This will read more like an overview of the gameplay in Red Alert 1 rather than a review since:
- The game was released over 12 years ago..
- Command & Conquer: Red Alert 1 is now freeware so there's no risk (i.e., financial) involved in acquiring it.
But is it worth downloading and installing Red Alert? You bet! This seminal sequel, or rather prequel, to one of the greatest real time strategy games of all time will show you Red Alert the way it used to be in all its gritty, gutsy glory before it became the namby-pamby, co-commander, made-for-dummies rendition that is Red Alert 3. In my humble opinion, this PC game classic still delivers on gameplay and sheer entertainment in many ways that later renditions pumped out by EA never will.
Red Alert is essentially a war game where you build and manage a military base and then do battle with an opponent being the AI in single player mode or one or more human and/or computer-generated opponents in multiplayer mode.
The game involves managing the collection and expenditure of credits in order to purchase buildings which are then used to train troops and develop vehicles and other war machines in order to take them into battle. The player must expend his credits in just the right manner in order to get his base up and running to the point where he is ready to either defend against incoming attacks or ready to launch a necessary offensive to defeat the opponent. In other instances, the player must manage a squad of soldiers and vehicles given to him from the outset which he must use wisely in order to complete certain objectives.
Like its predecessor, Command & Conquer: Tiberian Dawn, the main appeal of Red Alert is the thrill of creating a military base from scratch and/or using a wide variety of soldier types, vehicle types and defensive and offensive structures. Gameplay is fast-paced, unforgiving and, at times, hilariously eccentric.
Red Alert provides you with an isometric top-down view of current battlefield (a.k.a., map) as well as a sidebar with various production buttons with which you use to create and manage your base consisting of structures, soldiers and vehicles. A typical battle has you starting out with a Mobile Construction Vehicle (MCV) which can be 'unpacked' into a Construction Yard through which all other buildings and hence all other units and vehicles are created. Getting your Construction Yard destroyed by the enemy prevents you from creating any other buildings to add to your base and hence halts the expansion of your base but does not necessarily mean defeat. Defeat occurs typically when all your buildings and units have been eliminated or when you fail to complete a time-based objective set out by the game's single player campaign mode.
The Barracks and the War Factory buildings provide your base with soldiers and vehicles respectively while other structures that you can build serve as base defense including special weapon emplacements such as pillboxes, gun turrets, flame towers and the infamous Tesla Coils (high voltage infantry and vehicle zappers).
All soldiers, buildings and vehicles follow a specific technology tree, i.e., certain units and buildings are not available until other prerequisite buildings are created first. Deciding which line to take and how far to proceed in the technology tree defines the kind of base you build and hence the kind of strategy you intend to take to defeat the enemy or complete your objectives. Everything takes place on the fly and gameplay involves a good mix of rapid decision making and the close management of available resources.
Besides all the available units in your army, there are two fundamental resources which you must closely manage in order to allow for expansion and to keep your base up and running. These resources are the credits you use to purchase everything (structures, soldiers and vehicles) and base power.
Credits are acquired by building an Ore Refinery which is equipped with a special harvester vehicle which you then send out into the field to harvest ore. The harvester then returns its load of ore to your Ore Refinery where it is converted into available credits which you spend in the expansion of your base. Ore comes in two grades, the higher of which yields more credits per harvester load. Patches of ore are dotted around the battlefield and as the ore is used up by both you and the enemy, the remaining ore patches bring you unavoidably in close contact with enemy harvesters and the troops and vehicles defending them. As conflict invariably erupts, harvesters often become the main targets as a destroyed harvester means not only having to rebuild one to replace it but also having to do without the supply of ore that harvester was bringing in.