After an extended hiatus Red Alert is back, on Xbox and (eventually) PlayStation 3 consoles. The Red Alert franchise is known for its excellent storytelling albeit through lengthy cut scenes and over the top characters and this title is no different. This, in addition to gameplay that spans the previous two titles have made Red Alert 3 one of the most anticipated RTS games of all time. The opening shows the Soviets on the verge of defeat as the Allies roll onto Russian soil. Thinking fast, the Russians employ the use of an experimental time machine, go back into time before all of the events of the Red Alert series, and eliminate Albert Einstein. With no Einstein, there’s no nuclear weaponry, and when the Russians go back to the future, they find that the Soviet forces are no longer on the verge of crumbling. Instead, the Allied forces are down and out. But the feeling of victory doesn’t last long, as a new threat emerges as a direct result of the timeline-tampering and the Japanese forces rumble onto the scene to create a three-way conflict.
The three different entities and a big focus on naval combat provide the beef of Red Alert 3′s gameplay. The good thing here is that the faction differences are meaningful enough to require you to employ different strategies, but similar enough so that no team has an advantage. The campaign mode takes you through all three factions and like previous C&C games, you’ll find bonus objectives to complete, and the story is told via full-motion HD video sequences that set up each mission. You’ll also get a lot of video during the missions in a window that doesn’t block your view of the action. This gives the missions a lot of personality and keeps you engaged in the Red Alert world at all times. All of the FMV and interaction between characters really makes the campaign a treat to see, as you’ll encounter a lot of great moments on all sides.
Another new feature of RA3 is that the game has been built from the ground up with co-operative play in mind. That means that you’ll always have a co-commander by your side, either a friend on Xbox Live or an AI-based partner that you can give limited commands to. In most cases this works great, as in some cases your partner will have a base in a different area of the map, making them better suited to attack immediate threats, or letting you double up on the offense. Unfortunately there’s no matchmaking for this, meaning you’re going to have to invite a friend every time you want to co-op campaign it up’. Probably a sensible decision, but it would have been nice to have it included in there for those without RTS buddies.
As said, there are large naval/water sections on the maps, in fact, every one of the game’s multiplayer maps has some water. This means you can now build most of your base at sea, with only the structures devoted to deploying ground units locked to land. This changes a lot of the strategy commonly found in real-time strategy games and really forces you to rethink the best ways to attack. But besides this rather notable difference to prior games, Red Alert 3 is still based on the classic C&C foundations. But this time you’ll find it difficult building gigantic forces and slowly evolving your base to completion before you even think about attacking the enemy. This is a fast-moving game, and pumping out small forces of multiskilled units and sending them off to fight seems to be the key to victory, rather than building up enough units to stomp around the map at will. As such, expect to see enemies heading your way pretty frequently, too. And sometimes managing your wide array of units gets to be a bit much. You’ll find yourself getting overwhelmed and even stressed when battles got hectic. But the game is rewarding. As you play more and more, you’ll learn when to employ each strategy in a more calm and collected fashion, and reaping the rewards as you go. During the course of the campaign mode, the cut scenes are more than entertaining and even humorous at times, with the likes of Jenny McCarthy and Gemma Atkinson on board as Tanya and a ranked Lieutenant respectively.
In addition to co-op play, you can also set up 4 player matches both online against humans or as skirmish matches against the AI. In terms of graphics, the game looks fantastic on a large screen HDTV, with some beautiful explosions to be viewed during campaign. For someone who hasn’t played a RTS before would perhaps find the Xbox 360 controls much more manageable than mouse and keyboard on PC. However it can be difficult trying to remember every single option and the different unit selection controls, adding to the stress that can be had during frantic battles. While there isn’t a great deal to be said about the music, fans of the previous two games will be pleased to hear many of the original themes and sounds have been re-worked for the third game. From the banging, upbeat theme of the main menu to the interactive in-mission music that picks up whenever battles commence, music is just about as good as it possibly could be.
For the hardcore Red Alert and Command & Conquer players, the changes made in RA3 (thankfully) haven’t abandoned the core of what makes these games so good, which makes this the best console RTS ever. Unfortunately, the excellent cutscenes won’t be quite enough to grasp a new audience and keep the casual gamer at the command post.