Westwood Studios is a name that RTS players of old are much more familiar with, as the studio was sucked into the EA conglomerate around 1998 and then destroyed entirely in 2003. Of course, many of the developers went on to create Petroglyph Studios, which is currently working on End of Nations (MMORTS), but they never seemed to entirely recover the magic from Westwood. Westwood Studios was best known for their work on the RTS series Command and Conquer, which was wildly popular back in the day.
Their last game in the series before EA took over was Red Alert 2 and its expansion, Yuri's Revenge. Granted there is a Red Alert 3 with an expansion as well, but it's not even worthy of the name Command and Conquer, let alone Red Alert. Anyway, I'm curious what made this game so great... please read on!
Red Alert 2 came out in the year 2000, just two years after Blizzard's Starcraft 1, and two years before Warcraft 3. Originally released with only two playable sides, the expansion Yuri's Revenge brought a third side into the game as well, creating a trinity of opposing forces. RTS games have always struggled with the question of how many races/sides can you put into the game without it being weird or impossible to balance. Many have fixed this problem by making more than two sides, but all of them are almost identical in unit composition. Other games haven't bothered attempting to balance their battles, making one side usually ridiculously overpowered. Starcraft was one of the first games to properly get three different races balanced, but Red Alert followed closely on their heels with three radically different races, each able to counter the other.
Another compelling part of Red Alert 2's races was the fact that while there was only two real sides (the Allies and the Soviets), there were different countries that you could play during the skirmishes. Each of these different countries had a different special unit, which no one else had, though the rest of the units were based on whether they were an allied race or a soviet race. For example, Korea, as an allied country, had all the regular GI's and whatnot... but they had access to a slightly upgraded fighter jet. Alternatively, the Iraqi's, a Soviet country, had all of the Soviet units, plus a Devastator (an odd nuclear radioactive infantry unit that made certain areas around them very hazardous for other infantry units). But the game still balanced beautifully and you never saw an overpowered combination.
The original game released with a double sided campaign, allowing you to play the Allies in their campaign against the Soviet invasion or as the Soviets to push through the Allies defenses and take over the world for the Kremlin. Each campaign was around 20ish missions long and were completely enjoyable. I've personally played through the original campaign multiple times (not something that I can say about too many games). The campaign missions were challenging and could be completed a number of different ways many times so that each time you played through, you could attempt to find a better way to do it.
When Yuri's Revenge released on the PC, it also included another campaign where you could play as the Soviets to push back the insidious, treacherous Yuri, the Allies to destroy the little upstart, or as the Yuri side to dominate the planet with mind-control technology. That's right, Yuri has the ability to mind control units, sending armies back to the original owners to dominate them. It was a wildly entertaining time when you could send back your friend's tanks to see if they could knock down his door instead. Of course, the instant an air strike wiped out your power grid, you had a huge number of tanks in your base that suddenly went unfriendly, but it was good times overall!
Red Alert 2 was an excellent example of a fun, slightly more casual RTS which an art style that wouldn't quit. Red Alert 2 (if you can get it to run on Windows 7, which I admit is challenging) looks fantastic even now with its stylized 3d art. In an RTS world which is rather stagnant with the demise of Westwood and the only real contender on the field being Starcraft 2, Red Alert 2 is an excellent break to take back some of the fun and diversity in RTS games.
Final Score: A+
Side Note: Red Alert 1, while looking a lot more dated than the second one, is also a fantastic game and is worth playing through the campaign in my opinion as well.
Side Note 2: This house is amazing! And I want it right now!