If there’s one thing that characterizes EA Los Angeles, it’s the studio’s willingness to learn from its mistakes. The recent sequel to Command & Conquer’s central universe, Command & Conquer 3: Tiberium Wars, was intended to be a return to roots for the series but seemed more like a shameless yet enjoyable piece of fan service. Red Alert 3, the latest entry in the Red Alert series is the real ‘return to roots’ title that EA promised with Tiberium Wars.
The story will be familiar to those who played the previous Red Alert titles. The Allies and the Soviet Union are still meddling with time to less-than-desired effect, and in Red Alert 3, a Russian time machine and the death of Albert Einstein averts the Soviets’ fall to Allied forces, leading to a present day Russian victory. However, with the elimination of Einstein, Japan has gone unchecked and risen as a world superpower. As General Krukov gives the order to fire the USSR’s nuclear arsenal, he is swiftly reminded that without Einstein these weapons do not exist. The game sees Soviet and Allied forces at war, with interruptions from the Empire of the Rising Sun forcing them to work together. The outcome of the story differs depending on which faction the player chooses to command.
EA Los Angeles was wise to add the Empire of the Rising Sun to the game, following the trend from previous games in the series of using three factions. Their units range from the conventional (Tsunami Tanks, Imperial Soldiers and Shogun Battleships) to the more outlandish (transforming mechs and anime-inspired schoolgirls that make up the bulk of their armies). The Allied forces use advanced technology, with Cryocopters, Chronospheres and a Time Belt used by one of the main characters, Tanya, to undo her last ten seconds of action. The Soviet Union uses conventional technology and enlisted units, with their infantry consisting of unemployed and uneducated civilians, convicts and workers. Their armor division places emphasis mostly on Tesla weaponry, electrifying units and structures.
As is the custom for new Command & Conquer titles, Red Alert 3′s strategy is has been tweaked from previous renditions. Most notably, it’s no longer viable to construct a force that wins out purely on numbers. Given the versatility of all the game’s factions, particularly the Empire, spamming one type of unit will leave your force vulnerable to a particular form of attack. King Oni mechs may be powerful, but they have no anti-air capabilities and will be swiftly dispatched by a small number of air-to-surface units. This forces players to mix their armies up and devise smaller squads made up of fewer units with more varied capabilities. Naval warfare is also greatly emphasized, with most multiplayer maps featuring ways to surprise the enemy with an oceanic attack. This places more importance on building mobile defences rather than surrounding a base with defensive turrets while you construct a numbers-heavy force, a tactic known by players as “turtling”.
The new co-op campaign mode is also a first for a Command & Conquer title and is far more preferable to playing with the AI co-commanders. The co-commanders act on their own but can be ordered to take on a different play style, including offensive and defensive. While these computer-controlled players show competence, nothing quite compares to completely obliterating enemies on an RTS battlefield with a friend in tow. Your friend replaces the mission co-commander and receives a small force of their own – you share resources in a way that is fair and easy to get to grips with. Rather than have both players’ accumulated credits fall into one single pile to be spent, it splits the credits both players earn in half and then distributes them evenly.
The iconic live action cut-scenes are significantly better than those of Tiberium Wars. The list of star performers includes Tim Curry, Jonathan Pryce, J.K. Simmons and George Takei . Their acting is well executed, yet inescapably cheesy — but that’s a characteristic of Command & Conquer cut-scenes rather than a flaw.
The soundtrack is equally entertaining, as heavy, over-the-top rock sounds fit extremely well with the rush of over-the-top warfare. Of particular interest is the way the in-game music works: the game plays a different track for each faction upon entering battle, and depending on the state of the player’s army, will switch to one of two tracks to declare heavy losses or victory. This kind of active shifting is seamless, and really it adds a theatrical feel to the proceedings of war. Long time fans will be thrilled to hear the return of the iconic Red Alert theme, "Hell March," again composed by Frank Klepacki.
As well as being a treat for the ears, the game is visually stunning when played on higher graphical settings. The water effects have transparency that reveals coral reefs and the ocean floor beautifully, and each individual unit realistically reflects light. Of course, the biggest clincher in terms of graphical capabilities is the special effects, and being a Red Alert title, this game is full of them. From the Allied Chronosphere to the Soviet’s Vacuum Imploder, the support powers and ultraweapons of the game are a particular thrill to watch in action.
Overall, Red Alert 3 is a competent package with very little balance issues, an excellent story-driven campaign mode and great online multiplayer. While the co-operative campaign mode is the driving force of the title, the game shines in many other aspects. For RTS fans, this is an absolute must-buy, and it remains extremely accessible to genre newcomers as well.