Red Alert 3
is the newest title from EA's legendary Command and Conquer
franchise. Usually, these real-time strategies focus on a war over an extraterrestrial resource known as 'Tiberium' and players took control of two sides as they battle over this mysterious material. The latest instalment, C&C 3
, is based half a century in the future and includes a large amount of science-fiction elements.
In an adventurous contrast to the Tiberium
series, Red Alert 3
and its predecessors are set fifty years ago on an alternate time-line. Pivotal plot developments come from manipulating historical events and people via time travel. In the first Red Alert title, a fictional version of Einstein manages to kill Adolf Hilter before his rise to power in hopes of preventing WWII. This backfires and instead the Soviets, led by Stalin, invade Europe and a large-scale conflict commences anyway. A similar situation occurs in the game's sequel, with some mind control madness thrown in for good measure. Finally, in Red Alert 3
, the Soviet Union leaders journey back into the past and murder Einstein so he doesn't develop nuclear weapons for the Americans. Unfortunately, this somehow causes the Empire of the Rising Sun (a new playable faction) to become a potent threat against both the West and the USSR. Let the war games begin!
All of the above may sound very complex and confusing. It doesn't help that much of the plot is open to interpretation, as there's no real exposition for the majority of the series. There's some
narration though. Each campaign mission in RA3
is introduced by an absurd, full-motion video cutscene, with a few famous faces playing some rather random roles. Where else can you find Tim Curry cast as a Russian head-of-state, or George Takei appearing as an ultra-traditionalist Asian emperor? This, combined with some downright cheesy writing, gives a very strong impression that the game isn't taking itself seriously. Light-hearted humour (whether its intentional or not) doesn't make the game any less enjoyable to play; its quite funny to watch the aforementioned Tim Curry over-act with an appalling Russian accent. He and others are able to twist their characters into cheap, camp parodies of real politicians from the 1950s. These performances are enough to make the most serious strategist laugh, but therein lies the problem.
Before I even get into the game, these little moments of dry comedy are causing me to second-guess if each faction's campaign is worth playing to the end. When the actors can't take their roles seriously, then how do the developers expect the player to become fully immersed in the experience? These professionally-made sequences between battles should motivate players into becoming enthralled in their faction's war effort. How is anyone supposed to suspend their disbelief and pretend they're a general with the Allies/Soviet/Empire when the guys giving orders can barely contain their laughter? Red Alert
games have always been known for their tongue-in-cheek humour, but it should be time to reconsider this direction if players fail to get invested with the plot because the comedy takes priority.
Gameplay is precisely what's to be expected from an RTS. Warring factions harvest resources to construct buildings and units before fighting each other. There's a wider spread of employable soldiers and vehicles than what we've seen in the past. These range from classic riflemen who serve as cannon fodder to giant, transforming robots. EA have taken the multiplayer into account when designing each faction, so they're extremely balanced against one another. No single man or machine is particularly more powerful than the next. Unfortunately this can lead to ridiculous situations, thanks to the pursuit of balancing every niggling aspect. For example, tanks go down instantly when faced with an anti-armour trooper. However, fire rockets against normal infantry and you'll find the latter can survive several hits from explosives. These mechanics are unrealistic to the point of being silly, but its important to remember this game has helicopters with shrink rays and samurais with lightsaber katanas. Realism isn't the developer's top goal, but perfect balancing of all units can bring about some serious stalemates – solvable only when one side has bought an expensive superweapon late into the game.
While the campaigns falter at providing a heart-warming tale of bravery or emphasis on the horrors of war, they do introduce the player to key strategies and the importance of crafting counter-units. EA seem more concerned with oiling up players to compete online against competent humans than producing a fulfilling single-player. Even story mode can be completed with a friend online or via LAN. This approach is logical, especially considering that the biggest RTS titles (StarCraft
, we're looking at you) are hardly known for their riveting plotlines or likeable NPCs. RA3
is far more catered towards playing with humans than its prequels, but since the playerbase on the Internet isn't huge, it's hard to tell if sacrificing solo experience for the improved multiplayer was worth it.
Offline skirmishes are made fun by the advancements in naval warfare. Most buildings can be built on water now and a lot of units are amphibious. Patches of sea are seriously viewed as another battlefront, even by the AI. It definitely adds another interesting element to battles, but every map is desperate to shoehorn some form of water. Yes, we know that we can construct almost anything on it, but does that really justify putting a pond in the middle of a desert?
There are other gameplay innovations that are overlooked by the appearance of aquatic tactics. Personally, I found the ability to pack land units into carpet bombers and air-drop them anywhere you like to be a wonderful addition to warfare. Its actually a shame there wasn't an official map focusing on aerial strategies. Some flat land with an impassable, dry canyon straight down the middle of it would be a perfect excuse to use the skies. Craziness in an RTS is highly valued, since the genre is growing stale very quickly. On the other hand, its imperative that this diversity is carried out across the board. Gargantuan airships and transports that shoot passengers out of a cannon are all very well, but if your maps are plain and your missions are lacklustre, then no one is going to stick with your game.
As a veteran of both WarCraft 3
and the Age of...
series, I feel the need to point out that RA3 has no scenario editor. 4 hours into playing casual skirmishes, I had an odd urge to re-create the siege of Dollet from Final Fantasy VIII
, but in strategy format. Given the huge detail in city-centric environments and robotics, accomplishing such a task would be easy with the right scripting and triggers. RTSes are about giving players power and freedom so they can make their own fun. I believe implementing a custom map creator is the epitome of the sentiments that holds the genre together. They allow the player to do whatever they want with the assortment of units already present in-game, providing they have the time. Excluding this sort of rudimentary feature in a title released in 2008 just looks lazy and condemns us all to playing the same maps ad nausea. Instead, we have to make do with buggy, community-made world builders that don't work across all formats. Sort it out EA!
Red Alert 3
is a lot of fun. The obvious detachment from pursuing realism serves it well. Its a game for anyone who has ever wondered what would have happened if the Cold War was heated up. The longevity of both the single and multiplayer is questionable, but most fans of the genre will find the initial novelty alone a good excuse to keep playing. However, charming cutscenes and unique units don't necessarily equate to a good game. RA3
is a fairly shallow experience, despite some steps towards innovation, like the war at sea.
Great for a short time, but fails to include any truly addicting qualities.