To tell the truth, I am having difficulty when it comes to describing the story – it was that big of a mess. I am sure if you’re a fan of the franchise you’ll probably get a kick out of the exaggerated accents, forced acting, and scantily clad women, but the whole show was way over my head. Games usually use plot to keep players going further, but here I was sticking by to see if it could any get worse (it doesn’t, by the way; it starts bad and stays bad). There was a lot of talk from presidents, from generals, and from women in tight clothing, and, to be perfectly frank, things didn’t make a lick of sense to me. The fact that the three campaigns had nothing to do with each other didn’t help my situation either.
I won’t dwell on the campaign plot any more because in the end it’s all subjective and you may or may not enjoy the style or humor presented there. Heck, even the story might make sense to you. The core of the game is what works, which is not surprising considering it’s the same thing we played 5 or 10 years ago. You have three sides with unique army and abilities – Russians, Americans and Japanese – and you build your base and your units, and the rest is common knowledge, I’m sure. EA have done a great job with unit design, which strives to be original and for the most part succeeds, although sometimes it gets a bit silly. Each and every unit in the game has a special ability which may be used once before it needs to be recharged. These powers I used mainly as a last resort, because during intense battles it gets a little hard to pick and choose between them. It is comforting to know, however, that you can use the same unit in various different ways, and a lot of these powers can be extremely helpful when activated at the right moment.
A highlight of the game is the extensive role that the navy plays. Almost all maps have significant amounts of water, and you will spend quite a lot of time commanding sea battles. It’s not that there are a lot of sea units in the game, but there are lots of amphibious ones who can operate in both types of terrain almost equally well, and on top of all that you can build your whole base entirely on water. This approach has its good and bad sides, but overall I enjoyed it a lot. This versatility keeps you on your toes at all times, and you are never safe from anything, anywhere. Even the transports themselves are actually dual role vehicles that have offensive capabilities, so if you wanted to transport units like infantry who can’t move on water, you can do it knowing you need not build any additional escorts.
Another interesting feature is your co-commander, which as the name suggests is a second player who fights along side with you during the single-player missions. Before each mission, you can choose to either solo it, in which case the co-commander is computer controlled, or co-op it with either a stranger or a friend. This in effect makes Red Alert 3 a co-op game, and one of the first I’ve seen which can’t be played any other way. Usually developers completely forget to even add co-op to their games, and here we have one which makes it its focus. I have always felt alone and vulnerable in all strategy games I’ve played because literally that’s what my predicament usually was. It was always I against the AI or several of them, and it was intimidating in most cases. Knowing that I had an ally with me at all times made Red Alert 3 several times more enjoyable, so kudos to EA for thinking of the poor below-average RTS players such as myself. A word of advice, however: don’t play the game on easy mode, because it essentially plays itself. You can build a bunch of your own units which do a good job at engaging the enemy themselves, then order the co-commander around, and you can literally sit by and watch a mission get done with very little effort.
The missions, thankfully, do a good job at keeping things interesting. I liked the little briefings before each one mainly because they sounded tactical and serious, when the game is not. Naturally, tasks boil down to building bases and making them chuck out units at a decent pace, but the objectives are well designed and keep things varied. On top of the primary goal, there are secondary ones which you may or may not complete, and new ones may appear during the course of a level.
Obviously, RTS games of this sort are not famous for their tactical depth, but Red Alert 3 has about the depth of EA’s respect towards the companies it buys out. It’s either me or strategy games were a little more complex back when I played them. The economical model, for example, comes down to placing an ore mine at specially designated locations and waiting for the dough to come in. Place one or two, and you’re set. There are no other resources besides ore, and there is little thought required when it comes to purchasing units, because they all use the same currency. There is no strategy involved choosing resource sites or even guarding them, and it seems that the developers wanted to focus exclusively on the action.
In fact, this is a game designed to make the player spend as little time as possible on non-offensive tasks. There is no tech tree or upgrading structures; the economy model is extremely simple; a lot of vehicles have several purposes thus shrinking the time spent building units; you can go all over the map without the need to make separate land or sea units; and there are even special powers you can unlock during the game which you can use to inflict further damage. This is non-stop relentless action and is as a result very well suited for multiplayer matches.
The audio/video package is solid work throughout. If one wanted to spend some time scrutinizing a screenshot, no doubt the overall basic nature of the graphics would be come clear. There is nothing extraordinary here in technical terms; in fact, the terrain looks rather bland and units or buildings are not especially detailed. During actual gameplay however you begin to notice the other detail, such as great special effects and amazing water physics. As I mentioned earlier, a large portion of your time will spent on water, and the developers have gone beyond the call of duty making it attractive, so much so that you’ll look forward to the next sea skirmish. The incredibly rich art style further helps to mask the aging graphics engine, and as we know games striving for a less realistic look usually can get away with less advanced graphics while still looking pretty. If colorful and bright is not your style, this is a game that might be able to change your mind. The whole presentation just works, from the menus to the music and the visuals and even the cinemas. They all compliment each other very well and draw you in.
It’s a little ironic, however, to see a company spend (supposedly) a lot of time and resources into making a single player campaign when it’s the multiplayer portion that is worth your money. The fast and frantic action works best against real opponents, and because of the simplified economy and emphasis on battles, the online matches don’t waste a lot of your time. I am a little surprised that I actually spent so much of my time going through the game offline when I could have had lots of fun doing the same thing online, minus painfully corny acting and stereotypes. Overall, Red Alert 3 is a polished and good old mindless fun, although I’m a little surprised I have to say this in a strategy game review. In fact, if you were looking for the Quake of strategy games, this one would be a very good candidate. It’s simple, addictive, fast paced, and even though a little old-fashioned in terms of gameplay, still plenty good enough for a playthrough.