C&C: Red Alert 3 PC Review

For many, myself included, the days playing the original Red Alert remain some of the best video game experiences. It’s hard to believe that was 12 years ago, yet it has lasted so long in the memory, permanently imprinted by a prolonged Tesla zap.

Red Alert 3’s opening sequence sees Soviet forces on the brink of defeat against the Allies. As a last ditch attempt they use a time machine to alter history. A move which has the unexpected consequence of creating a new adversary, The Empire of the Rising Sun, headed by none other than George Takai (Star Trek, Heroes). Fans will be delighted to see Frank Klepacki’s Hell March returns for a third time. Things are looking up, right?

I’m sure most of you will start off with the single player campaign and that’s where we’ll begin. In RTS games the single player campaigns often struggle to compete with the excitement of multiplayer gameplay. To remedy this EA have introduced co-operative play where there are always two commanders on the same side. If you don’t have a friend then the AI stands in, with the latter doing a fair enough job most of the time – holding its own but not winning the mission for you. Co-op still doesn’t solve the problem of somewhat tedious scenarios but does succeed in shaking things up a bit.

C&C is famous for its movie sequences and here these provide an added incentive to play through the missions. Red Alert 2 saw the series take a more lighthearted approach, removing much of the original game’s magical quality. Unfortunately Red Alert 3 fails to restore that special feeling with more wide of the mark lightheartedness, exemplified by the producers’ decision to ensure every single character conforms to at least one racial stereotype. It’s also worth pointing out that every leader is male and has a subservient female assistant dressed in a ridiculous outfit. Both aspects make for uncomfortable watching. I can’t speak for the American public but from a British perspective it’s an awfully unfunny and unambitious script that barely registers on the humour scale.

The original Red Alert’s atmosphere, subtle and often unintentional quirks simply aren’t recreated. Jonathan Pryce is good as the Allied commander but this is one of the few highs amongst such contemptible performances as Jenny McCarthy’s character assassination of Tanya. I’m not against the idea of Red Alert 3 being entertaining and funny, but there is a massive failure to create something worthwhile even with a relatively strong cast.

As the campaigns progress, the epic sense of scale created in the intro well and truly dissipates, with the story between the three factions becoming half hearted, muddled and inconsistent. Even as a big C&C fan I couldn’t help but feel it was a waste of my time persevering through to completion for the sake of the story. If only they had got talent such as Mitchell and Webb to come up with a Monty Python inspired script, the outcome would have been infinitely better.

In an attempt to get over my disappointment I’ll move on to the game’s strongest aspects – the mutliplayer and the gameplay in general. The three factions are nicely balanced and have their own eccentricities. The way buildings are constructed is a good example: Soviet buildings are first positioned on the map prior to building, Allied buildings construct in the sidebar before being placed, while the Empire’s construction yard produces a little vehicle that you move into position to initiate the build process. Such differences succeed in giving each faction a bit more individuality, although prepare to get a little confused if you play multiplayer with random factions.

Red Alert 3 is highly reminiscent of Generals, both in the sense there are three factions but also because resource collection is confined to static entities: oil derricks and ore mines. The use of static ore mines is a step backwards – sending your harvesters out to ore fields was always hugely challenging and entertaining in the original Red Alert. The decision to simplify resources was no doubt taken to allow gamers to keep up with the gameplay’s fast pace. Games can progress quickly and for many this will make for an accessible and fun experience that doesn’t necessarily require hours of your time.

On the unit front there’s a healthy variety and you don’t feel your options are quite so limited as in the recent C&C: Tiberium Wars. A nice addition is the introduction of water bases, complete with defensive structures. This is new to C&C but has long been a staple of Total Annihilation and more lately Supreme Commander, but was a logical progression. The other change we’ve become accustomed to are the new special abilities that accumulate with your kills. These are varied and continue to encourage attacking play in free for all matches and can turn the tide of battle. One quick tip for new players – on your sidebar there’s a question mark button that lights up when you have a unit selected, click this to fire up a short video demonstrating the unit’s abilities. It would be good to see this in every RTS from now on.

If you’re a fan of multiplayer RTS there’s a lot to enjoy here. Just don’t expect the C&C multiplayer experience to have evolved since the release of Generals back in 2003. There is an increased use of naval units but Red Alert 3 looks and feels very familiar as EA are still using the SAGE engine. Visually the game is not impressive and I’m not keen on the artistic direction. The decision to use bright colours and outline selected units with bright yellow makes it hard to take the game seriously. The visual style of the original Red Alert was simply much better. Fortunately one aspect that signals a return to form is on the audio front; the decision to hire four composers paid off and it’s great to see Frank Klepacki on the scene again.

A few new gameplay touches have been implemented but there’s an unmistakable seen it all before feeling with few surprises on show. Red Alert 3 is aiming for total air, land and sea gameplay, and it does this well, but SupCom’s implementation and scale is sublime by comparison. While the past is not always a bad place to be, EA has the resources to better take the series forward by introducing a new genre defining game engine. That being said I would have been more satisfied with Red Alert 3 had the game’s campaign mode not been such a disappointment that casts a shadow over the experience.

History will best remember Red Alert 3 as being a good multiplayer RTS. At worst it’s an embarrassing parody of the 1996 classic. For a game whose ancestor was the original Red Alert, many will feel underwhelmed by the overall package, but you can’t argue against the well-proven mutliplayer gameplay.

7 out of 10
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