Command & Conquer: Red Alert 3 Review
Now that Command & Conquer has found a home on the Xbox 360, it was only a matter of time before its offshoot series Red Alert arrived. If you're unfamiliar with the Red Alert games, imagine taking the over-the-top cheek and cheese of Command & Conquer and kicking it up a notch or two. Or maybe even three. The live action cutscenes are intentionally cheesy and feature several recognizable actors gleefully hamming it up, including Tim Curry, Jonathon Price, George Taker, J. K. Simmons, and Jenny McCarthy. On the field of battle you'll find cybernetically enhanced bears doing battle with mechs while dolphins armed with sonic weapons try to sink transports equipped with paratrooper launching cannons as dirigibles painted with grinning shark faces drop bombs from above. In Red Alert 3, men are real men, women are issued low-cut uniforms that lift and separate, and you'll just have to roll with it all and enjoy it or else you'll sprain your eyeballs with all that eye-rolling.
The intentionally goofy premise that sets up the whole thing is that a Soviet Union on the verge of internal collapse turns to a desperate measure to save itself. The Soviet Premier and his top general travel back in time to kill Einstein in the hope that without his help the West will have never achieved technological superiority over the Soviet Union. When they return to their own time, they find that they've saved the Soviet Union, but that it's now in the midst of a protracted war with the Western allies and facing invasion by the Japanese-let Empire of the Rising Sun. This is where you come in, taking on the role of a Soviet, Allied, and Empire commander in turn as you play your way through the game's three campaigns.
Red Alert 3 is a real-time strategy game that sticks to the classic formula. You gather resources to build structures that in turn consume resources to build your fighting and support units. The resource in this case is ore, and in a departure from Command & Conquer games in the past, it can only be collected from ore mines serviced by a single collector. Gone are the open resource fields that could be flooded with collectors to bankroll a rapid build-up of forces. By controlling the flow of resources, Red Alert 3 has done far more than simplify resource collection - it's effectively disabled the rush tactics that have been a hallmark of the franchise from its beginnings. I've never been a big fan of the rush - I think it's a crutch for those deficient in tactical thinking ability - but I know some gamers like it and will be disappointed that it's been neutered in Red Alert 3.
The three factions in the game each has its own personality that suits a particular style of play. The Allies build slowly but produce powerful units. The Soviets are proficient at quickly building large numbers of generally weaker units. The Empire emphasizes mobility and versatility, and produces units that can transfer between configurations that change their role on the battlefield. No matter which faction you control, proper unit selection and management is vital to victory. For every unit in the game there are corresponding counter units, and deploying the wrong type of unit against your opponent's force can easily lead to disaster.
Red Alert 3 uses the same control scheme as in Kane's Wrath, and for the most part it works quite well. Managing production queues, giving orders to units, and calling in special attacks are all handled nicely by the contact-sensitive command wheel interface that can be opened with a pull of the right trigger. The lack of a mouse means that unit selection is not as versatile as in the PC version of the game, though, and it can be particularly difficult to select a subset of units from a large mass of troops. This is particularly an issue in a game in which you need to manage combined arms forces and bring up the appropriate counters to meet each threat. It's also a particular problem in Red Alert 3 because the game seems to have taken a step backwards for the series in terms of path finding. Mixed unit groups have trouble moving together as a cohesive force and unless you manage their movements carefully you'll find the faster units racing ahead while the slower ones lag far behind. Even groups of identical units can get separated on their way to distant destinations, so you'll unfortunately need to keep a close eye on troop movements and command them to the front in baby step increments.