High above a laser-crossed battlefield, a 700 kilo Brown Bear wearing a metal hat floats gently toward Earth, four paws dangling limply from his parachute harness. It’s hard not to like this game. Red Alert’s always been a hardcore strategy series, but a deeply silly one. Twelve years later, and on a different platform, it’s still both those things.
The plot is that Tim Curry has gone back in time to kill Einstein, in order to prevent the US from achieving military supremacy through nuclear weapons. Curry plays the Soviet Premier, but the scheme also benefits Japan, and so the three superpowers battle it out in this brand new timeline. They’re impressively different: the Allies rely on deception, with tanks that disguise themselves as rocks, the Soviets field Tesla-powered force, and the Japanese Empire use flexibility to compensate for their lack of an airforce. Each faction has their own campaign, and each campaign is designed for co-op play. That’s unprecedented and a profoundly good thing. If you play alone, an AI commander takes charge of half the friendly forces.
Co-op is excellent, but Red Alert 3 doesn’t quite pull off the coup it could have. Too many missions place you and your co-commander miles apart, and give you no reason to cross paths – essentially then, you end up playing single-player games in tandem.
The bigger problem is that there’s still no slick way to control a game this complex on a 360 pad – it’s like trying to have a conversation via a translator. Technically there’s nothing you can’t say, and it doesn’t take much longer to say it, but some of the immediacy is lost, it’s needlessly circuitous, and the whole thing just feels uncomfortable.
Each unit in Red Alert 3 has a special ability, and selecting which of them should use it and when is fiddly. But on PC the fiddliness is the fun – a mouse is designed for fiddling. A controller isn’t, and using it for this just isn’t satisfying, even once you get quick at it. That’s its only major issue. The campaigns are glorious trash, hilariously hammed up in the cutscenes by an expertly chosen geekgasm cast. And the units are inspired: psionic dolphins, human cannonballs, dogs in cars, and yes, parachuting bears. It might not feel at home on 360, but it’s still hard not to like Red Alert 3.
Nov 11, 2008