Genre: Real-Time Strategy
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Developer: EA LA
Release Date: November 11, 2008
As a fan of history, I enjoy playing and reading about the landmark events of the past, and an occasion that is played out in countless video games is World War II. EA has taken this infamous incident and implemented it into its pseudo-historic Command & Conquer: Red Alert series, which debuted in 1996. Essentially, the events of World War II were prevented due to Albert Einstein using his time machine to go back and eliminate Adolf Hitler. This prompted the Soviet Union to advance upon Eastern Europe but ultimately be defeated by the Allies. Skip ahead to 2008, and we now have Command & Conquer: Red Alert 3 for the Xbox 360.
The events from the previous games lead up to the scenario in Red Alert 3. The Soviet Union is on the verge of destruction and desperate to reclaim its power, Soviet General Krukov and Colonel Cherdenko (played by Tim Curry) use a time machine to travel back to 1927 to the Soviet Physics International Conference and eliminate Albert Einstein. This prevents him from creating the technology that allowed the Allies to defeat the Soviet Union in the previous titles. Returning to the present, General Krukov discovers that Cherdenko is the Premier of the Soviet Union, which is on the brink of conquering Europe. The Empire of the Rising Sun has risen in Japan and decided to declare war. Without Einstein, nuclear weapons don't exist anymore, so both the Allies and the Soviet Union are forced into a three-way war with the Empire.
Given the story line, you can tell that this is not a very serious game, and you may even find it to be humorous. I believe this is mainly due to the ensemble of Hollywood actors who portray the military officials in Red Alert 3. In addition to Tim Curry are George Takei as Emperor Yoshiro of the Rising Sun; Jenny McCarthy as the Allied commando, Tanya; J.K. Simmons as the U.S. President; and many more. Most of the actors are seen in the title's numerous live-action cut scenes, which look really good, unlike the cheesy live-action clips from various games on the Sega CD. These scenes appear before each mission within the campaign and help flesh out the story. Additionally, small live-action clips play throughout the missions and keep you amused with witty banter.
Who are these commanders, and why should you care? Players take on the role of a new commander who must manage resources and initiate orders to his troops in order to be successful in Red Alert 3's 27 missions. Each faction (Allies, Empire of the Rising Sun and Soviets) has a set of nine missions to play through, giving multiple perspectives of the action on the battlefield. Each faction has its own unique, stereotypical group of units: Allies have hot female commandos, Soviets utilize trained bears, and the Imperials have mechanized robot soldiers.
Like the other games in the series, Red Alert 3 is a real-time strategy game, and many were worried about how the frantic action of this style would hold out on the 360, as console RTSes are notorious for having problematic controls. A prime example of a console RTS that got its controls down was The Lord of the Rings: The Battle for Middle-earth II, and Red Alert 3 appears to follow in its footsteps. You move the cursor around with the left thumbstick and select units with the A button. You can select multiple units by holding down the A button, and a circle will appear to select any units that get caught in the area when you roll over to them. Then it's your typical point-and-click format to dictate movement and attack orders.
The problem with console controls is you don't have the luxury of having all your menus and building options available instantaneously with a mouse click. EA has compensated for this by allowing you to bring up the command menu by holding down the right trigger and cycling through a wheel of options. In the command menu, you can select which facilities to build and which units you want to create. Other things you can do are command your units' behavior and what stance they take when idle, as well as initiate top-secret protocols that cause random incidents to affect you or your enemy's troops. Some can bolster your army's attack power, while others can rain down interstellar space junk on top of your enemies and crush them.
In addition to controlling your own units, you can command your AI-controlled co-commander by holding down the left bumper and pressing one of the corresponding commands on the d-pad. These include holding position, mobilizing units to a location where your units will meet up with them, sending them out to attack an enemy structure or unit, or allowing the AI to control the units (which does a fairly good job). Unfortunately, you can't ever directly control your co-commander's units, which can be annoying because many missions will force you to share your resources with them. While the controls aren't as convenient as the mouse and keyboard and may feel clumsy at times, I'm impressed by how the developers got the intricate mechanics of an RTS to work on a console.
Being able to adapt to the console controls is great if playing through the campaign is all you care about. However, once you venture into the world of online multiplayer, console controls won't cut it. This is where the 360 version of Red Alert 3 pales in comparison to its PC counterpart because the controller just won't accommodate all of the twitch reflexes that are needed. You have the option to play with up to four players online in a skirmish, or you can tackle the campaign missions with a friend via Xbox Live, but only with a friend. Essentially, you'll need to have a friend with Red Alert 3 to play co-op, or pick one up from an online skirmish, which does feature matchmaking. The online gameplay in general is pretty solid, and I didn't notice any lag, although the lack of co-op matchmaking is disappointing.
In addition to a lack of slowdown with online play, the game generally didn't experience a great deal of slowdown from the number of units that appear on the screen at one time. The graphics for the units and buildings are pretty good, but not impressive, and I ended up enjoying the live-action segments more than the CGI elements.
Going along with the visuals, the sound for Red Alert 3 is really good. The voice acting is obviously top-notch, as it's coming straight from Hollywood actors. I found that some of the repeated one-liners got stale after a while, and my intel officer's constant reminders that my base/unit/ally was under attack definitely got on my nerves. The music was a mixed bag. During the less intense moments of battles, it'd play some espionage-like music to go with the tactical theme, but as soon as a battle emerged or it seemed as if the battle was in my favor, some rocking music would play. It felt pretty cheesy in this setting, but I guess it goes along with the cheesy nature of the title.
Overall, Command & Conquer: Red Alert 3 is a great RTS. I enjoyed it for the ridiculous story line and humor, and I found the gameplay to be quite captivating. While the controls work and establish that consoles can handle these types of games, they just aren't as convenient as they are on a PC.
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