Alien Front Online was never given a PAL release; so gamers in Europe are a bit stuck for choice when it comes to high quality vehicular shoot 'em up action on the Dreamcast. Sure, you could play Vigilante 8: 2nd Offence or Incoming, but the experiences contained within those vats of excrement are akin to smashing yourself in the face with a hammer. But put that hammer down, dear reader - there is an alternative to facial disfigurement - Red Dog: Superior Firepower.
In Red Dog, you get the keys to an armoured car with a few guns, a shield and the ability to crush enemies beneath it's massive tires with considerable ease. Calling the Red Dog unit a 'tank' would be going a bit far, so the above description is pretty accurate: Red Dog is technically an armoured car simulator. Albeit one in which an Alien Invasion of Earth threatens life as we know it. As is the norm in this kind of scenario, it's just you - the lone warrior with the fate of Humanity on your shoulders and the missions you are given by High Command are suitably 'special ops' in structure - get in, destroy something tactical, get out. And that's pretty much it.
It differs somewhat from other Dreamcast games in this genre because it is linear and story driven. You can replay missions after they've been completed in order to increase your overall grade, but the levels are generally opened in sequential order with the story progressing as you go. The other shooters mentioned above feature only the most rudimentary of plots and are basically just big skirmishes. Furthermore, Red Dog seems to actually have had some time spent on the development, rather than being a slap-dash conversion from another format. For example, the physics engine is commendable and the Red Dog unit bounces about in a very satisfying manner - the suspension is very realistic and squashy. The control is also quite innovative - it's sort of like a cross over between a proper driving game and a first person shooter. It can get a little difficult at times because the strafe command is a bit awkward (you have to hold both triggers down and hold up or down, which makes circle strafing virtually impossible) and the sheer hardness of the game in general means you'll be seeing the Mission Failed screen very often. The weapons system at your disposal is the usual shoot 'em up fare - lasers, missiles, bombs etc and these must be utilised to see off your alien aggressors...or you could just run them over - simple but ultimately effective. You're also equipped with a novel little shield that unfolds in front of the Red Dog and can be used as a high tech tennis racquet to deflect laser fire back from whence it came - usually killing whatever fired it in the first place. Which is cool.
Of course, a certain amount of tactical play must be employed as all of your vital statistics (ammo, shield power, amour etc) need to be juggled effectively and you can acquire a weapon boost that drains when activated. If you use too much, it leaves you open for imminent destruction.
The amount of detail in the environments is very good and all of the levels are set in a different location (deserts, caves, glaciers, cities etc) which adds to the variety but be warned that this game has Body Harvest levels of insane difficulty heaped on in places, so as mentioned, you'll probably be treated to the Mission Failed screen more than once before you get to see the really good stuff later on in the game. On the whole, the graphics are really good though - the Red Dog itself looks superb and the enemies feature a lot of variation in design, from the usual Neanderthal-brained grunts and 'electronic' spiders, to massive ice beasts and rival tank/armoured vehicle units (although please don't expect Halo-esque levels of diversity). The environments themselves feature some great architecture and real time lighting effects and Argonaut have really dug deep into the Dreamcast's toy box of effects to add stuff like lens flares, fog, mist effects and shadows. It's by no means the best looking title on Sega's wonder box (see Dead or Alive 2), but is a good few miles from being the worst, and it plays a decent game too.
There is the slightest possibility I'm being overly nice to what is essentially a pretty bog standard shoot 'em up, simply because they are so few worthy of note on this platform. But that's the state of play, and as such I can't recommend Red Dog enough to Dreamcast owners who want a bit of arcade alien-blasting action.