Redder than Soviet ketchup.
The Command and Conquer universe is a mess. On one side, we got the whole Tiberium struggle in the main Command and Conquer series, meanwhile in Red Alert, which began as a simple spin-off spoof of the Cold War, things have gotten crazier with each iteration. Killing Hitler before World War II was not enough for the Allies nor the Soviets, as Einstein, poor Einstein, got the axe in the most recent game, changing the world power structure so far as to include a third super power, the Empire of the Rising Sun. Commander's Challenge takes the Red Alert 3 Uprising expansion pack, recently released for the PC version, and strips most of the convoluted story, keeping the aptly named Commander's Challenge mode which includes fifty different and increasingly difficult scenarios.
[image1]There isn't much of a narrative here - a mega corporation has taken over the technology of all three factions, offering you the ability to use any of them on the course of the challenge levels. Before each stage, you are given the choice of which faction to use, but with the catch that some of the technology won't be fully powered right off the bat. Instead, you'll have to earn upgrade as the game progresses; which ones you'll have available depends on the mission.
Said missions are a varied bunch - you'll fight against a host of characters who will stand in your way in a number of ways. At one point, you'll encounter a supposedly weak general, played by former wrestler Ric Flair, and just trash the guy, while in another you have to deal with multiple enemy generals who are bent on destroying a resource you need. The different scenarios in Commander's Challenge should provide an admirable challenge to those looking for more commanding and conquering.
The level design, however, isn't the only thing you'll find challenging. There's no option to save your progress during a mission, so every decision counts. Also, most missions can only be completed in a limited amount of time and take longer than typical 'quick'-play matches. As with the original Red Alert 3 port to consoles, the controls are too complex, using a set of button combinations that prove to be cumbersome and convoluted, especially when you're trying to control small units across the map.
[image2]I've come to love the presentation of C&C over the years, from their purposefully cheesy full motion video cut-scenes, to the interface and overall graphical design of the units. Red Alert 3 was a step in the right direction, bringing a lot of color and charm with pseudo-Soviet propaganda-styled menus and loading screens. Much of that is preserved in Commander's Challenge, which helps sell the idea of how big this downloadable version of Red Alert 3 really is.
However, the videos are limited to the introductory cutscene and short YouTube-like quips from the enemy generals and characters before each level. But that's understandable due to what was stripped from the story of the original Uprising expansion pack. It's also worth noting how humorous and entertaining the tutorial is, with three of the factions' tanks teaching you the nooks and crannies of playing the game as if they were metal-clad versions of The Three Stooges.
Even though there's quite a bit to complain about in Red Alert 3 Commander's Challenge, the overall package is worth the 800 Microsoft Points (or ten dollars). Levels are varied and difficult, providing a fairly long value for your buck, as each scenario can be played with more than one faction. And with the timed challenge, there's the online leaderboard for those commanders with competitive hearts under their medal-covered uniforms. Are you ready to launch, comrade?