Name: Command and Conquer: Red Alert 3
Platform: Windows PC, Xbox 360 (Reviewed on PC)
The Red Alert series might have created the Real-Time-Strategy genre, but it hasn’t really evolved well with time. Red Alert 2 was a good game in its own right, but did little to push the genre forward, and with Starcraft 2 just over the bend, this recent sequel would need to bring more to the table than its prequels had in order to be a true success.
The campaign begins as Russian generals go back in time to assassinate Albert Einstein in hopes to stunt the U.S.A.’s technological prowess. When they return to the present, the world has changed dramatically – the USSR is cleaning up the remnants of the Allied Forces and the Empire of the Rising Sun, a faction that didn’t exist before the space-time-continuum hijinks, has built up an army and declared war on the Russians. The three different factions all have their own campaigns, and the story is brilliant in its cheesiness.
EA broke the bank by hiring over a dozen B-list Hollywood talents to act in the game, including the luscious Jenny McCarthy as Tanya, Tim Curry as Premier Cherdenko, George Takei as Emperor Yoshiro, and plenty of more Easter Eggs that will have gamers giggling with joy. The cut scenes are always funny, under-produced, and undeniably Red Alert. All of the characters hits their marks, and EA even went as far as to include clips of the enemy generals throughout the campaign as they are encountered.
The campaign missions are entertaining, albeit a little repetitive. Players are tasked with either destroying an enemy base or defending an area, both of which are generally entertaining given you enjoy the gameplay mechanics. Both online and off, players are joined by an allied general throughout all of the singleplayer missions. If they are AI controlled, they will generally hold their own and follow any orders given. For the first time in the series’ history, however, there’s also the option to connect with a friend to play through these missions cooperatively. Sadly, connection issues and problems with EA’s servers can lead to frustration, which hinders this otherwise brilliant aspect.
Red Alert 3’s gameplay isn’t far removed from its predecessors, allowing players to create massive armies across the land, sea, and sky. There is more of a focus on navy this time around; most buildings can be contracted offshore, and the “Amphibious” modifier can be applied to many ground units. Engineers, some tanks, and most commando units can swim, necessitating base layout and defense more and giving some units a leg up over others. It isn’t a rock-paper-scissors mechanic (navy beats ground, air beats navy, ground beats air), and the different units all have their own uses.
The three factions have plenty of differences to keep players changing strategy depending on their opponent. Simple things like the speed at which buildings are created and the means of placing them differs between the three in large ways, and creates a dynamic not seen in most strategy games. The units themselves, although obviously cosmetically different, serve similar purposes. An Allied and Russian generic soldier will do different damage and have different amounts of health, but they are both used as grunts and cannon fodder. The addition of the Empire of the Rising Sun helps add needed variation to the series, which was close to becoming old hat, and serves as a clichéd and satirical representation of the Far East, just as the flag waving patriotic Alliance lampoons the Americans, and the oppressive Soviets are a parody of themselves.
Graphically, the game is fantastic, with pseudo cel-shaded graphics and fantastic water effects. It feels like the naval focus of the title was simply to make characters spend more time watching the waves crash against the sides of boats, appreciating that sunken ships remain underwater, destroyed yet visible. The game only offers a handful of screen resolutions and sadly mine (1360x768) wasn’t supported, forcing me to remain in archaic 800x600. Even at higher resolutions, the camera is unnecessarily close to the ground, and the option to zoom out to show more of the battlefield should be obligatory at this point in the game.
Multiplayer, which is where most players will spend a large portion of their time, is well balanced and engaging. There’s nothing here that is new to the series, save for the additions to the gameplay, and, just as always, the multiplayer is an excuse to continue playing the game for months to come. Whether it’s competing at a high level, attempting to find the fastest way to demolish an enemy, building up defenses and launching aerial attacks, or simply connecting with a friend and trying to take on a challenging opponent, the different multiplayer maps should keep fans happy. There isn’t a huge amount of variety, and some innovation in terms of level design wouldn’t have hurt, but there are still many a fun time to be had.
Red Alert 3 never, even for a moment, takes itself seriously. The developers at EA had no problem giving the USSR the ability to train bears and a transport vehicle that shoots units into the sky, begging players to create an armada of parachuting grizzly warriors. It takes advantage of this foolishness by adding in asinine soldiers wielding shrink rays, robotic dragonflies, and attack dolphins, all the while reminding players that the game is meant to be fun. Though it has its silly side, and the side is definitely prevalent, the game is well balanced and has a good amount of depth that should keep fans of the series happy. As a PC title, it’s hard to justify not picking the game up – it’s not going to be as deep of an experience as Sins of a Solar Empire, but you can’t go wrong with the 101st Ursine Airborne.