Command & Conquer: Red Alert 3
Systems: Xbox 360, PC
Genre: Real-time strategy
Length: 25 hours
Developer: EA LA
Publisher: EA Games
Release Date: 10/30/08
– New units and abilities add to the series
– Rising Sun faction is very different and fun
– Co-op gameplay adds another level of strategy
– Far too many units and powers return to the series
– Each side plays too similarly due to the repetitive unit types
– Too many levels simply require building up a huge economy and force to wipe out an entrenched enemy
The Command & Conquer and Red Alert series has gone a long way to popularize the real-time strategy genre through the years. Red Alert 3 adds a few new units, powers and a new faction to keep the franchise fresh, but far too much has remained the same. The game’s biggest problems are that far too many units are retained from prior games, many units are shared between all 3 factions with mere name swaps and the AI is still amazingly ignorant of its surroundings. The game is fun but would be much better if they actually pushed the franchise and genre forward with some truly fresh new ideas rather than retreading the same formulaic approach to the RTS genre.
Red Alert returns with the series trademark campy videos to tell the story of an alternate history where Einstein never existed and a new faction, the Empire of the Rising Sun, vies along with the Soviets and Allied forces to control the world. The over the top acting by some well-known actors, such as George Takei, JK Simmons (he’s absolutely hilarious!), and Jenny McCarthy, provides an entertaining calm between the campaign’s tense missions.
A great amount of the series gameplay returns in this latest entry to the series. While each side shares carbon copy units that counter specific types of units, they also have units that help make them unique. As units win battles they gain experience, which enables them to cause more damage, shoot faster and eventually heal themselves. For each battle that you win, you earn command points that you can spend to give you abilities that increase your odds of winning battles. Each side also has a super weapon that it can access by building expensive buildings that require a number of prerequisite structures. These weapons are so powerful that they can eradicate large chunks of an opponent’s base if they are deployed after their timer has counted down.
The Soviets are best known for their units’ brute force. The Apocalypse tank is the best ground unit in the game that can easily take on 3 or more tanks from any other faction. The huge zeppelins are extremely effective at carpet bombing bases and groups of units, but they also require protection while they slowly limp across the battlefield. The terror drones are annoyingly proficient spider robots that enter enemy vehicles and tear them apart from the inside. If you aren’t careful, they will move between tightly packed vehicles and slowly destroy large convoys.
The main Soviet addition is an improved air force and the ability to transport units through the air. The communists return with the Iron Curtain super power that temporarily makes a select group of ground units invulnerable. They also have new commander powers, such as the ability to suck individual units into space or send a group of satellites crashing down onto an area. Their vortex weapon will suck enemy buildings and units into a black hole if you let its counter reach zero.
The Allied units can’t match the Soviet’s sheer power, but they employ more advanced technology. The IFV vehicles are flexible vehicles that shoot rockets at air units, repair ground vehicles, or effectively gun down infantry based on the type of infantry that enter them. The Mirage tanks can’t match the Apocalypse tanks’ power, but they can sneak towards the enemy by camouflaging themselves or groups of surrounding units. One of this side’s coolest units is the spy who can disguise himself as an enemy unit to pass through defenses unharmed. Then your version of 007 can either bribe enemy units to join your cause (the spy has plenty of cash because the game was made before the sub-prime mortgage crisis) or enter buildings to temporarily shut them down.
This faction also gains a new chopper unit that can freeze units or defensive turrets to allow other units to pass unharmed. The side’s abilities include freezing targets, setting timed explosives and parachuting soldiers to visible areas of the battlefield. The Chronosphere is the Allied superweapon, which returns from previous games to give you the ultimate secret attack weapon. It allows you to send groups of units to visible areas of the map, which could potentially wreak havoc on an undefended enemy base.
The Empire of the Rising Sun is the third and newest faction to the series. If they had a motto, it would be flexibility is fun. One of the faction’s trademarks is amphibious units, including tanks that can traverse water and battleships that can land on beaches to invade enemy bases. The group also has two key units that are more than meets the eye. One unit can transform from a ground based anti-infantry vehicle into an anti-air plane. The other transformer is either a ground based unit that shoots rockets at enemy aircraft or it can change into a plane that shoots rockets at the ground.
While none of the Rising Sun units are as strong as the other faction’s respective units, this faction is always prepared to meet any challenge due to its amazing flexibility. To effectively use the side, you’ll need to effectively transform your forces to meet each challenge. A lot of their special abilities focus on improving unit defenses and firepower to make up for their unit’s deficiencies. Another power lets you send kamikaze bombers to attack specified locations. The Rising Sun superweapon lets you create a dome of nanobots that don’t allow units to pass. Keeping with the faction’s flexibility theme, the ability can be used to either shield your units from harm or contain enemy units as you do a drive-by and destroy your opponent’s base.
One significant change to the series is that all units have secondary abilities. Some of these abilities, such as the Apocalypse tank’s ability to slowly suck in other units for immediate destruction, are beneficial if you micromanage a battle to target specific units with some tanks while allowing your remaining units continue to firing at the enemy units. Another useful ability is the Rising Sun’s battle ship’s ability to shoot out 5 torpedoes that casts a wave of destruction that few units can avoid. There are also some fairly useless powers, such as the Allied jet ability to return to base at a slightly faster rate or the Allied infantry ability to use shields to approach without getting shot.
