This review by Ian Warner
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This is the third instalment in Command and Conquer’s Red Alert series and by far the craziest so far. That really is saying something for a series whose plots have revolved around Time Travel, Psychics and Laura Croft rip offs with C4 marauding through Soviet bases but more about that later. Red Alert III has really irked some die hard Command and Conquer fans. The most common complaint is that it is too silly. To these people I say “hello this is Command and Conquer Red Alert! The first game had a secret mission where you fight giant ants for Christ’s sake!” This humour to me is a defining feature of the Command and Conquer series. The other 2 series the so called Tiberium Universe and the awesomely politically incorrect Generals have their humour as well. Granted neither are as goofy as Red Alert III but it’s nice to see EA catering for the non to serious gamer market for a change.
Like the other Red Alert games and the Tiberium Universe series the story is told by a series of Live Action sequences populated by actors that really should know better. Red Alert III boasts the most starry cast list yet including Tim Curry, Jonathan Price, George Takei, some ex Hollyoakes totty and some random slaphead doing a George Bush Impression. Yeah wasn’t too impressed with him but more on that later.
Once again it is a Time Travel related story. Time Travel is a recurring theme in the Red Alert series. It was Einstein and Kane’s time travel that created the Red Alert universe in the first place so it is appropriate that this new Red Alert world should be created by the same means. Ironically it is Einstein that Chedenko (Tim Curry) erases from history to create this new Red Alert. At first it seems to be a good move. The Allies are on the run and Chedenko goes from lowly colonel to Premier but then the 3 time travellers realise something. Without Einstein there is no atomic bomb, for some reason not sure why. No atomic bomb and another Superpower arises to challenge them: The Empire of the Rising Sun lead by George Takei’s Emperor. The opening credits showcase this new faction in all their tremendously silly glory.
The direction the story of Campaign mode takes depends entirely on which faction you ally yourself with.
The Soviet story starts with you on the defensive against the Empire before you regroup and strike back at both Empire and Allies. There’s also some internal conflict as one of the Soviet generals tries to seize power.
Allies players start on the defensive too against the Soviets on BrightonBeach. From there it’s a tough slog to drive the Soviets out of Europe followed by an alliance with them to take on the much bigger threat of the Empire. Slaphead doesn’t like this alliance but I won’t give too much away.
Speaking of Slaphead he comes close to ruining the story. I’ll be the first to admit that George W Bush was really hilarious however adding a Southern Hick Bible Bashing president does nothing for the game. It is not even comic relief because it’s painfully unfunny.
The Empire story is one of constant offensive pursuing the Emperor’s dream of a divine destiny of the Empire to rule the world. There is some conflict between the traditionalist Emperor and his dynamic son Prince Tatsu.
All three stories are sufficiently suspenseful, thrilling and above all hilarious in a way only Command and Conquer can be.
Red Alert III is a far more tactical game than any of its predecessors. Whereas in previous games the first one to build a big enough tank column usually won Red Alert III forces you to used combined arms tactics even on the easy levels.
There are also more advanced commands such as reverse that prevents your tanks from exposing their rear to the enemy when retreating, unit special abilities that provide options beyond simple “kill them” and a whole host of support powers as pioneered by Generals.
Some of these powers are incredibly silly and utterly hilarious. A particular favourite of mine is the Soviet Magnetic Satellite. It sucks up enemy vehicles into orbit then when you latter deploy Orbital Dump it casts them down upon their friends.
Tactically the three armies show greater differences than the opponents of any previous Command and Conquer Game.
Even the way buildings are erected is different. The Allies retain the standard Command and Conquer building procedure but the Soviets and Empire do things totally differently. To build a Soviet structure you place the structure before you build it and some rickety scaffolding appears as it is being constructed. The Empire has their wonderful Nanotechnology. Each building comes out of the Construction Yard as a Nanocore which you can drive to their desired location and deploy into a full building.
Construction isn’t the only difference of course. The three armies are wildly diverse and require different tactics to use effectively.
The Allies don’t have too much of a bum deal this time. Chedenko’s messing with the space-time continuum seems to closed the gap between Soviet and Allied conventional forces. It no longer takes two Allied tanks to take down a Soviet one the Gladiator and the Hammer are more or less equal. Furthermore the amphibious nature of the Assault Destroyer gives the Allies some super heavy armour at last. What still plagues the Allied forces however is the over reliance on complicated technology and the abilities this creates. Like their previous incarnations the Allies are a tactician’s dream but a beginner’s nightmare compared to the more brutal and simple Soviets.
The Soviets are a sledgehammer to the Allies scalpel. Whereas the Allies rely on clever technologies and tactics to win the day the Soviets prefer the brute force and their units reflect that. Life and thus units are cheap to the commies allowing you to field huge armies. They may not have as effective special abilities as the fancy high tech forces of the Allies and Empire but they hit damn hard and there are a lot of them. In keeping with this theme Soviet War Factories do not repair nearby tanks like the Allied and Empire equivalents. This can be a tactical disadvantage however it is generally cheaper to buy new than repair with the Soviets.
The Empire army is silly: Everything from transforming tanks to Psychic Schoolgirls is included its fold. This can be a serious tactical disadvantage. Like the Orks in Dawn of War you end up laughing so much at your army that you put yourself at risk of embarrassing defeat. If you can take them seriously the Empire has considerable tactical flexibility. For example their MBT the Tsunami is fully amphibious allowing you not only to cross bodies of water in your way but also to put your tanks to sea acting as light naval firepower in a fix.
If there is one general point that can be made about the game play it is that, as its Command and Conquer, infantry are pretty useless. In Red Alert 2 they tried to offset this by introducing garrisoning buildings which was improved through Generals and the third instalment of the Tiberium series. It was working quite well as it was but as part of making Red Alert III more tactical EA nerfed infantry again. Each bog standard infantry unit in the game has a secondary attack mode for clearing garrisoned buildings. Soviet Conscripts chuck Molotovs, Allied Peacekeepers use riot shields and the Empire Warrior switches on a power katana and charges, no really. I can see what they were trying to do with this. Garrisoned buildings were pretty rock hard in Generals and C&C 3 and they could do with weakening a bit but now as soon as your recon picks up a garrisoned building all you need to do is build 5-10 of your cheapest units and the buildings are as good as cleared. I suppose infantry are good for one thing though. Clearing buildings!
With all of the comedy units, not just on the Empire’s side but also on the other two (Soviet Bullfrog Man Cannon and Attack Bears I’m looking at you) the atmosphere of the game is pretty light hearted and even strays into self parody. This may upset the die hard C&C fans that take the game too seriously but it’s a real refreshing change for me personally.
The Graphics are a little cartoony but this fits in with the less than serious spirit of the game. Again a die hard fan may say its not Command and Conquer but I quite like it.
Overall I was quite satisfied with what I got from Red Alert III. For all the insane units, hammy acting, cartoony graphics and other supposed downsides it is an enjoyable game that does not for a minute take itself seriously. Also I approve the move to a more tactical game rather than tank rushing even if I do secretly miss rumbling through my enemy’s base with 20 odd tanks. It will take a considerably more effort to complete than its predecessors but that, in this case is a good thing.