The campaign plays out in an alternate history timeline, pitting the Allied Nations of Europe against Stalin's Soviet Army. Players can play as either side, and embark upon a campaign of twelve missions, each progressively more difficult, and slowly uncovering the story of how this alternate history plays out, with different endings for victory in each campaign. Play is in real time combat format, and can't even be paused except to access the main menu. Essentially, it's a strategy game, but with the real time unpausable action, variety of mission objectives, solid graphics and adrenalin pumping music, you'll forget you're in a strategy simulator and feel like you're playing a combat war-game thriller instead. Making the real time action unpausable was a good decision by Westwood. Allowing a pause function would have made it feel too much like a planned strategy game, which of course technically it is, but the rolling play gives a sense of immediacy and urgency - all the time, the player must continue to build up and guard their base, or complete the goals of the mission, and at any moment the computer opponent could appear with a strike force and steam-roller your base.
Despite being released way back in 1996, this game is still a classic. You may have some initial problems installing it on the latest systems, but setting the game to run only in compatibility mode for Windows '95 fixes that. The scroll rate was way too fast initially, zipping all over the map when running with my modern graphics card, but turning that right down in the options menu easily fixed that problem.
Children of the 90's will think the graphics severely outdated and blocky, and probably were too young to play it when it first came out in 1996, but as someone who did play it when it came out and who has enjoyed it many times since, I think such a poor assessment of its graphics would be unfair, as it belongs to a completely different time, when such technology to create the stunning graphics of modern day were unavailable. For its time, the graphics were of good quality, and even today I'm never bothered by that when playing.
The units are many and varied, with unique units and buildings only available to Allies or Soviets. The Soviets get units such as the massive Mammoth Tank, the speedy MIG planes, and the Iron Curtain building which grants one unit invulnerability for a limited period of time. The Allies get units such as helicopters, special agent Tanya, and the Chronosphere building which can transport armoured units across the map instantly. Maps are also varied in layout and terrain, although they vary between two basic types - snow and normal.
The media, simply put, is excellent. Whilst the quality of the video is obviously now outdated, and the lines across the cut scenes an indicator of this, the use of video shorts is ingenious, to both assign the next mission to the player and progress the story. I found myself eagerly anticipating the video short I would get once I had completed a mission. The music was composed and recorded specially for the game, and comprises blood-pumping industrial beats and eerily haunting electronic tunes.
The first couple of missions introduce the player to the game and as the campaign progresses so too does the difficulty. The final mission in both parallel campaigns is admittedly considerably difficult, and takes a dedicated hardcore player to complete. Other missions may get you killed a couple of times, but are perfectly possible. The save feature which allows the player to save at key points during a mission allow you to load from partway through a mission if you fail instead of having to restart all over again. Once you have played the two campaigns as Allies and Soviets, you can play any number of skirmish scenarios, but these often get repetitive, and with no larger objective to complete, no reward of uncovering more of the story, you may find yourself quickly tiring of the skirmish feature. However, the campaigns are thoroughly engaging, and I have found myself playing them over and over again, after several months break.
Truly an old classic.