Qt3 Classic Game Club: Command & Conquer Red Alert

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[Editor’s note: Every two weeks, we’ll pick a classic game to play and discuss. Then the choice of the next game will be made by a randomly selected participant from the current discussion. It’s like a book club, but with videogames. We’d love to have you join us. Register for the forums and hop into the discussion! This week’s choice, by Otagan, is Command & Conquer Red Alert.]

They call me ‘Killer,’ but I live only to serve the People, and the People’s history will judge me.

-Joseph Stalin

The venerable Command & Conquer Red Alert is the 1996 sequel to Westwood’s legendary Command & Conquer. Eschewing the pseudo-modern setting of its predecessor, Red Alert is based around an alternate history wherein Albert Einstein invents the “Chronosphere” after the end of World War 2 and uses it to travel back in time, assassinating Adolf Hitler before he rises to power.

After the jump, let’s do the time warp again.

This decision has grave consequences for the timeline, since while the Second World War as we know it was averted, the Soviet Union under Stalin was emboldened and began a war to dominate all of Eurasia. The Western European Allies have banded together to stop them, and so opened a new Second World War. Will you help the agile, subversive but fragile Allies defend their sovereignty, or will you use the lethal, implacable yet plodding Soviet war machine to make Comrade Stalin’s dreams a reality?

Why Red Alert for the Qt3 Classic Game Club? I’ve always been a fan of the C&C series. It has its flaws, of course, but it’s also the series that really got me into PC gaming when I was younger and it has heavily influenced my tastes in gaming. Red Alert is probably my most-played game of all time. The combination of straightforward gameplay, skirmish mode, factions with personality, and a somewhat twisted storyline brought to life by live-action cutscenes have made it a cornerstone of gaming in my eyes. In addition, since the base-building RTS is largely dead these days, it helps to retain some perspective on the ups and downs that come with needing to build power plants, silos, and tech centers instead of capturing fuel locations and victory points.

When deciding which of the first two C&C games to choose, Red Alert ended up winning out for a couple of reasons. The first is skirmish mode. Even though you cannot save, skirmishes allow people who don’t care for the campaigns to circumvent them and still experience the full game in bite-sized portions, which was not possible in the original C&C. The second reason is the better campaign. Red Alert has fewer obnoxious set-piece missions and more base building ones that better utilize the game mechanics. The worst parts of the Red Alert campaign are the indoor missions, but there are only a couple of those for each faction and they’re not as cripplingly tough as some of the original game’s commando missions, of which there were many.

To play Red Alert, you can use your original discs. Last I checked, physical discs for the Windows 95 version still worked, but you need custom installers and .dll files. Electronic Arts also released the game as part of the C&C Complete Collection that you can find on Origin. But why do that when EA released the base game and expansions as freeware back in 2008? There are plenty of packaged installers out there that allow you to automatically download and install the game from a wide array of mirrors. The one I will recommend is CNCNet’s installer, which is made by the fan community that keeps the game’s multiplayer servers online. It also includes the 3.03 fan patch that allows you to play the game in modern screen resolutions (with some wonky but serviceable screen glitches if you set the resolution larger than the map). The other nice thing about these installers is that they come with options to include savegames for every mission in each main campaign, which lets you skip missions you find annoying (they exist). Disk images for the original CDs (the same ones released by EA in 2008) are also available if you’d prefer to install the game manually.

You’ll find an installer for Windows here. When given the choice, hit Full Web Installation, check Install CD2 and scroll down to check Install Save Games. It is also possible to get disc images for the base game from FilePlanet. You’ll need to mess around with DLLs and I don’t recommend it as it will be a colossal pain that I can’t provide support for. CNCNet is the group that endorses the installer and they’ve been responsible for keeping C&C online servers up for years so they’re about as legit as they come. It is possible to install the game on Linux and Mac (via WineSkin), but is more difficult. I can hunt down instructions for those if they should prove necessary.

A copy of the manual can be found here. It provides clarification on control options, has a fair amount of flavor text and contains a tutorial/walkthrough of the first two Allied missions to get you started if you’re not used to this kind of game.

And remember:

He who controls the past commands the future. He who commands the future conquers the past.

– Kane