Tell Premier I love it!
Every time I turn around these days, some zombified version of a franchise I once loved and I thought was dead lurches out of the shadows. In most cases, it really doesn’t end too well, but much to my delight and surprise, Command & Conquer: Red Alert 3 is not one of those cases. Yes, friends, it’s pretty good, and the gents at EA Los Angeles have done a mighty fine job. But let me get one key point out of the way early: Red Alert 3 is not a strong evolution of the series. It is, in fact, so similar to Red Alert 2 that I found myself stuck in memory lane far more often than I think the developers wanted me to be.
[image1]Just to be clear, being similar to Red Alert 2 is not a bad thing. I adored that game, and it was the first one in the series were I truly grokked the way C&C games work. I could certainly play and enjoy every other C&C game until then, but I was never any good at them – there was something about the unit balance and the tactical tools that left me, umm, ineffective. Since RA3 replicates much of RA2’s balance and tactical style, though, I found myself adopting many of the old RA2 tactics forward with great success.
For those of you who are new to this Red Alert series, here’s a quick rundown: What would happen if someone went to the past and removed Hitler entirely from history? Instead of World War II including Nazi Germany, Red Alert proposes that it would presumably occur ten years later between Soviet Russia, Stalin at the helm, and the European allies. Red Alert 3 builds upon this notion further by removing Einstein from the mix, leaving a world without the fundamental physical theories for nuclear weaponry. Yes, we could have lively debates about whether nuclear weaponry required Einstein, especially given the influence of Oppenheimer and other well-respected scientists on the project. But then, this is a game, so shut it, you history nerd.
So now that we’ve set the stage for a world at war with no devastating game-changers like nukes, the notion of a conflict on a massive scale between the Soviets, Allies, and Japanese empire suddenly doesn’t seem quite as absurd. Well, okay, it’s still pretty damned absurd, but it’s fun, and that’s what’s important.
Red Alert 3’s factions all operate a little differently, and a little differently from other C&C games. The Allies function closest to old standards, with buildings popping up in a few seconds after they’ve been built at a construction yard. The Soviets place buildings immediately, but they build in place, leaving them vulnerable while building. The Empire of the Rising Sun spits out little vehicles that can be positioned at your leisure, and then build up at the chosen position, giving it a bizarre blend between the Allied style and the Soviet style.
[image2]In terms of unit balance, each faction is given a unit that fills one of the given tactical roles, but there is a different emphasis among the groups. The Soviets tend to favor a little more brute force than the other groups, relying upon numbers over quality with their infantry and power over tactical flexibility with their vehicles and navy. The Allies primarily favor high precision tactical tools that, when used correctly, leave enemy forces unable to operate; coincidentally, they place a lot of emphasis on air forces. The Rising Sun has the strongest navy in the game by a fairly significant margin, and generally favors units that can fill multiple roles; their basic tank can double as a light-weight naval unit, many of their ground forces have an aerial mode that allows them to fight against other unit types, and many of their infantry fill very specific roles.
As with RA2, RA3 is extremely over the top, and a lot of care has gone in to making the entire game ridiculous in a hilarious, campy, and enjoyable fashion. With Tim Curry as the Premier of the Soviet Empire, George Takei as the Emperor of the Rising Sun, JK Simmons as the President of the US, Jonathan “awesome” Pryce as the supreme commander of the Allied forces, and Jenny “I guess she’s supposed to be hot or something” McCarthy as series standard Tanya, the cast is pretty damned cheesy and amazing. I would like to point out that McCarthy, when compared to the previous Tanya (played by Kari Wuhrer), is the weakest of the cast. Everyone else is absolutely fantastic, however, and adds a lot of fun to the cutscenes between missions.
RA3 looks excellent; it's brightly colored, some excellent animations – especially the idle animations for the Soviet conscript – and pretty good performance make the game a treat to look at. I have had a bluescreen with RA3 once, but have otherwise found the game to be very solid. The cutscenes are also well done from a visual perspective, with a high resolution and plenty of nice little details in the background of each scene. The soundtrack, too, is excellent – the best of any game in the Red Alert series.
As a multiplayer title, RA3 is solid, especially given the whole ‘co-op campaign’ bit. The set of maps that come with the game are a little staid, for the most part, and I quickly found myself lusting for a map-making tool of some sort so I could come up with some more interesting scenarios to fight through. All the same, the strong balance and performance of RA3 make it a worthy title.
[image3]If I were to point to any one thing to complain about, it would have to be the pathing A.I.. Occasionally, with the larger battles, the pathing A.I. will simply seem to… stop. I’ve had plenty of instances where, after issuing a movement command and looking away, I’d glance back to discover my units had simply decided to stop moving part way through. Occasionally things get stuck trying to maneuver around as well – especially maddening when it’s a resource harvester.
In summation, Red Alert 3 is a great deal of fun. If you like RTS games, and are not scared off by a little campy ridiculousness, you should give it a try.