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Real time strategy games have always been popular on the PC. While Dune 2 was the first game to establish the modern RTS template, it was the Command and Conquer series that really took the genre to new heights of popularity. To celebrate the series 13th anniversary, Electronic Arts very generously made several of the early Command and Conquer games a free download, meaning you don’t even have to hunt eBay or the charity shops if you want to play this one.
Downloading and Installing
To install Command & Conquer: Red Alert, you should use the free Red Alert 1 Installer tool. Since Red Alert has been released for free, you don’t even need an original game CD to install it, though if you do have one you can use it to speed up the downloading process. Even if you do have an original copy of the game, you should not attempt to use the installer on the CD and instead use the replacement Red Alert 1 Installer tool. The installer will automatically download (if necessary) and install both the game and its two expansion packs, Aftermath and Counterstrike.
To get started, download the replacement installer from this page. If you’re not logged in with an administrator account, you should right click on the installer and choose “Run as administrator”, otherwise just double click on the downloaded file to start the installation process.
Installing the game is then largely just a matter of following on-screen prompts. You will be asked which type of installation you want to perform. We recommend choosing “Full Web Installation” and “Install CD2”. If you have your own original copy of the game, you can choose “Full CD installation” and “Install CD 2” instead. This significantly cuts down on the amount of data the installer needs to download.
After specifying the installation type, you will be asked to choose a mirror. Simply choose a site that’s geographically close to your location, the installer should pick one for you. After that, simply sit back and wait until the game is installed.
There are a couple of additional downloads you might want to grab too. The “Lost Files videos” by Nyerguds adds the previously console exclusive video mission briefings for the expansion packs (Aftermath and Counterstrike). You can grab it here. To install it, simply copy the contents from the zip file you downloaded into your Red Alert installation folder. You do not need the “ra95-TLF.exe” file however and can safely delete it.
The Aftermath Music and PlayStation music pack adds music files that were previously only in the Sony PlayStation version of the game. You can download that here. To install this pack, simply copy the contents from the zip file you downloaded into your Red Alert installation folder.
The new replacement installer takes care of patching automatically, so there’s no need to download or install any patches.
Running the game
After installation, you can start the game from the Start menu or Start screen any time by searching for “red alert” and clicking on the icon that appears. Once you do this, the games launcher will appear.
You can dive right in and “play Online” or “Play Offline”, but you might want to tweak a few game settings first. Click on “Settings” and then choose the “Video” tab, the options shown below will then appear.
This configuration window does look daunting, but the good news is that the default settings will work on most PCs. The options that you most likely want to tinker with are as follows.
Use CnC-DDraw or “Use DDwrapper” – CnC-DDraw is described as being “slow” but it will perform perfectly adequately in most situations, so we recommend simply sticking with this option. Note that it is possible to disable both of these options and play the game using the original graphics engine, though this will likely yield very poor performance on Windows 8 machines.
Game resolution – Although you can enter a custom value, we recommend sticking with 1024×768 as a maximum. The game was never designed to be run at high resolutions and will probably not look good, nor play any better if forced higher. Under the stretching/scaling options we recommend you choose “Use original RA aspect ratio” too. For the scaling filter, choose whichever option sounds best to you.
Game renderer – You can choose either GDI or OpenGL. Theoretically, OpenGL should give better performance, but for an older game like this it shouldn’t make a big difference.
Leave the other options as the defaults. You can configure the preferences on the other tabs if you want to, but the defaults are fine for most users and you can always come back and tweak things later. Click on “OK” when you are done.
At this point we’d strongly recommend starting a single player game and checking how everything runs. For most folks the game will now run perfectly fine. If not, check out our troubleshooting section for some help with fixing any problems you might encounter.
The replacement installer includes a copy of CnCnet, a fan-community created and run service specifically for people who want to play Command and Conquer games on-line. To use the service, simply click on “Play Online”. Choose a nickname when prompted and you will then find yourself connected and in a lobby, which will look something like the one shown below.
Games are listed on the left, while players are listed on the right. To join a game, select it from the list on the left and click “Join Game”. To create your own game, click on “New Game”. You can create private games just for your friends, or public games to take on anyone. If you’re new to the game don’t be surprised if you find yourself quickly annihilated by the expert players you typically find on CnCNet.
Remember you can play with other computers in your house too. To do that, choose “LAN” game. It is then a simple matter to set up a game and have other PCs join your lobby. Because Red Alert is an old game, it can run even on very old PCs. Get those dusty old machines down from the loft and start your own LAN party!
Troubleshooting and FAQ
During installation, the replacement installer pops up a list of troubleshooting steps for you to follow in the event of the game not running correctly. Since most users will just click over this information, we’ve reproduced it here and added a few extra tips of our own.
Q: The game will only show in a small screen, how can I make it full screen ?
A: Check your graphic cards driver settings and enable stretching/scaling. (Nvidia Control Panel/ATI Catalyst Control/Intel Graphics Control Panel). Also, try disabling “Use letter- or windowboxing to make a best fit” in the video settings. Note: The first single-player missions have very small maps, they might look weird if you choose too high a resolution (small screen surrounded by black).
Q: The game does not display properly and half of the screen is not visible, how do I fix this?
A: Disable Zooming/Dpi-Scaling in your Windows display settings (change it back to the default setting (100%)) Click here for a tutorial on how to do this
Q: I get an “Unable to set video mode” error, how can I start the game?
A: If you get this error it either means your PC does not support the chosen resolution (use the settings tool to change the resolution) or it might be a problem related to CnC-ddraw. Try another resolution first, if you end up with the same error try one of the following options:
1. Disable ddraw. Open up the Red Alert Config program and go to “Video options”. Now, enable DDwrapper. If the problem still persists try to disable both CnC-DDraw and DDwrapper. (Note: The game may be unstable without either CnC-DDraw or DDwrapper, this configuration is not recommended for Windows 8 machines).
2. Play in windowed mode. In “Video options”, select “Run in windowed mode”.
Q: I have problems with the video and/or sound in the game (delayed/choppy playback), how can I fix this?
A: In the settings program, go to “Video options” and disable “Force Single CPU affinity”.
Q: When I try to play an online game I always end up with an “Other system not responding” error, how can I solve this?
A: Make sure you allow the game (ra95-spawn.exe) and CnCNet (cncnet5.exe) to communicate through your firewall. Add an exception/rule for these programs if necessary. If you still keep getting the error then try disabling your antivirus or firewall while you play and/or reinstalling the game to a different folder, outside of c:\program files or c:\program files (x86).
Q: I cannot select multiple units with my mouse, how do I fix dragging?
A: This problem is usually caused by left-handed mouse setups. Check your Windows mouse button settings and try to revert them.
Q: I have problems with my mouse cursor, how do I solve this?
A: In the settings program, go to the “Video options” tab and disable “Enable mouse hack”.
Problems saving games and configuration files:- Like many old games, Red Alert saves configuration files and save games to the same directory as it is installed to. That means that if you install the game to your program files directory, you may have trouble saving your progress. Either install the game to a different directory (e.g C:\Games) or configure the permissions on the games installation folder to give you read/write access. A tutorial on how to do this can be found here.