Genre: Real-time strategy
Developer: EA Los Angeles
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Age Rating: 16+
Release Date: October 31
The Command and Conquer series has provided real-time strategy (RTS) fans with some memorable campaigns over the years, not to mention guilty pleasures, and the latest addition to the franchise serves up more of the same. The Red Alert games are infamous for their farcical approach, comical cut-scenes, wacky unit design and cameos by voluptuous B-movie stars. Red Alert 3 takes all its cues from its predecessors, this time offering strong multiplayer support and online play for the first time in the series.
A hysterical cut scene kicks off proceedings, featuring Tim Curry as the Russian premier in an alternate reality where the Soviet Union is still going strong. Political correctness is the first casualty of the Reds' dastardly campaign to travel back in time and assassinate Albert Einstein, in the hope that such historical tampering will see the Soviet Union emerge as the dominant world power. Instead, the diabolical scheme facilitates the ascension of the Empire of the Rising Sun, a satire on Imperial Japan. More stereotypes are thrown into the mix; George Takei’s overacting as the Emperor will cause many a rib to crack, and J.K. Simmons (who seems to be cropping up everywhere at the moment) is well cast as the hard-line anti-commie U.S President.
Scantily clad women have always been a staple of the Red Alert series, with Jenny McCarthy, Kelly Hu and Gemma Atkinson donning their skimpies to deliver mission briefings this time around. This review could go into how good the trio look in their ill-fitting military outfits, but instead we’re going to acknowledge that they are out of our league and move on.
In terms of gameplay, this is a vintage RTS which celebrates the traditions of its predecessors while building on the foundations they have laid. Innovative military units such as war bears and dolphins trained to carry seismic charges provide a solid basis for entertainment, and the fans of previous editions will be glad to know the gameplay rarely falls into second gear.
There are three factions to choose from – the Allies and Soviets will be familiar to anyone who’s dabbled in the franchise before but the Empire of the Rising Sun is a new playable side. Each faction offers its own unique abilities, units and story modes. The Soviets are slow and sluggish, but economical with spades of brute force; the Allies boast advanced technology and a strong air force, while the Empire has the most flexibility, with units capable of transforming into different states when the situation calls for it.
A groundbreaking addition to the series is the option to conduct co-operative campaigns with a co-commander, which can be a human player or a computer-controlled ally, such as Major Giles, a stiff upper lip British commander. Joint campaigns with friends are recommended as the computer AI is occasionally found wanting. Computer-controlled characters rarely have your back in tight spots, often failing to carry out the most rudimentary objectives or throwing their units aimlessly into battle in kamikaze fashion. This becomes a serious disadvantage as the missions get harder.
The multiplayer mode, however, can backfire in certain situations. For instance, two experienced human players will ace the easier missions without breaking a sweat, and the more complex missions can be impossible to complete when paired with a less experienced player. Furthermore, this is yet another EA title which requires a downloadable patch to counter connectivity problems.
Missions themselves are not radically different from previous entries in the series. Commando raids, base defending and structure capturing are your bread and butter, but this time round there is a focus on naval combat for the first time in the franchise. Structures can now be built on water and each faction’s naval units have been increased. The emphasis is still very much on the ground campaigns, which remain fast and furious despite feeling slightly subdued compared to the previous games.
Visually, a Red Alert title has never looked so colourful and exuberant. While the game appears every inch a Command and Conquer game, the vibrant, tropical maps and detailed unit design give it a vintage, yet polished feel. The new graphics engine is particularly well harnessed when it comes to water effects, allowing lush texture, ripples and splashes. The full motion video sequences don’t look bad either, particularly the mock Russia-style propaganda footage during the intro.
An explosive soundtrack from composers Frank Klepacki, James Hannigan and Timothy Michael Wynn adds some fire to the mix. There are arrangements to fit the tone of each faction – triumphant battle marches for the Soviets and ambient oriental-style pieces for the Empire. The explosion effects are highly realistic, punctuating attacks well, and the one-liners from the cast don’t start to get old for at least a few hours.
Red Alert 3 is a worthy addition to a series that has come a long way since its debut in the mid-90s. Although not a vast improvement on 2000’s Red Alert 2, the option of online gaming, a new playable faction and a host of stylistic tweaks make this the best entry in the series to date. The online support may not be perfect, but the title is richer for it. Fans of previous Red Alert titles will enjoy its tradition approach and newcomers to the genre will find this one a very accessible place to start. Those with a penchant for a more modern RTS might find the gameplay somewhat archaic but that is unlikely to stop most of them heeding Gemma Atkinson’s battle call.