A world war strategy game with a focus on fast paced action wrapped up in graphics that appeals to kids.
The war is coming to an end as the Allied forces roll forward to make the final blows on the mighty Soviet juggernaut. A previously untested secret weapon only known as the Soviet Time Machine is taken into use by General Krukov and Colonel Cherdenko as a last resort to save their desperate situation. The Time Machine literally takes them back in time – and thus they rewrite history. In this new time and age, the tables have turned in the war. The Allied forces are on the brink of defeat and now the Empire of the Rising Sun has grown into a superpower and threatens to eliminate both the Soviet and Allied forces. Who will stand victorious in this new world war?
Command & Conquer: Red Alert 3 is, as the title implies the third Command & Conquer game in the Red Alert series. The game continues the real time strategy lineage set by its predecessors – it is thus yet another war game where you build a military base and deploy an army to fight off the opposing forces. In order to produce the desired units you must build the right buildings and gather resources. You then fight by controlling your various units such as infantry, tanks, air planes and boats and they come in different shapes and sizes.
In the single player campaign the game focuses on a story narrative but otherwise the game is heavy on fast paced strategy action that is somewhat streamlined compared to other similar games.
The game has three playable factions – Allies, Soviets and Empire of the Rising Sun. Each faction has a complete set of units, buildings and special weapons that are unique to their faction. The campaign mode is thus divided into three corresponding chapters and it gives you a long running story where you get to see three different views of the same war across 27 missions. The opposing factions have their strengths and weaknesses and there are about 20 units in each faction, which is quite impressing. All units have special abilities and attributes that make them excel in specific situations and this allows for some added depth to the already complex rock-paper-scissors game.
The Campaign mode can be played either in solo or in co-op mode over the Internet and in three different difficulty levels. The Campaign mode has no LAN support, so all games must be played through Game Spy’s servers. These servers also keep track of your scores and stats of the matches that you play against other people on a special Track Record screen. The other game mode is the Versus mode where you play standard games with or without computer controlled opponents with up to six players, in teams or in a free for all set up. The Versus mode comes in three flavors – single-player (Skirmish), LAN with friends or online with random people.
Besides the Campaign and Skirmish mode there is a Tutorial mode where you can learn the basic and advanced facets of the game.
The Versus mode allows a fourth, even harder AI setting in which it gets a handicap in resources and plays very fast.
The Campaign mode is very eager to tell you the story and the events of the ongoing war. Between each mission you are treated with a video clip with filmed actors who talk into the camera as if you were on a video comlink with them. The acting on there isn’t entirely believable and is probably made with a tongue-in-cheek approach.
The story feels jerky because it seems to skip and jump here and there to keep things rolling which can be hard to follow. But even so the events and the intrigue gets told on a very personal level between you as the protagonist and the other commanders that are in charge and engaged in the war.
Before each mission you’re also taken through a fairly detailed mission briefing that tells you what you need to do on the coming assignment. It is a fairly good help but works mostly as an enhancement to the war theme of the game and helps setting the mood.
In order to build structures and units you need to gather resources. This is made very simple in Command & Conquer: Red Alert 3. When you find an ore mine, you just need to build a refinery next to it – the gathering of the ore is more or less happening automatically and there’s basically nothing more to it. This is a great relief because many similar games have unnecessarily complex ways around this. The building aspect is also pretty simple and easy to grasp – the focus in this game lies around the battles rather than building orders and resource gathering, which is a good thing in this case.
On many maps the war takes place on ground, water and air at the same time. This means that there is a lot to take into consideration when moving your units around on the map and when choosing your time to strike and at what target. This is a mindset that you will get into fairly quickly when playing the game but do not expect it happen automatically and in less than a few hours. You will need to learn every unit in the game by their looks, even if you just focus on playing as one faction. “Know your enemy” is a lesson to be learned here.
