Red Alert 3 had me right from the start. The game begins with a nice reversal of the original’s opening cinematic and only gets crazier from there. It culminates with GIANT SAMURAI ROBOTS attacking the Russian Bear. Let me repeat that:
GIANT. SAMURAI. ROBOTS. And the insanity is just getting started.
In their quest to resurrect the long extinct Command & Conquer franchise, Electronic Arts has managed to craft a worthy successor to the (in my view) far more interesting spin-off series, Red Alert. The original game opened with Albert Einstein going back in time to Venice circa 1920 and eliminating Hitler while he was still a struggling artist. As the screen faded to black, Einstein mumbled that the consequences of his actions would not be known for some time. What followed was one of the best militaristic anthems ever composed for video games and a montage of an unopposed Joseph Stalin conquering Europe.
Fast forward many years and the Allies and the Russians are again at war, but a new problem has shown up. The Empire of the Rising Sun (Japan) decides that with both sides weakened after decades of conflict, now is the best time to go for all the marbles. It’s a brilliant set-up for what is ultimately a mixed bag of a real time strategy game. It’s a technically well done title, but if you are worn out from years of real time strategy games then this one is not the breath of fresh air the genre so desperately needs.
The world of Red Alert 3 is jam packed with detail. The view may not allow a zoom in on individual units as far as you might like, but it is possible to get close enough to see the amount of detail the animators put into everything. Beaches are lined with umbrellas and blankets. Russian bears sit on their haunches when they rest, and paddle furiously in the water while swimming. Buildings hum with vibrancy while active and crumble and explode into tons of pieces when destroyed.
Each unit for all three sides is distinct. Considering the sheer volume of military personnel available that is a remarkable achievement. Smoke issues forth from armor, missile-packing dolphins jump through the waves before attacking ships. Those same ships can spider walk across the ground once they hit land. It’s excessive. It’s over the top. It is a ton of fun spotting the small details in every character, vehicle, and level.
The acting is hilarious. It doesn’t matter who is on screen at any given time. It is all solid gold awesome. Despite live-action falling by the wayside so long ago, I endorse the C&C universe gleefully clinging to it. Having Jonathan Pryce, J.K. Simmons, George Takai, and Tim Curry all barking orders directly at you is geek nirvana, especially if you’re as much of a hard core movie buff as I. Somehow, even Jenny McCarthy doesn’t come off as a flake though I snickered during her interrogation of a bad guy because, hey, it’s Jenny McCarthy holding a knife to a guy’s throat. Were I the guy, I’d be hard pressed not to die laughing at the absurdity of it all.
Unit and environmental sound effects are also particularly good. EA really nailed the little touches both graphically and aurally because the level of detail in both regards is top notch. Everything has its own set of sound effects that cover movement, change of stances, attack, and defending. One sound in particular will be noted by geeks for how eerily it resembles a favorite cartoon of the 1980s, but you have to listen for it and know what unit it belongs to. Hint: it’s mentioned somewhere else in this review.
Sometimes it can be difficult to pinpoint where on the map a problem has appeared. Sounds of battle will billow forth but you can’t tell from sound alone where the fighting is. Fortunately, a flashing bright orange dot appears on your map whenever two opposing forces meet. Other than the small nitpick of unit chatter sometimes overlapping, the sound effects for Red Alert 3 are almost uniformly stellar.
You know things have gotten off on the wrong foot when a tutorial designed to instruct you on the various control options actually puts you to sleep from information overload. This was a discussion on basic control schemes, by the way. The sheer amount of possible combinations for controls on the little Xbox 360 controller is pure information saturation. I can appreciate the desire for this title’s PC counterpart to have additional options, but I cannot believe things weren’t simplified a tad for the console. It’s not like the 360 controller can morph into a mouse and keyboard. Yet the length of controller options leads one to believe the developers thought it could.
They were incorrect, good readers.
The result is, at least how this reviewer played it, finding the few options that both make sense and can be remembered, and sticking with those. Select a series of units by holding down A and dragging over units. Then hit X to turn them into a singular group. You can access individual units and fire up their secondary form/move easy enough.
The build options are available anywhere on the map. All you have to do is hold down the A button (while not on a unit) then the build menu appears. Select any one of the available options by moving to it with the thumbstick. Select a structure or unit to build and hit A again, then place the building where you need it. You’ll also be holding down the right trigger while you do this. That’s pretty much all I used throughout the game and I got through just fine. But a control scheme that triggers such an negative reaction is one that is far overdone beyond the call of duty.
Simple may not always be better, but it helps. A lot.
Everyone handles a game of strategy differently. Approaches vary wildly as each person employs alternative gambits. A prime example of this is chess. Newcomers and veterans alike prefer to take their time thinking and planning out more than just the next move. They need to be five or six moves ahead per turn. It is importantly to not only know how the board may look several moves later, but also why it looks the way it does. It is a terrific game for building and maintaining mental acuity.
