IGN Review of Command & Conquer: Red Alert 3
As far as real time strategy games go, Command and Conquer is one of the most popular franchises around. Whether it's the brutal struggle between GDI and Nod, the real world inspired action of Generals or the campy, B-movie flavor of Red Alert, each series in the C&C universe has tried to expand or improve on the basics of resource management, base building and troop deployment. The most recent title in the C&C universe landed on the PC and 360 last year, and is just now coming to the PS3. But while Command and Conquer: Red Alert 3 Ultimate Edition tries to be the definitive real time strategy on a console, a number of issues holds this version back.
The Red Alert series has always been known for its campy nature when it comes to presenting its Cold War-inspired action, and Red Alert 3 is no different. The plot of the game involves time travel, paradoxes, betrayal and other elements that feel right at home in a B-movie. At the start of the game, the Soviets are in danger of being completely defeated by the Allies, who have used their might to dominate the Russian forces. As a last ditch effort, three Soviets head back in time to eliminate the man who helped provide the Allies with their technological edge: Albert Einstein. The time-space continuum is radically altered, and as the Soviets return to the newly affected present, they quickly discover that their actions have awakened a new enemy on their doorstep. The Empire of the Rising Sun quickly enters the global fray as a technological powerhouse using mecha and psionic schoolgirls amongst their forces to fulfill what they perceive as their divine destiny. Celebrities like Tim Curry, J.K. Simmons and George Takei chew scenery as the leaders of each side, roaring for the defeat of the other factions and the supremacy of their forces above all.
With ten missions for each side, gamers choose a faction and take on the role of a new commander attempting to lead their side to glory. However, you're not forced to go into battle alone this time around; one of the major hooks behind Red Alert 3 is the fact that the every mission can be played co-operatively with a friend or the computer, which should give you additional assistance to take on your enemies and crush them beneath your tank treads. If you're not able to round up a friend, you shouldn't be too concerned -- your computerized co-commander does a pretty good job for the most part, repelling incoming strikes and launching their own attacks into enemy territory. You're able to give four specific orders to your counterpart, and essentially, they'll carry those out without major discrepancies. Players will have to get used to sharing their resources with the computer, meaning that if they make some bad decisions on base building, you can find your funds drained abruptly as they start to expand. You'll also find that sometimes, ordering them to take a position can result in the anemic deployment of one soldier or unit at a time, which promptly will get decimated by enemy troops. But overall, you won't have to worry about micromanaging both your co-commander's troops and your own.
Of course, this is infinitely easier if you choose to play with a friend, and you are given the option to play co-operatively with them across both the campaign and any skirmish battles that you choose to play. The PS3 version allows players to search for matches and set up battles with strangers as well as friends on your PSN Friend list, which is a large improvement over that of the 360 version of Red Alert 3. Another cool element is that a player that is farther along in the campaign mode can bring along a friend into a later mission, giving the second player an opportunity to check out larger scale battles (provided they don't mind having later sections spoiled for them). However, there is a large caveat that awaits players when it comes to easily joining a match. Whenever you send an invite to a friend, you can't simply respond via the XMB or even on the menu screen that lists your co-commander for a mission. Instead, you have to go into the Versus menu option, select online, and then check out any invites that have been sent to you there to actually accept a friend's request to play. This isn't a particularly well designed way to get people quickly into matches, which is counterintuitive to the inclusion of improved search features for players to leap into matches.
Regardless of whether you choose a friend or go into battle with the computer, you'll have to focus on the newly included control scheme that the designers call CommandStick, designed around the buttons and analog sticks of the DualShock. Players make a selection and give commands from a radial wheel by holding down the R2 button, rotating to the option you want and hitting the X button to make a selection. From there, you move to the next set of options until you reach the feature you want, like a support power, structure to place on a map or unit to build. There are also shortcuts designed to perform actions like scrolling across the map quickly, accessing command menus from anywhere on the map and hints on actions within a contextual action bar at the bottom of the screen.