The main problem with the game is that too many units and powers return from previous games and far too many units are similar among the factions. All armies include anti-air, anti-infantry and anti-armor infantry and vehicles that often do not differ substantially. They also all have one super soldier that can decimate troops, vehicles and bases. All three factions have engineers that put in all nighters to earn their degrees and use their knowledge to repair buildings and capture opponent’s buildings. Each side has its own distinct special units, but replacing these redundant units with more unique troops would add a lot more strategy to the game.
The campaign’s missions are hit and miss. Some missions will bore you with the tried and true formula where you are pitted against an entrenched foe that sends waves and wave of enemies at you while you hold on to build up your armada of death to exact your revenge. While these missions teach you to use the various units and abilities, they also can get very tedious as you hold out against some overwhelming odds. A few missions change the game’s pacing by requiring you to use only one unit type. For instance, one mission uses the Allied’s spy t
o infiltrate a base, bribe soldiers to convert them to your side and ultimately shut down key buildings. A Rising Sun mission requires you to command a huge robot, called the Shogun Executioner, to decimate an enemy base and recharge your health with the electricity of tesla coils.
All missions give you a co-commander to work with you to accomplish your objectives. You can either play the missions with an online friend (no local options are included) or have the computer take the reins. If you go solo, then you can influence how the computer commands its troops by telling it to build up forces and plan to attack an area of the battle map, focus on a specific target, or you can let the computer freelance its commands and hope it makes the correct decisions. While the computer isn’t mentally challenged, the game is far more fun to play with a human counterpart. The only problem is that the interface to match up players is a bit cumbersome, but it’s well worth the effort to find someone else to strategerize (I know Bush isn’t president, but it’s still a fun fake word to use) with you through the game.
A problem that has plagued the entire Command & Conquer series and continues in Red Alert 3 is absolutely horrible AI. The game’s pathfinding is subpar at best with the most noticeable problems surfacing when amphibious units get log jammed in coastal areas. It’s also absolutely shocking to me that the series still doesn’t have units that are smart enough to defend themselves. Be warned: if you leave your troops unattended, they will not defend themselves when attacked. Apparently you are commanding a group of pacifists armed with extremely expensive WMDs that refuse to fire on an enemy unless you are there to baby sit them.
In addition, if you command a group of units to attack move, they won’t attack an enemy’s buildings unless you tell them to attack the buildings. If you want to raze an enemy base, you have to tell your units to destroy each building one at a time. The only conceivable reason they would refuse to fix this problem is they think it makes the game more frantic and action packed. Personally, I think it is an inexcusable problem that necessitates far too much micromanagement. They should fix the problem or at least have an option to give your units a GED so they will defend and attack properly.
The PC game includes the standard mouse and keyboard controls, whereas the consoles have adapted the controls for the much simpler controllers. Accessing building queues on the consoles is simplified by pressing a shoulder button. An enlargeable mini-map makes it easier to quickly move across the battlefield. You can more easily make mixed control groups by holding down a button while you choose various units.
The real fun and value of real-time strategy games comes from online competitive matches where you prove your strategic mettle by using your units and abilities to their utmost potential. Prior Red Alert games involved quite a bit of focus on rushing in online matches. Red Alert 3 removes this focus by slowing down your economy’s cash flow to ensure you’ll get past the early stages of combat and get some of the more advanced and interesting units onto the battlefield. The PC version includes 28 maps that offer quite a bit of variety to ensure you don’t get bored playing the same areas repeatedly. The PC’s ladder and clan matchmaking from prior C&C games returns in Red Alert 3 and works admirably. Unfortunately, the console games only include the skirmish modes. It’s still fun to battle online, but it’s a bit disappointing that they didn’t include the same breadth of modes that PC gamers get to enjoy.
The game’s graphics include a bright palette of colors that pop off the screen. Explosions are very detailed and really add a lot to the game when you blow up large structures and see the screen filled with fire and smoke. A number of units also include electrical powers that are quite detailed as they web across water or arc towards specific units. Red Alert’s signature grinding title track returns along with a variety of techno and Asian inspired music that change depending on the faction you control.
Red Alert 3 adds a few new units and powers, but doesn’t reinvent the RTS wheel. It still follows the same tried and true build a huge economy, pump out units and overwhelm your opponent that ignores other game’s creations, such as gaining benefits for taking cover, capturing key points on the map to receive continued support, and supply routes that can be cut off and hamper economies. Some of the new secondary abilities do add a new layer of strategy to target specific units or attack an area on the battlefield to take out clusters of units, but far too much of the game repeats many aspects of the series’ previous games. It is an entertaining game, but it could be much better if they would take the time to push the series in new directions rather than keeping to the series’ same formula for success.
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Roger Riley (aka Rabid Rabbit)
I’m an avid gamer that’s gotten tired of extremely predictable inflated review scores by the large video game sites. I started my own site, PoweredUpGamers.com, with a friend of mine to provide truly objective game reviews and opinions so gamers can read the truth about a game before buying it. If you are like many gamers and agree with these often differing and more critical opinions, we welcome you to visit our site. In addition to written reviews, we also have video reviews, opinions, a blog, and game images. Our growing community enjoys posting comments in articles and the forums and playing games in our arcade while earning points for their accounts.