Command and Conquer: Red Alert 3
Time machines, eh? They’re always causing trouble, whether they’re helping Marty McFly get into all kinds of shenanigans in 1955, or even allowing Arnie to come back and attempt to kill Sarah Connor. Red Alert’s entire story is based on the work of these pesky contraptions. Albert Einstein travelling back in time to kill Hitler and stop World War 2 from happening inadvertently led to the rise of the Soviet Union as the dominant power with no Nazi Germany to oppose it, leading to the Soviet invasion of Europe. Red Alert 3 begins with a desperate Soviet Union seemingly on the brink of defeat to the Allies, but the Soviets aren’t down and out yet, oh no, they’ve got an ace up their sleeve; their own time machine. So off they pop back to 1927 to kill Albert Einstein (who developed a lot of the Allies’ superior technology), unsurprisingly this has dire implications in the future. Now instead of just fighting the Allies, the Soviets have stopped nuclear weapons from existing and unwittingly turned the world into a multi-polar struggle for world domination. A new faction emerges; The Empire of the Rising Sun. Not a good day at the office if you’re a Soviet.
The inclusion of a third faction is a first for the Red Alert series (if Red Alert 2’s Yuri’s Revenge expansion isn’t counted) , and mirrors their sister game Command and Conquer 3’s addition of a third faction, the Skrin, in their last game. The Empire of the Rising Sun are a Japanese themed faction that are (what a surprise)Hell-bent on world domination, so yes, they aren‘t going to get along with everyone else. The new faction has a unique look compared to the Allies and Soviets, heavily inspired from Japanese culture, some of the highlights you’ll command include a gigantic robotic walker, the seemingly Ikaruga-inspired sea wing fighter jet and the female teenage physic super unit, Yuriko Omega. The Empire also have a unique build mechanic, whilst the other two factions are constrained to building within a short distance of their construction yard, they instead train ‘cores’, which are multi terrain mobile structures that can be build anywhere on the map. Although being versatile, the cores do have some major downsides, in that they’re slow and very lightly armoured, making them extremely vulnerable.
Although Red Alert 3 doesn’t stray too far away from the tried and tested gameplay of its predecessors, it does include a number of new features that help to differentiate the title away from the previous games in the series. The biggest new feature to be included is the addition of a co-commander to help you play through the game’s campaign mode; whether that be a computer or human helping you on the battlefield. If you’re playing offline you’re given a computer controlled general to back you up, working independently from your actions unless instructed to, with commands limited to very basic instructions like ‘hold’ and ‘attack building’. The level of control, and ultimately strategy you can gain from the AI isn’t too in depth, but gets the job done. The game excels when playing with a friend in co-op, whether it’s online or via system link – and with the early problems with inviting friends to play has now also been patched, the cooperative experience with friends is the game’s highlight. Coordinated attacks and helping your buddy out is the best way to progress through the game, the sense of camaraderie received from sending your own troops to help your friend can’t exactly be matched by mercilessly sending waves of your computer AI’s men to protect your own hide.
All 3 campaigns compromising of 27 missions are playable in co-op, a welcome treat which will increase the amount of replay ability to be taken from the campaign. Red Alert 3 throws the player into the shallow end of the RTS pool with the first few missions with each faction, the developer firmly grips your hand as you’re slowly drip fed how to set up you base, command special units and tactics to use against specific units. It’s necessary for new players to the franchise to gather a basic grip on how to play, but to the seasoned pro it feels like a waste of time.
Micromanagement fans will be pleased with the inclusion of a secondary fire mode for nearly every unit in the game, a quick press of the ‘F’ key will change a unit’s attack: conscripts will throw Molotov cocktails instead of firing their AK47s; Japanese aircraft will flip from anti-air to anti-ground and artillery units will deploy shields. The constant micromanagement needed to get the most effective use of all your units is sometimes can become hectic when there’s fighting all over the map, and online matches in particular descend into spamming out as many units as possible to overrun the enemy, which may seem a bit amateurish for hardcore RTS fans. Regardless of its relatively basic tactics when you get down to it, the game has charm and character in bucket loads. A start-studded cast once again lead the over the top and cheesy FMV that separates each mission, among the names in Red Alert 3’s cast are Star Trek’s George Takei, Tim Curry and ex-Hollyoaks star Gemma Atkinson.
Naval combat comes back to the Command and Conquer franchise, this time with a twist. As well as being able to deploy naval fighting units, the player now can build entire bases at sea; minus ground unit-producing structures, of course. On a top-end computer the water effects are absolutely beautiful, units are vibrant and cartoony, the game also runs smooth with generally no slowdown even when the battlefield gets hectic, the game’s graphical style works well to complement the game’s tongue-in-cheek look at the Cold War. Players who neglect to build at sea risk giving the enemy a major advantage, as even the game’s source of resource, ore, can be found at sea. Different from previous Red Alert games, ore is now confined to mines instead of regenerating fields, so players can only have one ore mining vehicle to each ore mine, this works to centralise fighting over ore to more specific flashpoints around the map. Players also have the choice to use unique Command Abilities at after accumulating enough experience points, these powers come in a variety of different forms, from calling in artillery strikes to using spy planes to uncover areas shrouded by the fog of war.
Red Alert 3 doesn’t do anything particularly innovative in the RTS genre, but its familiar and addictive gameplay shines through, aided with a ridiculous plot and colourful cast. Fans will feel right at home while newcomers will warm to the charm and ease the game slips you into the action, from the tutorial showing you the basics to each new level unlocking new units and structures for you to toy around with. The campaign mode provides a decent amount of entertainment which is enhanced by playing with a friend, although it’s the competitive multiplayer that will have you coming back for more.