When Red Alert 3 was announced, I had just finished being very disappointed with Command & Conquer 3. I wanted to be optimistic but I didn’t expect anything better than the decent time I had with C&C3. I don’t think C&C3 is bad; it improved a lot on Tiberian Sun. The main problem was that it seemed too safe. EALA were trying to please the unpleasable C&C fans and as a result, made a pretty generic RTS. So when Red Alert 3 was released, I didn’t buy it straight away, when I did buy it (during one of Steam’s fantastic sales), I didn’t install it. When I finally did install it, I began to enjoy it immensely.
If you loved Red Alert 2 then there is already a lot for you to love in Red Alert 3. While the original remained similar to Command & Conquer, Red Alert 2 made the spinoff a truly different experience and Red Alert 3 has continued to build on this. You get zanier units, campier cut scenes, more pretty women and lots of very silly accents. In addition to all this you get a brand new faction: Rising Sun (Japan), which is so logical for the franchise that I’m surprised they weren’t in RA2.
Probably the biggest draw for Red Alert 3 is the inclusion of co-operative for all three campaigns. Unfortunately I got this game late so I was unable to play with friends and unwilling to take my chances with random people. I do still intend to go back to it sometime but my experience with the game was a single player one (which still includes computer partners). I also didn’t try any online competitive matches. This is something I have never been a fan of with C&C (with the exception of Zero Hour 2v2/4v4) and something I thought I would dislike here too. So this is essentially a review of the single player campaign.
Before getting to the gameplay I want to talk a little bit about the live-action cast. With the personal exception of Jenny McCarthy (would have preferred they brought back Kari Wuhrer), the cast is fantastic. There are some very respectable actors like Jonathan Pryce, Tim Curry and J. K. Simmons. Jonathan Pryce seems to be an actor of the Ben Kingsley variety, because despite being a wonderful actor, he continuously puts himself in roles that don’t challenge him at all. He gives it his all in this though I can see the smile trying to come through. Many of the actors seem to be constantly holding back laughter. The story scenes are even more tongue-in-cheek than RA2. I am avoiding specifics because I don’t want to ruin anything but I do much prefer the deliberate silliness to the awful attempts to be taken seriously in the Tiberian games.
The campaigns themselves are all 9 missions long, giving you 27 main missions if you don’t include the optional tutorial missions. If you have ever played an RTS before, I wouldn’t recommend the tutorial especially since the first few missions of each campaign are basically tutorials themselves. The campaigns are arranged around both story and difficulty. You can play any of them to start but you are encouraged to start with Soviets followed by Allies then Rising Sun. The problem here is that (as mentioned) the first few missions are basically tutorials for each faction which leaves only 6-7 missions where you are left to your own devices. Despite this, your computer partner or one of the three pretty women who act as your EVA are constantly giving you advice that make the path to winning very obvious.
I left the game on the default difficulty and I had very little trouble beating the game. This may not surprise the competitive RTS players, who have daily battles online against humans. But it is a little disappointing for people like me who just love to turtle in, build massive battle squadrons and win decisively. It was too often very easy to hold the enemy off while I do this. The only challenge comes with the later time based missions. During my play through my computer partners were wiped out quite a few times and I was able to easily win despite this. It had me wondering just how easy it would be with two human players.
RA3 may be an easy RTS but this doesn’t mean it isn’t fun. The missions are even wackier than RA2. You will find yourself attacking a handful of secret bases in unlikely places, operating a gigantic three-torso robotic samurai, destroying an enormous rocket ship and commanding a telekinetic Japanese school girl. Both the story and missions are frantic with new problems emerging right until the end. All three sides jump all over the world and there is (of course) the predicable betrayals and infighting. Despite the different goals, the missions can nearly always be completed by simply destroying your opponent which is no complaint when considering all the other games.
The Allied and Soviet units have been shaken up from RA2. A great new feature of RA3 is the ability to have an entire base on the water. This feature means that the Allies don’t have the same advantages with naval power, mostly in the interests of balance. The Allies still have carriers, destroyers and dolphins. The Soviets get dreadnaughts and submarines. The Rising Sun have the shogun battleship and mini-subs. On land the Allies once again have powerful air units including heavy bombers. The Soviets counter this with a more powerful tanks and land units. The Rising Sun have multiple units able to transform between air/land, air/sea which adds to the balance. All three sides also have powerful commando units: Tanya, Natasha and Yuriko along with a handful of units able to switch terrains. There are plenty of new units and structures along with old favourites like tesla coils and prism towers. Playing single player, I was unable to see just how balanced the sides were but during each campaign I was always able to find a counter when I needed one and I never felt like any one side had any cheap/overpowered units.
If you just play the single player campaign, you should get about 15 hours out RA3 which is quite respectable. If you add in the co-op and competitive online, you get a lot more; I wasn’t at all disappointed although I admit I didn’t buy it as a new release.
Red Alert 3 is not very original but that is not really anything to hold against it. I found it immensely entertaining from start to finish. The campy acting, rocking soundtrack and fast paced gameplay all come together into a nice, polished RTS that I’m glad I didn’t overlook. It was only last year that I had decided never to bother with the C&C franchise again, I’m glad I ignored that decision.