Command & Conquer: Red Alert 3
The Command & Conquer games from EA seem to have been around for centuries already with their ups and downs and after the C&C3 expansion Kane’s Wrath which was released earlier this year we now get a new part in the Red Alert series. Red Alert 3 goes back in time (literally) to give the Soviets another chance to rule the world, but will that be enough to make us forget the fantastic Red Alert 2?
Well, let’s start with the storyline: while Soviet forces all over are being crushed by the Allies, Premier Cherdenko decides to make one final attempt to turn the tide. Together with General Krukov he goes to an ultra-secret bunker where Dr. Gregor Zelinsky has built a time-travelling machine that allows them to kill Einstein so that the Allies never get to build nuclear weapons. Once back, it appears Cherdenko’s plan has succeeded. The Soviets are on a roll, but there’s one small detail called the Empire of the Rising Sun which managed to become extremely powerful due to the fact that nuclear weapons don’t exist. And they’ve got every intention to crush the rest of the world.
So there you have it, three factions with each having its own very specific units and a total of three campaigns that honestly are quite lengthy and will be able to keep you busy for some time. Kane’s Wrath was quite short but Red Alert 3’s campaigns are individually longer than that expansion as a whole and that’s something we sure as hell can appreciate!
As with any good C&C game, and especially the Red Alert series, there’s a huge amount of cheezyness present. The all-star cast featuring Tim Curry, J.K. Simmons, Jenny McCarthy, Peter Stormare, Gemma Atkinson and even Star Trek’s George Takei, does an excellent job in remaining serious while portraying characters that seem to have come straight out of some bad B-movie. To top this EA will need to hire Robert Englund and Jenna Jameson for their next version and add some Zombie Strippers to the units. Just to give you an idea.
In fact, zombie strippers wouldn’t be standing so bad between the units that we get now already. Or what do you think of armored War Bears, shuriken-throwing Shinobi, Rocket Angels with whips, or dolphins with sonic disruptors?
The rest of the units may seem more realistic but you can forget about that. Despite Mirage stealth tanks, Cryocopters that can freeze units and Athena Cannons that have satellites shooting lasers on ground units the Allies have the most conventional army. Compare that with the Soviets’ Terror Drones that invade hostile tanks, the Apocalypse Tank that even comes with a magnetic beam to draw opponents near or the Bullfrog that shoots off infantry to have them fall down like paratroopers inside hostile territory. The strangest stuff, however, comes from the Empire with their manga-inspired technology of transforming robots. Add to that the fact that many units have the ability to go over sea, land and/or air and you can imagine the possibilities.
The three factions not only differ in units but even in the way their bases are set up. The Allies for instance can make their buildings and then put them somwhere while the Soviets can immediately plant something to see it getting constructed afterwards. This again being different to the Empire who have some sort of amphibious nanocores that can travel around freely and immediately deploy themselves at a position of your preference, even if it’s not near a construction yard.
Unfortunately, all these features come at a price. There’s quite some micromanagement necessary if you want to use the special moves of the units and since Red Alert has always had a reasonably quick RTS gameplay chances are that you won’t even use half of the special features and stay with the basic functionality.
Probably the biggest change in gameplay that effectively changes the way you play is the fact that there’s co-op present for every mission. Co-op? Yes, co-op. Each mission can be played with a human team-mate (not on LAN for some strange reason) and this changes things drastically. Your entire strategy is no longer that of one-on-one but while you can have your friend take on one side of the map, you can handle the other. Or you can split objectives between the two of you. Or you can decide to sit back, relax and let him do all the work. A very good change and the way it’s implemented is so well-done that one wonders why no other developers have come up with this earlier.
Unfortunately the system to find someone to play alongside you is quite a hassle and doesn’t run as smoothly as the actual co-op gameplay so EA still has some room for improvement there. And since we’re looking at things that could use some improvement, here’s another one: the AI.
When you play alone, the computer will be your best buddy and you can even ask him to perform specific actions with some simple commands. Unfortunately, it seems that the difficulty level of the opponent AI isn’t quite so great so during certain levels you can even have the computer fight himself and still win! The only thing you’ll have to do is actually complete the main objective(s) as I noticed that eventhough all enemy forces are wiped out, your buddy will leave that honor to you.
Is it because these days games are made first and foremost for consoles that the difficulty has dropped? I don’t know, but I did find it strange to see that at one time I was almost completely obliterated and suddenly the AI would no longer attack me, allowing me to rebuild my forces and win the mission after all. Another example of change due to console-focus is the fact that ore mines are still present but the economy is slower due to lack of gem fields. As such not a really bad thing but it does make one wonder how many compromises are made in order for console players to enjoy the game as well with a controller. Personally I don’t like the idea that a keyboard+mouse game gets a lower difficulty degree in order to allow it to be played with a controller but that’s of course my own opinion.
Qua graphics and sound everything is as it should be. Bright and shiny colors, fantastic water effects and a soundtrack that perfectly fits with the Red Alert atmosphere. On the technical side there’s only two things that we found disturbing with the pathfinding being the first. Units lose their way, take wrong turns, or even get stuck inside pieces of wall without ever getting out. Very frustrating, especially when you’ve just spent your last money on that Shogun Battleship and need it to give a final blow to hostile forces.
Finally, the last thing we want to say is actually something we’ve been wishing for since years. It’s nice to be able to zoom in on your units, but when you’re planning an attack you do not want to be scrolling up and down, left and right, in order to collect all units you want to use. You want to be able to zoom out to a distance which gives you the ideal overview you need and that’s something we’ve been telling EA for years now. And Red Alert 3 STILL hasn’t got it! So I’ll repeat it once more: ZOOMING OUT IS WHAT WE WANT!
In the end Red Alert 3 has some good and bad things. It isn’t the best RTS out there, it’s got some issues with pathfinding and the additional features of the units need too much micro-management in order to be really of use. Also it seems the slower economy and easier AI are compromises to allow easier play on consoles which doesn’t help the PC version at all and rather turn it into a cartoon version of itself than become better than its predecessor, RA2.
On the other hand we get the typically cheezy storyline that’s brought to life by an all-star cast doing an excellent job, co-op gameplay that’s a first in RTS gaming and plenty of missions and multiplayer maps to keep you busy for quite some time.
Red Alert 3 doesn’t set a new standard but it does offer plenty of fun gameplay to keep you busy for quite some time.