be interesting if it weren't for the characters involved. Basically, we whupped on the Soviets last time and installed a puppet premier named Romanov. Out of the blue, Romanov goes bad, and sends everything he's got at the United States. As it turns out, what he's got is quite a lot. The soviets have perfected psychic technology and use it to brainwash Americans, who then turn on their own country and begin kicking ass for the commies. It's a war on American soil.
In the Russian corner is aforementioned Romanov and his psychic sidekick Yuri. The outlandish Romanov is completely perverse and unhinged. The dude is just balls out crazy. Yuri is more of a conservative nutball, even though he's bald with wires popping out of the back of his head. Sort of like if C&C's Kane was in The Lawnmower Man.
On the US side, there's President Dougan, who sucks, and Tanya (played by Kari Wuhrer, baby), who rocks. She pretty much just stands around and shows you her boobs while the President or General guy talks, but they're very nice boobs and well worth watching. Plus she's tough as nails.
Like all other C&C games, there's plenty of video to keep the story moving. The presentation and scenarios in general are light-hearted and WAY over the top, making for a fun, involving game.
The gameplay works along the same lines as its predecessors, but happens to be a lot more fun. You still have to build a construction yard and mine tiberium. You build reactors for energy, barracks for troops, and airports for planes, etc. To win, you have to wipe your enemy off the map. Skeletally, the game is identical to every other Command and Conquer.
However, this time around the two sides totally contrast. The checks and balances are extensive between the units, making most wars of attrition futile and demanding that the player attack with an assortment of units. This adds intensity to the battles, since you have to make sure that the units cover each other and carry out the tasks they're designed to do.
For example, the Americans get the prism tank. This tank does wonders against buildings and infantry, but is powerless against other tanks and airborne attack. So you've usually got to protect them with a grip of regular tanks and a fleet of rocket pack guys (rocketeers). This combo usually works out nicely because the tanks and rocketeers are extremely vulnerable to certain types of infantry, which is one of the prism tank's specialties.
The tremendous unit balance is great, because instead of just turning a mob of guys loose and watching them annihilate everything in their path (which, I admit, can be enjoyable), you have to coordinate your units and orchestrate their attacks, making sure they work together as a cohesive force. It makes the player a part of the victory.
Red Alert was a much faster paced game than original C&C, and Red Alert 2 carries on this tradition by being extremely offense-heavy. It's very easy to score monumental damage against your opponent in a relatively short amount of time. Your critical buildings are pretty easy to knock out. In a sense, the game almost plays like an action game instead of just a RTS.
Then again, such vulnerability absolutely demands an offensive strategy and injects an element of madness and instability into the game, which also adds to the fun.
Red Alert 2's graphics are okay, but not a big departure from the other C&Cs. There are some cool lighting effects and some neat details (like the huge flash that accompanies a nuclear missile attack), but there's never anything that makes you say, "Hot damn, that's coooool!" (except for Tanya's breasts, but those aren't actually a part of the game, and women have had breasts since at least the 1980's, as far as I know).
The sound is well done, with some violent, aggressive tracks to score your violent, aggressive campaigns, and some cool sound effects to enhance the war-time mayhem.
The best part of Red Alert 2, though, is playing multi-player. While I'm not a big fan of Westwood's online interface, laying the smack down on another user is tons of fun and way more difficult than thrashing the computer. While three human players will be hard pressed to beat a 'hard' computer opponent, that shouldn't be attributed to AI, but rather to speed. The computer can do a lot of things at once, but isn't necessarily very smart or cunning.
New to C&C multiplayer is the ability to fight battles as a certain nationality. This feature is very similar to the ability to choose races in Age of Empires 2, except that there aren't any bonuses other than one new specialized unit. While it would have been nice if the differences between the nations varied more, the new units are cool and add new spins on already chaotic battles. For example, the Lybians get these trucks that are packed full of nuclear explosives. While one of them isn't as intense as a regular nuke, five of the puppies will keep the battlefield aglow for hours.
Overall, Red Alert 2 not only lives up to its predecessors, but exceeds them in terms of strategy and general entertainment value. While not totally original, it's got enough intensity and excitement to have even the most jaded real-time strategy gamer glued to his computer for hours. Death to the American dogs, comrade.