Sunday, January 25, 2009
Back in the late 90s/early 2000s, Westwood was at the top of their game with the Command & Conquer series, specifically the Red Alert installments. These games featured fast-paced, often hilarious, absurd RTS gameplay that still holds up today. I became a bit concerned when I found out that EA was taking over the series, and wasn't blown away by the console version of C&C3. I was excited to learn that Red Alert 3 was coming to consoles, but was also worried that the controls wouldn't feel as complete or smooth using a controller. The original Red Alert worked fine on the PSX, but the fact that it's more complex now and features a 3D graphics engine gave me reason for concern. Thankfully, Red Alert 3 utilizes a fantastic control scheme and retains all the charm and addictive gameplay the series is known for.
From the very beginning, you'll know for sure what series you're playing. The first scene involves Tim Curry, Mikhail from Lost, and Peter Stormare as Soviets that travel back in time to murder Einstein. If I had never heard of Command & Conquer and the EA marketing team used that last sentence to describe the game, I'd buy it without needing to hear another word. Without Einstein, the future is rewritten and the Soviets wield more power and technology. An unexpected side effect is that Japan has become a massive military force called the Empire of the Rising Sun (led by Emperor George Takei, no less). All of the cutscenes are excellent, featuring a ludicrous story, hilarious cast, and intentionally low-budget sets and green screen work. The Red Alert series is known for its campy presentation, but these cutscenes are the best in the series' history.
To acquaint yourself with the unnatural feeling of an RTS on a console, it's essential to go through the somewhat lengthy tutorial. Make no mistake about it, there are a lot of commands and controls to memorize, but you'll find your experience to be greatly improved if you learn and utilize them. Almost every command from the PC version is available with the 360 controller in some form. You can attack move, reverse move, select all of a given unit type, set waypoints, rally points, and assign units to a team all surprisingly well. Building structures is controlled via a wheel that you bring up with the right trigger, allowing selections to be made with the right analog stick. I'm not going to say it's "better" than a keyboard and mouse but it comes as close as you're going to get with analog sticks and buttons.
There are three factions, each with their own nine-mission campaign. Most of the Soviet units are offensive and utilize brute force, the Allies have some weaker but sneaky units, and the Empire can produce units with several different functions (such as mech units that can walk or transform into jets). They all have distinct pros and cons, and you'll find yourself playing completely different based on who you selected. When you're the Soviets, you'll probably crank out Apocalypse Tanks and Kirov blimps in an effort to overwhelm the enemy's base. If you're the Allies, it's more likely that you'll level up your navy so you can bombard enemies with Aircraft Carriers. The Empire of the Rising Sun can adjust quickly to many different combat situations, allowing the same units to support you against grounded or airborne enemies.
While most of the combat will be done with tanks and planes, there's no shortage of ridiculous units, a Red Alert trademark. You'll get "war bears", giant transformer robots, attack dolphins, psychic schoolgirls, and a Bullfrog launcher that literally shoots your infantry out of a cannon. There's no funnier sight in the game than five bears being awkwardly launched out of a cannon, only to safely parachute into an enemy base.
My favorite feature of Red Alert 3 is definitely the new cooperative gameplay. It's a first for the genre, and each mission seems specifically tailored to be played with a friend. If you're going solo, you'll get a co-commander that you can issue basic instructions to, but it can't compare to a flesh-and-blood partner. Coordinating attacks and planning strategy is a blast with a friend, and it really breathes new life into the standard RTS formula.
While it doesn't quite match the control of a keyboard and mouse, this console version of Red Alert 3 is the best RTS experience I've had on a console. If you've got a friend with the game, the 27 missions will keep you occupied and entertained for a long time. Even once the campaigns are done, there's tons of fun to be had in online battles and skirmishes. With fast-paced and intense gameplay, three unique factions, hilarious cutscenes, and great co-op play, Red Alert 3 is a must-buy for fans of the genre.
First Play: 8.5
Replay Value: 9.5