For example; if you don’t pay attention to the Anti-Air weapons and lead your planes in their direction, you probably will lose some units – and it happens fast. This also means that a squad of three infantry soldiers can take out five or six (or more!) Flak Troopers, because Flak Troopers aren’t effective against infantry units. This doesn’t make much sense logically and will probably bewilder many unexperienced players, but for the sake of game balance it is needed. It is however unexpectedly prominent in this game.
Each faction also has powerful hero units with special abilities that add some extra illogical flavor and fun factor to the game. Further more, as you progress through ranks in the mission you will be able to unlock special and secret weapons and tactics. These include weapons of mass destruction and other controversial weapons. They are cool but tend to rob off some of the tactics needed in the game as they are very powerful.
Many times you need to retreat from an engagement for various reasons and because of the poor path finding functions of the units, you always risk many unnecessary casualties. Your units can become very confused around cliffs and other impassable bits of terrain, so it is a real kill joy to be forced to baby sit these lost soldiers all the time.
When playing the single player campaign, you’ll have a co-commander fighting by your side who is controlled by the AI of the game. Some issues does arise with this AI as well – sometimes they fail to attack a target and instead lines up their units around it. You can give your co-commander orders from a special menu, but the whole experience is not as responsive as one would have wished.
Because of the path finding issues, and the fact that ground based units move very slowly, the game pretty much conditions you into preferring air based units. This probably isn’t intended by the developers and the enemy AI isn’t very clever about building defenses against massive air based attacks. This means that many games against the AI will be total push overs, especially in the Versus mode.
Some units can utilize special moves like jumping and even transform into flying air craft. While all these are useful, it is a real mess to try to control them because they can be all over the screen and clicking on them will simply fail many times – especially if there are other units on the screen at the same time.
The theme and tone of the game is jumbled up. The menus, art and the videos present a serious, albeit overdone tone, mixed up with modern heavy metal music. The game itself has some outright silly elements, such as the Soviet war bears, dolphins, Japanese school girls with superior psionic powers and units asking you if you think that they need a bath when you send them on boats. Attempting to mix humor (bad one at that) with a bloody world war just ends up being disturbing.
The graphics in the game has some impressing level of detail. All the levels and maps are very well done and just looking at the battles is a cascade of colors and details. The destructible environments (houses, trees etc) look cool and makes the battle grounds somewhat dynamic. The units and structures do have that colorful “LEGO plastic” look on them, and it deducts from the otherwise realistic look, just the same as the overdone bloom effects do. Everything in this game is shiny and bright with a blinding sheen and it doesn’t work very well with what’s going on in the game. The artwork shown in between missions do have a comic-book style to them, and the animations in the game are also over-the-top. All in all, the visuals represent a chaotic mix of real life actors, comic-book style art, Disney-style animations and realistic terrain. In one word : incoherent.
The sound effects in the game are well done – the sound of war is a great mix of booming explosions, commands yelled, cries, screams and gunfire blasting. The voice acting of the units are mostly appropriate and nudges the game towards the more serious tone (except for those silly comments mentioned above). The theme song is very rocky and has tons of attitude. It captures the war theme nicely with gloomy rock tones mixed up with a cinematic action score. It really sets the tone right. Many of the other songs are also brilliant and suits the concept and theme just perfectly – one moment it has that kick-ass sound that will fire anyone up and the other it sounds like the music taken from an exciting action movie.
The fact that building structures and gathering resources have been made easier is perhaps the best feature of Command & Conquer: Red Alert 3. It immediately takes away focus from those pesky tasks and instead lets you produce units and send them to into the fray which is fun. The game offers some nice new features like combat zones expanding as you progress through your mission to allow for the action to continue on the same map. This could have been used more and even been included in the Versus games. They could also have added more options to allow players customize the game settings further and there could have been more variation to the environmental effects and settings.
With all its issues Command & Conquer: Red Alert 3 still manages to deliver some neat real time strategy experiences. It is, however not even close the being the rock solid game we all wanted.