Although the controls are quite flexible, and allow you to perform many of the basic maneuvers quickly, you'll find a significant reliance on the tutorial missions to ensure that you can pull off every command. Even then, you'll still be hit or miss on certain orders or commands to troops, which isn't what you need when an enemy force is barreling down on you with guns blazing. For example, assigning groups and selecting specific types of units on screen works rather well, but commanding individual units can be quite difficult. The command reticule will sometimes not work as precisely as you'd hope, leaping to the wrong soldier, getting stuck when you try to expand it, or the game will ignore the character you want outright. This can sometimes result in constantly cycling through units with the direction buttons or hope that you can select the right character accidentally. This gets much more complicated as you try to determine which units you want to deploy a special ability and which ones you don't within a group. It almost feels as though you are forced to do the exact same commands to accurately lead certain platoons.
Even worse, the command ring that you constantly have access to has a number of problems, some of which are spawned because the game tries to make things easier for you. If you've built a structure, but don't wish to enter building placement when you access the menu, you have to back out of that menu and then proceed to the next menu. This can quickly become annoying as you have to fight your way through the menus each time you want to do something, instead of simply having it highlighted on the radial menu as a completed structure. Even worse, because it will sometimes keep the last action from a structure that you've selected, you can accidentally trigger that building's special abilities. I stopped counting the number of times that I managed to recall a bombing run to my airport because the game wouldn't cleanly recognize that I'd deselected the structure before ordering a separate maneuver.
Another issue is that building secondary command structures aren't cleanly delineated with the wheel, forcing you to be directly on top of the additional construction base or crane to make an extra building. This can definitely hamper you if you manage to capture an enemy base on another side of the map and are forced to constantly return if you're trying to set up defensive emplacements to repel liberators of your newly gained property. Finally, you're forced to hold the R2 button and use the analog stick whenever you're making a selection, which isn't particularly efficient or intelligent. It would seem better to hit the R2 button and release it to start the order decision. Instead, you have to hold R2, and if it is released for any reason whatsoever, you've got to start the order selection all over again. Fighting with the controls is one of those situations where you simply wonder why mouse and keyboard support wasn't included in the first place. It's laudable that using the controller is an option, but RTS games truly thrive on this standby, and until there's a better solution, they won't really evolve or take off on consoles at all.
Control griping aside, there is one thing that was a big issue with the 360 version of Red Alert 3, which was the slowdown that seemed to punctuate just about every single mission. Fortunately, a large amount of this problem has been remedied within the PS3 version of Red Alert 3. While it retains a unit cap of fifty troops on your side, you're still able to run through most missions without a problem. Typically, however, when you move your way through the larger maps for each side, or when the console has to track multiple structures or environmental items, as well as battles and units on an expanded level, you'll run into significant slowdown that can bring it down to a crawl. The slowdown isn't the only technical problem that you'll stumble into with Red Alert 3. While the water and some environmental textures look pretty good, shadows of units and structures look atrocious, with screen tearing and blocky approximations of depth that looks horrible. Even worse, some textures wind up getting completely swapped for lower resolution textures, such as that of Easter Island or New York City.
Sound, for the most part, is still solid, and the cast hams it up with their dialogue, which is just dripping with B-movie flair. I didn't have nearly as much of an issue with the unit commentary as Erik did, but I did find myself constantly having to turn up the volume on my TV whenever an in-mission cinematic or briefing was playing, and quickly turn it back down whenever a cutscene was on. Regardless of the options for sound that I tweaked, I had to perform this balancing act, which was pretty annoying. Apart from that, however, I did find that the soundtrack for Red Alert 3, anchored by Frank Klepacki's Hell March, was excellent for the game, and that many of the effects, whether it was the squealing of dolphins or the explosions from bombs dropped by Kirovs, sounded perfect.
Speaking of the soundtrack, it's just one of the extras that have been included on the Ultimate Edition. You'll also find a concept art gallery, a behind the scenes feature, bloopers from the actors, and a video showcasing the Women of Red Alert 3. The PS3 also winds up receiving a unit profile glossary, which provides additional info on every single unit; essentially, it showcases their individual powers and abilities so you have a sense of what each troop under your command can do on the battlefield. For the most part, all of these items are exactly the same as the ones included in the Premiere edition on the PC, with the lone difference being that the Premiere edition was limited to a specific number to be released in North America only. Rounding out the other selections are a PS3-centric episodes of Command School and Battlecast Primetime, the developer created shows posted on the C&C website to keep fans abreast of everything happening with the franchise. Overall, it's a nice set of extras, and if you didn't pick up the Premiere edition, you're going to enjoy having the extras that are included here.
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