Command & Conquer: Red Alert
It was the summer of 1997, Labour had just kicked the Conservatives out of power, Blur and Reef were playing non-stop on the radio and I was about to get my first taste of real-time strategy.
Westwood Studios had already made Dune, but at the time I had yet to play it. In fact, I was only vaguely aware of it. Some company had made a top-down real-time strategy game based on a science-fiction book that my Dad liked - big whoop! Despite the fact that I would later go back and enjoy the Dune games, at first they passed me by.
I remember reading the reviews of the original Command & Conquer a year or so earlier. They were all incredibly favourable and they made me sit up and take note. It was a game I coveted and, at a time where I didn't have a large disposable income (I was 13 I think), it was one that I never really got to play very much. Oh how I plagued my parents for a copy of that game, but sadly one never materialised. I've only recently forgiven them.
What it did do was fan the flames of interest. I was suddenly aware that there was more to gaming than first-person shooters and point 'n' click adventures. A whole new genre had opened up for me. All I wanted to do was play C&C; Civilization just wasn't doing it for me any more.
It wasn't long before I got my hands on a copy of one of the games. Command & Conquer: Red Alert came into my life and promptly obliterated all of my spare time. Between the campaign, skirmishes and the map editor, I became addicted.
Strategy games, like C&C, benefited as much from PC controls almost as much as they suffered from their port to console. The rigidity of playing a complicated and fast-paced real-time strategy game on a cumbersome PlayStation controller did no favours for my mental stability. With my PC version of the game I could happily bumble along, assign tasks to my troops, build bases and reap havoc behind enemy lines with my special agents. On my console version of the game, it was all I could do to try and overcome the jerky controls.
The one thing that I could do on the PlayStation version of the game, that I couldn't with the PC, was system-link. My friend (we'll call him Wingnut) and I would hook two PlayStations up and sit facing each other across a dimly lit room, staring at our respective 12" monitors, doing our best to outsmart each other. This was the only way I could play against other (alleged) humans, and it beat the hell out of skirmishes against the AI.
Despite the fact that I loved playing against my buddy, the meat and potatoes of the Command & Conquer experience, for me, lay in the PC version of the game. The control system was so much more accurate and responsive that, at the end of the day, it was by far and away the best way to play the game.
When searching my memory for the defining moment, I considered several different elements of the game. The closest to making it was my discovery of the map-editor; a mode which would provide me with countless hours of entertainment. I would try and make battlegrounds that looked like real countries (something I still do to this day) and then I would play skirmishes against the computer into the early hours of the morning. It was a close second.
The fondest memory I have of that game, and my defining moment was my introduction to the world of Tesla Coils. Those 'zappy' little turrets were, for me, an absolute delight. I would often just have a series of them, circled around my base, defending against attacks by launching bolts of brilliantly animated electricity into oncoming troops. The first time I saw them in action was an absolute revelation for me.
I enjoyed having Tanya running around with her dual pistols, shooting troops and shouting "Kerching"; I enjoyed the packs of attack dogs; I enjoyed the mammoth tanks and the various ground units (and climbing the tech tree to get them); I loved the brilliant guitar-heavy soundtrack; but no memory I have of that game stands out more than that of having a fortress of tesla coils handing out death and destruction to anyone stupid enough to attack me (I'm also not the only one with fond memories of the tesla - check out this homage to Red Alert 2).
Command & Conquer: Red Alert was a double-edged sword. On one hand, it was very silly, with ridiculous plot-twists, tongue-in-cheek cutscenes and outrageous technology employable to comedic effect. On the other, it was a deep and fulfilling tactical strategy game. Perhaps that marriage of fun and depth are the reasons that, after nearly 17 years, Command & Conquer is still going strong.
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