Red Alert 3 – The First Take

This should be the first Command & Conquer : Red Alert installment which is not developed by Westwood Studios.

The Command & Conquer franchise has expanded to the masterful Command & Conquer Generals developed by Electronic Arts and its expansion, C&C Generals – Zero Hour is worthy of the famous C&C universe of games.

Of course, C&C 3 : Tiberium Wars was also developed by EA since then and personally, I feel that graphical superiority and effects must not be allowed to overshadow gameplay. I’ve played C&C 3 over and over again, in both multiplayer and the campaign mode but it’s just not that fun anymore. The technology tree and the unit hierarchy is just not that fun to build up and it does feel like going through the motions to erect a base, train up a sizeable army and then pound the hell out of your foes. Throw strategy out of the window, it’s just smacking scores of the most powerful units on the battlefield and the one with the numerical superiority wins. This is the multiplayer alone and I’ve not started with the campaign, yet (the game was released in 2006). The expansion disc, C&C 3: Kane’s Wrath is also in my games library but I thought very little of it. In place of mechs and battloids, EA has seen fit to toss into the fray more and more insects and other slimy creatures which throws the C&C universe literally upside down. I mean, think of it. What has made ‘Starcraft’ so great? There are only 3 factions as did the C&C3 but is a hell lot more worth it to burn 2 or 3 hours in front of the PC, and bear in mind that this is a 1998 game without really great visual effects and other enhancements but it’s still a classic real-time strategy game. The simple thing is – everything which you can build in the interface is, to varying degrees, useful in the game. There are no redundant stuff in the game just to boost the content – you could want to use them if you want to but the strategic influence of each buildable item is essential. 

Remember that Red Alert 2 was really great to play with as almost every single unit in the game for both factions is useful in its very own sort of way. Mass, cheap infantry can prove indispensable in firefights and the rock-paper-scissors formula is very well executed. Mirage tanks and prism tanks were really something new to RTS and Kirov Airships or the Dreadnoughts were forces to be reckoned with.

The reasons why I chose not to feature C&C 3 in this blog boils down to the core rationale that EA has been killing this game and its damned expansion, C&C 3: Kane’s Wrath. The game plays more like having new units bundled together to give the impression of fresh ideas being presented, but it just doesn’t hype up the excitement of the gameplay itself. The AI is brutal in more ways than one, but that’s not the factor most C&C fanboys are gunning for – it’s the detail to strategic value which may endear fans to the series.

To illustrate – the 1st Red Alert had the Allies being the weaker side in terms of armour and firepower but are more than compensated with a capable navy. The Soviet juggernaut had the heavier tanks which hand out awesome firepower and can take much abuse in return but fared poorly in their naval department, that is until the C&C: Red Alert – Aftermath expansion disc. Red Alert 2 : Yuri’s Revenge had a fascinating 3rd faction which more than added immense value to the fun factor. Brutes, virus snipers, and a wide variety of other units meant that multiplayer games have an added strategic dimension to it, with different players adapting to the new side with its weaknesses and its power.

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So, is Red Alert 3 a worthy successor or just another EA title designed to milk the C&C franchise for what it’s worth?

My first impressions are:

a) firefights with the enemy are often visually blinding and confusing. I said often, not always. Ok, maybe some units have some super powers endowed but I just don’t see the need for over-the-top super units. Some are just plain EA tinkling at its old tricks by hyping up the milieu of the game to one which the C&C faithful may not recognise much at all. Yes, I’m aware that this game is set in the future.

b) quite a lot of offshore construction. This may be a good strategic value to the game but having said that, the action is too concentrated on the land to do the sea much use except for resources prospecting. The naval units featured are not that great anyway.

c) some game units are overwhelmingly powerful for gameplay balance. No, I’m not just referring to the Allied air units but also the Imperial Japan’s ones. Tactics out the window again. Yikes.

d) The Empire of Japan’s new toys are ridiculously hi-tech and too futuristic. Amazingly, its leaders are garbed like a shogun when they should be suit up in Ultraman uniforms given the age and time. Why on earth are the Japanese anti-tank infantry wearing those silly hats by the way? Their building come in tents and you can choose where you want to set them up.

e) The Soviet army is ok. Its tanks are nothing more than cannon fodder and instead of feeding your foes with these expensive units, you might want to just build Kirov Airships and protect them with your AA armoured units. Its defenses are nothing to shout about and the Soviet juggernaut image is long past its prime.

f) The Allies are quite a good army to play with, balanced and interesting to build up. I haven’t really used this army much in multiplayer games but they appear to be stronger than the Soviets in some instances, like in defense and in naval battles. They could really dismantle their enemies’ fortifications in no time at all.

g) The graphics are excellent by today’s standards and the water effects are beautiful.

h) The waypointing can be a pain in the ass sometimes.

i) Resources are hard to come by. Spend wisely.

j) Air units are the AI’s favourite choice of taking out your base structures. No amount of AA gun defenses can defend against them. I’m still trying to find a way to counter this.

k) Paper-rock-scissors element is not apparent here.

l) Most of the units have secondary functions. There’s even a short video (which cuts into your game session) demonstrating what this secondary mode can do. Cool.

m) Superweapons are crazy things that can take out your buildings like the atom bombs did to Hiroshima or Nagasaki. Space out your buildings if you are the unlucky target.

n) In general, very little strategy is involved in most of the missions/skirmish games. Build up your strongest units and send them to the enemy’s base. Mop up the area and proceed to the next.

Ok, I’ll just deliver it straight.

It’s not a game worthy of the famous C&C franchise. I don’t know, it’s not that fun. It doesn’t make me look forward to playing it as much as the original Red Alert or its successor Red Alert 2 did. Those 2 games got me in trouble with my high school academic results but I enjoyed those games immensely.

It may well have been an overmilked franchise. The story has gone stale, perhaps. Yuri’s Revenge was also in danger of becoming really cliched but the new army more than makes up for its campaign deficiencies. In this game, the Empire of Japan is joke – an army with so much hi-tech and stereotyping but little in terms of what it can do for the game. Mind you, Yuri’s Slave Miner was a great strategic diversion to the game. You’d really have to mine hard and fast in the beginning to keep up the chase on this mobile miner, for example. Gatling guns housed in bunkers provide excellent fire bases etc. etc. What does this silly Empire of Japan do?

Maybe a game’s storyline has a role to play in immersing gamers to pick up the game by heart. We were told that America was the next target of the Soviet Union and the American invasion was truly brutal in every sense of the word. The Soviet campaign was racked with treachery and political backstabbing whereas the Allied campaign grew more and more difficult as it progresses. I could relate to Red Alert 2 and loved the new units introduced in the game despite being radically removed from the concept of the first Red Alert, but this Red Alert 3 smacks of cash-milking. The storyline, while still silly in sum of its parts is not engaging. I’m not challenged to want to play more of the campaigns and decided to quit even in the 1st mission itself for the Japan and Soviet stories.

It’s not a bad game but certainly not a good one either. Hell, it’s not even mediocre – it’s just acceptable.        

 

    

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