With its alternate take on world politics and war, hilarious B-movie style presentation and lightning fast gameplay, the Red Alert series has always been a rather unique branch of the Command & Conquer universe. The first two games developed by the now defunct Westwood Studios are now RTS classics. So when EA announced the next title in the series, RTS fans couldn’t have been happier. It’s been almost 8 years since the last game in the series hit shelves and we couldn’t wait to get back into action, comrade!
Red Alert 3, now developed in-house by EA, features pretty much all of the series’ trademarks and instantly feels familiar right from the menu screens to the thumping background music. As expected, the story is totally over the top material. The Soviets travel back in time and assassinate Einstein in order to stop the Allies from becoming a super power thanks to his research. However, the results are not quite what the Soviets would have expected. The Allies are subdued a little but a new threat emerges from the east. Due to the halt in the Allies’ advancement, the Empire of the Rising Sun (the game’s third playable faction) have become a considerable threat and are now hell bent on taking over the world. The Empire’s invasion sets the stage for the campaign.
The campaign is divided into three sections – Soviet, Allied, and the Empire, each featuring a set of 9 missions, each with its own storyline. Needless to say, the campaign is considerably lengthy with enough variety. Every mission is preceded by the game’s hilariously acted cheesy cutscenes featuring real actors. The cast includes quite a few famous names including Tim Curry, Jonathan Pryce, J K Simmons, Peter Stormare and Jenny McCarthy, to name a few. However, the scenes themselves feel rather forced this time around. The first two games had cutscenes, which had a B-movie feel to them. But here, they feel like they’re straight out of some bizarre military-themed porn flick. All the female characters wear skimpy costumes and speak in a weird, provocative way. Still, the cut scenes do their job for most part and help maintain the tongue in cheek nature of the narrative. It could have been toned down a little though.
So how does the gameplay fare? Thankfully, it’s every bit as enjoyable and fast paced as the previous titles. The game boasts a much larger number of units for each faction compared to it’s predecessors. Many of the old favorites such as the cloaked Allied Mirage Tank, the huge Soviet Kirov airships and the devastating Apocalypse Tank are back. In addition, there are tons of new units to experiment with. However, these new units sometimes feel a bit too “sci-fi” for the series, especially when it comes to the Empire. Many of them can “transform” into multiple vehicle types depending on the type of job at hand. Naval warfare plays a big role this time with pretty much all maps featuring large water bodies. In fact, most maps require you to venture out in the waters if you need to expand or even assault the enemy. Most of the structures can also be built in water. Expansion comes in the form of securing and building around predefined ore mines. Minerals are no longer found scattered around the maps and there’s only one type of resource, so no more coloured mineral for that extra boost in credits. The resource collection feels a bit restrictive at times but encourages constant expansion.
Super-weapons were always a highlight of the series and more often than not, players who built a super-weapon early had a big advantage as long as they kept the structure intact. However, in RA3, they feel a little underpowered. The effect of super-weapons is considerably reduced here. To compensate for that, the game gives each faction several “support powers”. These can be either special attacks or temporary upgrades to units to assist them in battle. For example, the Soviets can cause one of their satellites to come crashing down on the enemy during battle or generate a magnetic field to suck enemy vehicles right off the battlefield into space. The Allies can place time bombs or para-drop units into battle and so on. These support powers can be purchased using Security Points which can be gained by destroying enemies, completing objectives or capturing structures. Hero units also make an appearance. Each side has unique hero units, which are more resilient to damage and come with special abilities such as calling in air strikes or planting C4 to blow up structures.
The game also feels a little more balanced thanks to the varied units and its rock-paper-scissors approach. No longer can you mass one type of powerful unit and ride into battle. In the previous game, an armada of eight to ten Apocalypse tanks usually meant victory for the Soviets. RA3 removes the tank’s anti-air turrets and makes them extremely vulnerable against air units. There are many such examples, so it’s best to experiment with all types of units and come up with an effective strategy. All this, combined with the super-weapons and support powers, makes the game feel a little too overwhelming at times. There’s just too much stuff to do. The previous Red Alert games were simple, but still required strategic thinking.
One of the key features of RA3 is co-op. Every campaign mission has a fellow general helping you out during battle. If you’re playing alone, the allies are controlled by the computer and are rather effective. You have a basic set of commands, which you can use to order them around. However, the real idea is to have a friend jump in and fill the shoes of the fellow general. Co-op works fine and pretty much all of the game’s maps and missions are designed around co-op. It does make the game feel too easy at times, though. With a competent human ally, you can pretty much annihilate the enemy even on the game’s Hard setting. Multiplayer is still fast paced but requires you to be more strategic compared to the previous games. Expansion is but necessary and each side has its strengths and weaknesses, forcing you to constantly keep teching up and getting access to the better units. The multiplayer element is pretty polished and features voice support as well as the BattleCast broadcast system, using which, you can let others watch the game. Multiplayer is definitely a strong point of this title.
Graphically, the game is a bit underwhelming and actually looks worse than the recent Tiberium Wars. However, the design of the units is unique and most of them animate well. The game still maintains the overall cartoony feel of the Red Alert series, but just like the cutscenes, sometimes feels too forced. The game does feature some very impressive looking water and since most of the maps feature lots of water bodies, they make up for the rather bland terrain and buildings. Explosions and weapon effects look good and watching stuff get blown up never gets old. It’s not best looking RTS game out there, but far from ugly. The music deserves special mention since every fan of the series knows how much it adds to the game. Each faction has its signature set of tracks. They all sound appropriately punchy, perfect for a game like this. Unit responses are still cool (and funny) and the weapons and explosions pack a punch.
Red Alert 3 is solid title and one that RTS fans should not miss. However, it still lacks the charm of the previous Red Alert games and some of the elements feel a bit too forced. There are some questionable design choices and the graphics are somewhat mediocre by today’s standards. Still, there’s plenty of variety to be found in each of the game’s factions. Gameplay is still pretty tight and the multiplayer aspect is strong. Red Alert 3 is worth the money and a worthy addition to the series… just not a true classic.
(+) Gameplay is still fast paced, well balanced and fun
(+) Lots of variety in the units
(+) Impressive sound design, great in game music.
(+) Smooth performance
(-) The cheesy elements seem a little forced
(-) Underwhelming graphics
(-) Some changes in the gameplay are a step backwards
IndianVideoGamer Verdict: 8/10 (Buy)
Command & Conquer: Red Alert 3 is in stores on PC for Rs 999 and Xbox 360 for Rs 1,999. This review is based on the PC version of the game.