Command and Conquer: Red Alert 3

Red Alert is a bit like Command and Conquer's slightly mischievous cousin. Where the standard Command and Conquer games focus entirely on combat and resource management, with a reasonably strict aversion to fiction, Command and Conquer: Red Alert throws sense and logic away, in favour of science fiction-inspired weaponry, camp acting, over-the-top action and boobs as far as they eye can see. It does very little to illustrate the true horror of war, which is great really, because there's a lot more wacky fun to be found in a game where armies are led by pompous warlords, and tank commanders think it's a right old hoot to shoot eachother's barrels off. Basically, Red Alert is comprised of all the technical and clever stuff that's found in standard Command and Conquer games, but "some nutter" has come along and topped it off with cream, jelly beans and their copy of Star Wars: Technical Illustrations. What could be better than that?

Well, a fair bit unfortunately, because - getting straight to the point - the controls can be a bit pants from time to time. The problem, immediately, is that there's currently no mouse and keyboard support for the PS3 version of the game. That's not necessarily a bad thing, because it'd be nice not have to use those things if they can possible be avoided, but an adequate alternative must be provided. In Red Alert 3, the system offered is one of a series of rings, called up by a simple button press, presenting different categories. While the action rages on, players can call up the menu and make choices about buildings, units, groups of units, special attacks and more. With a simple button press, new units can be created, construction yards can revert to vehicle form for relocation, and tactics can be changed in an instant. This means that when you're experienced and happy with the system, it can be almost as good as a mouse and keyboard setup, but that before you've mastered it, you'll be cancelling unit production, causing your construction yard to uproot at a critical moment and generally losing the war all through improper, but unavoidable, use of the interface. It's not a cripping design flaw, but it is one that must be overcome to truly enjoy the game.

Red Alert 3

To aid your acclimatization to the control setup, there is a very handy series of tutorial levels, introduced by the standard-size tank from each of the three armies in the game: Allies, Russia and Rising Sun. The game's playful, tongue-in-cheek nature is revealed at this early stage, with daft lines exchanged between the three tank commanders while they enjoy a short ceasefire to make sure that you don't cause too much damage. After the tutorials teach you how to build the various buildings, including the traditional resource silos, barracks, tank depots and more, players can choose to fight through missions from each of the three armies, or to simply take part in skirmishes with computer opponents. The main attraction, though, is the online play. In Red Alert 3, players can take part in cooperative missions online, fighting through any of the main story missions with a friend (or other online colleague) or skirmishes with up to three other people, and watch as mayhem ensues. When no human player is available for the cooperative missions, an AI-controlled army is substituted, with reasonable success. Cooperative commanders must share resources, which is something that the computer tends to be less sentimental about, but it can be made to work, even if it's still far more fun with a friend.

Key to the game's success is the balance of the armies, and the units within each group. Command and Conquer games reliably feature units that have both weaknesses and strengths that ensure no unit is the obvious route to success. Building tank after tank will be futile if the enemy counters with a strong air presence, while footsoldiers may be weak against big tanks, but highly effective at infiltrating bases and causing damage from within. Special units such as the Russian fox Tanya make a welcome return too, providing players with a unit capable of thrusting through enemy lines and bring the entire army with them. Importantly, the action isn't limited to solid ground, with a wide variety of aircraft on offer and, brilliantly, a good selection of battleships, submarines and hovercraft allowing players to traverse almost any part of any level. It's excellent fun sending units plunging through the water and arcing into the sky, and the shear variety of tactical play available is spectacular. Every mission in the game can be completed in a variety of ways, depending on the type of unit or attack pattern you decide to adopt. It makes a huge difference being able to make good tactical decisions without the computer interfering and, provided the control system doesn't hold you back, there's definitely scope to show your tactical prowess here.

Red Alert 3

Visually, the game holds up very well, and actually features a few minor graphical improvements over the X-Box version, perhaps as compensation for the delayed release of the PS3 iteration. That said, without the ability to display across 1900x1200 pixels, a feature which many PC gamers will enjoy, things do look somewhat more fuzzy, particularly when examining the smaller units on the battlefield. Red Alert 3 is still very bright and colourful though, and the resolution certainly won't hold players back. The water effects are quite pretty (if not particularly realistic) and there's only very rare signs that the game struggles with the number of units on screen. On the whole, everything ticks along nicely at a good frame rate, but there can be very occasional screen tearing when rotating the (pleasingly-flexible) camera. The various battles are broken up nicely with highly entertaining video sequences, with several familiar actors and actresses including Peter Stormare, George Takei, Jonathan Pryce, Kelly Hu and Tim Curry, among others, all putting in brilliantly over-acted lines and expressions that seem perfectly at home with Red Alert 3's daft sci-fi setting. The voicework is top notch really, provided you take it in the right way. If you, for even a second, assume that the actors are taking things very seriously, then it falls apart, but provided you keep an open mind and assume everyone's taking the piddle a bit, then it all runs very smoothly.

The rest of the sound elements are pretty decent too, with the classic Red Alert theme tune returning, complemented by a whole load of over-the-top rock that, once again, complements the bonkers fighting in the game. The soundtrack is also one of the bonus features available on the PS3 disc, with the ability to select gameplay tracks to play, alongside interviews, unit guides and other documentaries that further expand the Red Alert universe. Of course, the most important component when you're actually fighting are the sound effects and in-game voices. Both are superb, with cracking explosions, unique engine and weaponry noises for each unit, and a whole series of individual lines spouted by each unit when called to fight. It's perhaps the best element of Red Alert, with little room for criticism, compared with the control hinderances, for example.

Red Alert 3

Overall, Red Alert 3 is an enjoyable, wacky game, with tonnes to do, trophies to unlock (across both online and offline modes) and plenty to enjoy. The control issues are a severe disappointment that prevent this game from attaining true greatness, but perhaps a future update to allow keyboard and mouse support might fix this problem. For now, with little direct competition to the game, Red Alert 3 is the default winner in the real-time strategy genre, but if you're willing to experiment with the slower pace of Sid Meier's Civilization Revolution, it's possible that many gamers will find a more rewarding experience there.

Game details

Game logo

Publisher:

Electronic Arts

Developer:

Electronic Arts

Players:

1

Online:

2-4

Release:

2009-03-27

Trophies:

51

Review summary

Gameplay:

Polished and fun, hampered only slightly by the controls

Graphics:

Solid, not spectacular, but affected by screen tear

Sound:

Good voicework, excellent effects, terrible, terrible music

Lastability:

Limitless replay value from skirmishes and online play

8.6

Supernova

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