Red Alert 3 reminds me most of speed chess. The game remains the same but it moves so fast that one needs an almost chemical-level understanding of the genre to become invincible. Either that or figure out how to Zerg-rush (or should that be Commie-rush?) your foes better than I can.
I will give credit where credit is due – EA has done a remarkable job balancing the units. Even after the de facto standard bearer for the genre (read: Starcraft) threw down the blueprint for success and dared everyone else to pick it up, no one did. Instead, it was possible in virtually all subsequent RTS titles to build a boatload of one or two particular units and rush-rush-rush until you smothered your opponent. Where Starcraft succeeded was in balancing enough units so that every one had an opposing number. Red Alert 3 uses this technique to excellent effect so that successful attack waves are diversified attack waves. With each unit also having a secondary attack/defense mode, the possible combinations are extensive to put it mildly.
Or you can play like I do and use your aerial units to blow up power generators then follow them up with your commando unit to take out as many buildings as possible. Cheap? Maybe. Successful? Absolutely. Sometimes.
The core gameplay for this sequel remains the same. Arrive at a location, construct a base then build human and vehicular units, find your enemy, whoop his/her arse, move on to the next level. Interspersed between each mission are lengthy live-action briefings that give a who’s-who list of character actors room to chew as much scenery as possible.
Casting J.K. Simmons as a red-blooded American president was a stroke of genius. He doesn’t lapse into any J. Jonah Jameson style rants, unfortunately, but he’s hilarious all the same. George Takai is pure awesome as the Japanese emperor, and the combination of Andrew Divoff and Tim Curry as a Russian general and the premier, respectively, is comedy gold. Curry’s slurry, brutish accent absolutely kills.
And God bless EA for hiring Kelly Hu and Gemma Atkinson for the same game. I caught myself licking my TV more than once and I blame their astonishing beauty for it. But that’s probably more information about me than you wanted. Ever.
Oh yeah, there’s a video game here too. Players take control of dozens of units across land, sea, and air then accomplish objectives laid out on an isometric map. You can zoom in close to the action, or remain high in the clouds looking down at it all. It’s not a difficult genre to describe because that’s pretty much it. Build units. Attack enemy. Build more units. Rinse. Repeat. If it sounds like this reviewer is jaded towards the genre itself, then you are a most perceptive reader. Few games in the RTS genre innovate anymore and Red Alert 3 is no exception.
Where it does succeed is with speed. This game moves with a purpose and despite several levels having multiple objectives, missions can be completed by experienced players very quickly. Inexperienced players may take a bit longer to get the feel of the game, something compounded by a control scheme better suited to the PC than a console. I honestly fell asleep during one of the tutorial briefings because the game rattled off a list of control options for a few minutes straight. Each unit and each building have multiple control options, as discussed above, so I opted to just use what worked. That entailed an oversimplification of the controls which resulted in a much tighter play experience.
Put another way, I picked the four or five control options I could remember without having to consult the manual and stuck with those.
In spite of the over abundance of control options, Red Alert 3 is a fun title. It moves quickly, some units are extremely creative (GIANT. SAMURAI. ROBOTS.) and the amount of destruction gamers can wreck across Europe is thrilling. One of the alternate modes for some planes are Veritech fighters, I kid you not. Small details like this help make the combat portions fun. Combine that with some energetic live-action work, a multiplayer component which lets you connect with friends to slug it out even more, and you have a solid RTS, albeit one lacking in overt innovation.
If asked to describe the game in a far shorter manner than I have, I’d succinctly label it “comfort food.” You know exactly what you’re getting and if that’s what you like, then that’s what you get. No more. No less.
With three campaigns of nine missions each, and with each mission usually having multiple objectives that include bonuses and surprises, plus a multiplayer mode, Red Alert 3 packs a lot of game under the hood. According to the box, there is also an hour or so of live action footage and listening to Tim Curry’s egregiously over the top Russian accent will never get old. Nor will staring at Jenny McCarthy’s stomach or Kelly Hu in general…
Where was I?
If you are not a fan of real time strategy games, then Red Alert 3 won’t change your mind. Top to bottom it is what it is and if you enjoy this genre then there is plenty of game for your buck.
Red Alert 3 is exactly what it claims to be – a fast-paced RTS with over the top acting and units. If controlling GIANT SAMURAI ROBOTS and missile-packing dolphins and really honked off Russian bears sounds like fun, then this is the game for you. I think the RTS genre has gone to the same well far too many times and as such virtually any title in this field is going to have a hard time knocking my socks off. But then again I’ve played every one of them since Dune 2 so I know what I’m talking about.
The game doesn’t feel as stale as some others primarily because the level of energy is sky high. If you like the genre, there is plenty here that you will enjoy. If you are tired of the genre, Red Alert 3 won’t shake you out of your apathy. It’s a technically well done game, but this reviewer wishes innovation was as prominently displayed here as Gemma Atkinson’s cleavage.