Heading back in time? Take a trip with one of our favorite RTS's this year!
Ever since my trip to EA’s Los Angeles headquarters, I’ve been patiently waiting for the title they went through so much trouble to show us: Red Alert 3. We got a first look at how the game was made, who was making it, and playtest the multiplayer while it was still in alpha (pre-beta). It was an experience I won’t soon forget, but the full game is perhaps just as memorable.
Red Alert 3 follows the cycle of previous Red Alert titles. With the Soviets in dire straits, Colonel Cherdenko (played brilliantly by Tim Curry) takes General Krukov and Dr. Zelinsky in a time machine the good doctor made to go back in time to change history. They would turn the war against the Allies in their favor by killing Albert Einstein. This, however, makes the alternate reality they return to have the Empire of the Rising Sun, Japan, who remained silent over the years.
Playing as one of these three factions, (the Japanese Empire of the Rising Sun, the Russian Soviets, or the American and European Allies), players must lead their army to victory and end the war for good. An ingenious story resonates through each faction and connects entirely to one another, making excellent twists and turns that show that yes, the developers do love their audience.
Red Alert 3 introduces water units, and does a damn great job at it.
Apocolypse tanks. 'nuff said.
All three factions are radically different, and deciding between them is incredibly difficult. The Soviets are straightforward; their units do exactly what you would expect. The helicopter (Twinblade) has a turret for taking out infantry and rockets for eliminating tanks or buildings, and doubles as a troop/vehicle transport. The Flak Trooper fires rockets powerful against air and ground units. They are simple and straight to the point, like a Russian would be. Cold, calculating and efficient.
The Allies are just as organized, but have units that have very specific purposes. The Cryocopter cannot damage enemies, but it can shrink or freeze units. The Athena Cannon and Aircraft Carrier are completely defenseless, but they are also are very powerful from a distance, unleashing a laser from space and sending a squadron of bombers, respectively. And a Spy infiltrates enemy buildings to shut them down temporarily, can buy off enemy units to fight for your cause, and can disguise himself as an enemy unit. The Allies are clever and technologically advanced.
The Empire of the Rising Sun is all about multi-purpose units. The Tsunami Tank is amphibious, the Mecha Tengu and Striker-VX both switch from ground to air units, instead of making a base, mobile construction pods called nanocores transform into whatever you want, anywhere on the map. Suffice to say, the Empire is like any good Gundam anime: everything’s shiny and transforms and works like a Swiss Army knife.
The Kirov bombers are one of the deadliest units available to your Soviet arsenal. Just make sure you aren't on the receiving end of one.
MCV's are all mobile and amphibious, so don't hesitate to move your base around, on land or on water.
That said, the campaign is very well made. EALA recognized that players want variety in their single player campaign (all of which can be played cooperatively), and not just to play skirmishes. That’s what multiplayer is for. The campaign has several very interesting missions, such as a stealth mission to assassinate the Emperor, guiding a giant samurai sword-wielding monstrosity through enemy territory, and a few more exciting adventures. They’re easy to beat, but they’re fun too. And the live-action cinematics with actors like J.K. Simmons and George Takai have a very charming effect, even if they are overly-corny.
In fact, the live-action scenes were a pleasure to watch, with all but one scene looking spectacular. It’s a sincere pleasure to see such an outdated form of in-game media done so brilliantly.
What is most endearing about RA3 is the expertly designed gameplay, which has a few new features that add flavor to the standard RTS design. First is secondary unit and building functions. Every single unit has a secondary function it can perform, such as Soviet Conscript’s, who can throw Molotov Cocktails or the Allies Mirage Tank which can make cloak itself and units inside a small area as it moves. These secondary functions add incredible depth to gameplay and also allowed the developers’ leeway with units such as the Empire’s transforming Mecha Tengu and Striker-VX.
Next is the cooperative gameplay. RA3 is designed to have players work together with another commander, be it AI or a friend. Every mission starts off with the option to go solo or invite a friend. Playing with the AI allows for very rudimentary commands, such as ‘position your troops around this area’ and ‘attack this target’. That said, the friendly AI isn’t too smart, and if left alone it tends to either attack too much or not defend enough; either way, they’re dead in the water without guidance or help.
Watching your resource level is obviously important, but how fast resources are consumed is different depending on what faction you play as.
This is an epic battle. Who will win, the Apoc tanks or the King Oni's? Apoc would know.
However, this isn’t all without a price. Units tend to suddenly stop and get stuck in between nothing, as is they cannot get through some area, and will have to be ordered to physically go around. There are also some odd difficulty curves in the campaign which are annoying. The multiplayer maps are also somewhat bland, but better than previous Command and Conquer titles.
The biggest shortcoming is that while RA3 is meant to be a fast paced, quick thinking RTS, units require constant babysitting. An enemy attack may be defended against by one unit, even if five others are nearby, simply because they aren’t in their immediate firing range or attacking them directly. As far as RTS’s go, babysitting every single unit has many consequences, mainly stalling any plans players have to ensure their supposedly well defended bases are secure from minor intrusions.
Other than these scuffs, Command and Conquer: Red Alert 3 is an exciting and enjoyable game. The cooperative gameplay is an excellent addition that, while not entirely balanced, will become greater as time goes on. An excellent soundtrack brings life the game, so well that most players are simply in tune with it and don’t notice it…until it’s muted. Lush, colorful cityscapes of the different campaign maps bring out the color in our typical, drab brown games. Everything about Red Alert 3 is colorful, and we plan to enjoy it for many days to come.
Top Gaming moment: Bombing the hell out of a friend after using all my ground forces to take out just his air defences, then sending in 20 Kirovs to wipe out his base.