Westwood Studios released Command & Conquer: Red Alert 2 last October to mixed reviews. The real-time strategy game was fast-paced and fun to play, but it did little to differentiate itself from other games in the genre. Now, a year later, Westwood has released Yuri’s Revenge, an expansion pack for Red Alert 2. Yuri’s Revenge contains about what you’d expect from an expansion pack -- with a new side, new campaigns, and assorted other tweaks -- but while nothing included breaks new ground, the expansion pack, like the original game, remains fun to play despite its familiarity.
Yuri’s Revenge takes place immediately after the conclusion of the Allied campaign in Red Alert 2. The Allies have won the war, but they quickly discover that Yuri, the chief advisor for the Soviets, has escaped and created his own army. Worse, Yuri has placed psychic dominators at key points around the world, and he’s planning to use them to bend every man, woman, and child on the planet to his will. Worse still, it’s too late to do anything about it -- or at least it would be, except that Yuri, being a bad guy, has to gloat about it a little, and that gives the Allies enough time to damage the nuclear reactor powering the dominator on Alcatraz Island. With that window of opportunity, the Allies (or the Soviets) decide to go back in time so they can stop Yuri before he can get started.
Well, Westwood doesn’t get any points for the storyline. Except for the time travelling part, the story in Yuri’s Revenge is essentially the same as the story in Tiberian Sun’s Firestorm expansion pack, with Yuri taking on the role of CABAL. The difference here is that Westwood took advantage of the opportunity and created a side for Yuri, and while some of Yuri’s units are taken straight from the old Soviet side, most are brand new. And so Yuri gets things like grinders (recyclers), mind controlling defensive structures, and space ships that can power down enemy bases. Better yet, Yuri’s side plays completely differently than the Allied or Soviet sides, because his units can’t win on firepower alone. Instead, people playing Yuri’s side have to concentrate on mind controlling enemy units, both to disrupt enemy attacks and to gain better units. The downside, though, is that mind controlling takes some micromanagement, and it’s something that the computer can do very well and human players probably can’t.
Besides Yuri’s new side, the other major addition with the expansion pack is the inclusion of a pair of new campaigns, one each for the Allies and Soviets. There are 14 missions in all, and, like Red Alert 2, Westwood focused on using interesting places rather than creating interesting missions (which is too bad, because Westwood used to be really good at creating interesting missions). And so you’ll get to visit places like San Francisco and Seattle and even the Moon, but the objective in just about every mission is to destroy all of Yuri’s forces. Luckily, Westwood has a good eye for detail and so the missions don’t simply play like skirmish mode. For example, in Seattle you can take over the Space Needle and liberate “MassiveSoft” from Yuri’s clutches, in Hollywood you can rescue famous movie stars like “Flint Westwood” and “Sammy Stallion” (and the stars have a good set of acknowledgements and capabilities, so they’re not just eye candy), and on the Moon Westwood created a cosmonaut unit just for the mission.
Each mission also has one of Westwood’s infamous full-motion video briefings, which some people don’t like, but which I’ve always found to be campy and fun. And since the expansion pack goes back in time to the start of the war in Red Alert 2, all the characters are back from the original game, including General Carville who was killed. More importantly, it means that Tanya, Zophia, and Eva are all back, and they’re the kind of eye candy guy gamers all over the world can appreciate (although Zophia gets a little heavy handed in her flirting). The only problem with the briefings is that they take a lot of disk space, and it’s probably because of them that the expansion pack only has 14 missions.
The campaign missions also have a slight problem in that they’re fairly short. Each mission has a “par time” that the game expects you to beat, but the total par time for the 14 missions is only about 10 hours, and I expect most players will beat that time handily. Plus, while Westwood expanded skirmish mode to allow players to create teams, computer allies seem to sit around in their bases while computer enemies all seem to target the human player with their attacks. And so skirmish mode isn’t very exciting to play, unless you’re using it to prepare for multiplayer or unless you want to try out playing Yuri’s forces (since you don’t get to play them in the campaigns). In other words, from a single-player perspective, Yuri’s Revenge won’t take more than a couple days to finish.
Luckily, Westwood did some good things to support multiplayer. They maintain Westwood Online, which makes it easy for players to find opponents, they release new multiplayer maps each week, and they even created some cooperative campaigns where human players can team up against computer enemies. Plus, games tend to be quick, so you don’t have to worry about opponents or allies bailing out halfway through so they can go eat dinner (or whatever). Yuri’s Revenge will definitely have a longer lifespan on your computer if you enjoy playing in multiplayer mode.
Lastly, Westwood also made some changes to the Red Alert 2 engine and to the Soviet and Allied sides. Some of the changes qualify as patch-like tweaks (like tech buildings working a little differently), but most are nice. For example, Soviets get a battle bunker building, which works just like the bunkers in Starcraft but which make defending Soviet bases much easier, and the Allies get Guardian GI units, which give them added ground-to-air capabilities. Plus, Westwood did something really nice and added quite a few new unit acknowledgements. In Red Alert 2, the vehicles for each side used the same acknowledgements, but now each unit has its own unique set of acknowledgements, and they’re all very well done. Unfortunately, Yuri’s Revenge plays as its own game, and so you won’t see any of the changes if you go back and play Red Alert 2.
Overall, Yuri’s Revenge is a very nice expansion pack. There are no bugs or technical problems, the production values are excellent, and the gameplay is fun. What more could you want? Well, ok, a longer single-player experience would be nice, and the price is a little high (what happened to the $20 expansion pack?), but it’s hard to argue too much with the effort that went into making the title.