Of Tiberium And Time Chapter 7: Command & Conquer: Red Alert 3
For chapter 6 discussing Tiberium Wars, see here.
For chapter 8 discussing Tiberian Twilight, see here.
In 2008, a year and a half after Tiberium Wars, Red Alert 3 hit the shelves. The reception was rather mixed, due to (among other things) a controversy over a limited-activation version of SecuROM being included with the game, some people saying the game strayed too far from the previous rule-sets, and issues with balance in the multi-player.
While you can certainly complain about and raise concerns about several bits of the gameplay, I honestly can’t deduct any points when it comes to style. EA Los Angeles put a lot of work into the aesthetic, the units, the story, the live-action scenes and the acting/voice-acting, and it shines through clearly. They even went so far as to add “EA Los Angeles Proudly Presents” to the opening cinematic, and it’s easy to see why. Like Tiberium Wars, this game also came out on XBox 360.
As was established in Red Alert 2; the series has firmly moved into Batshit Country, and has obviously spent significant time with the locals since last game, because it’s more bonkers than ever.
At the start of the game the U.S.S.R. are at the brink of total collapse and defeat, so two of their generals (played by Tim Curry and Andrew Divoff) head to a secret area where Doctor Zelinsky (Peter Stormare) has a not-quite-ready time machine that Cherdenko (Curry) nevertheless insists they use. They go to 1927 where Einstein is speaking at a conference. After Cherdenko eliminates him, all three return to a future where things are looking a lot rosier for the Soviets. Until the Empire of the Rising Sun (basically the Japanese gone super-sized, with Emperor Yoshiro, played by George Takei, leading them).
And things just get crazier from there. I get the distinct impression that the actors were having a blast with their roles. Tim Curry becomes the Soviet Premier, and he really gives his all in the role. Takei also seems to be having fun in his role. Lots of other more or less known faces also appear. You’ll even see David Hasselhoff as the American vice-president.
It’s probably worth noting that they didn’t go for the Tiberium Wars route of one big interwoven story here. Instead all three stories are their own timeline with no shared happenings apart from the beginning, as far as I’ve been able to tell.
Something I couldn’t help but notice though is the portrayal of the women. Both the Soviet and Allied liaison officers have rather noticeable cleavages, and only the Japanese one gets a decent uncut top. I have to wonder if that was at her own insistence? The commandos are also all-female this time, and while neither Tanya (Jenny McCarthy) nor Natasha (Gina Carano) show any cleavage, they both have exposed mid-riffs. Only the Japanese Yuriko (Lisa Tamashiro, voice only) has covering clothes, though she’s a psychic schoolgirl still wearing her school uniform. It’s hard to be really upset with the developers though, since the whole game is very over-the-top, but it does cause some head-shaking for me.
Let’s turn our attention to how the different factions play. There has been more effort put into differentiating how each faction actually works this time. The basics are the same, but there is a lot of nuance in the details. Naval and amphibian units also play a much greater role in RA3 then any of the previous games. Support powers are back from Generals. Ore is now collected from mining posts rather than fields.
The Allies are not that different from how they were in RA2. They still lack the raw power that the Soviets have, but they have the edge when it comes to naval and aerial power. And curiously they still have the Chronosphere even though Einstein no longer exists. When it comes to construction they work like they did in RA2. Buildings are constructed inside the Construction Yard (Or Con Yard for short), and then placed on the battlefield in a matter of seconds. It has to be within the area of influence of the base, which can be expanded by getting an ore prospector to unpack somewhere on the map.
The allied units are the most normal ones, for Red Alert‘s value of normal. Troopers, cars, tanks, aircraft and ships. There are a few exceptions like the Cryocopter though, and the Spy is back doing a bad James Bond impression. Tanya is much the same, except she can now bomb any vehicle/ship as well, and not just buildings. I also feel it’s worth mentioning that when their engineers go out on the water they use a jetski.
And their Support powers are generally more utility-based than the other two factions’. Improved harvesting, stronger aircraft, scouting runs, paratrooper drops and such. The powers are unlocked with upgrade points earned during the missions like in Generals, rather than by specific buildings like in Tiberium Wars. They’re also free to use, but on a significant cooldown.
The Soviets show the first departure from the old system by having their Con Yard simply construct the building from ground up on the field. You select where to place the building immediately, and then it gets put together in a neat little show of scaffolds and dust. This still ties up the construction queue, of course. While the Soviets can construct expansion vehicles of their own, they can also slightly expand their area of influence simply by placing buildings at the edge of it. They can also construct Crusher Cranes that supply an extra construction queue, repair vehicles and ships, and even recycle them for some quick cash if you want.
Soviet forces still rely on raw power more than anything else, and their main focus is ground combat. They still have a reasonable selection of naval units, and the Twinblade helicopters are truly marvelous in number, but ground is their forte; Apocalypse and Hammer tanks leading the fray. These tanks are so big they can even run over and crush smaller vehicles. Their commando is the sniper Natasha, who calls in air-strikes rather than setting bombs, and honestly I prefer her over Tanya. Finally their engineer uses an inflatable dingy to get around on water. Also, armoured bears!
The Soviet Support powers are a lot more offence focused than those of the Allies. The two most common ones being the vortex that sucks enemy vehicles and ships into space, and the drop power that sends them crashing back down for tremendous damage. At the second rank it will one-shot pretty much anything that isn’t a Con Yard. And it can’t be blocked.
The Japanese construction is the most unique. Their Con Yard simply assembles what the game calls Nano-Cores in a few seconds, and these can be moved around at will, and unpacked wherever you want them. No need to worry about area of influence here, you simply place it down anywhere, and it unpacks fairly rapidly. No need for base expansion vehicles or multiple construction queues. They also don’t have an airport.
You see, the theme for the Japanese units is transformation. Instead of a dedicated air production building, they have two ground units and one naval unit that can quickly convert to an air unit instead, and then convert back later. Even their main defencive structure transforms between anti-ground and anti-air weaponry at the touch of a button. Their commando is the ominously named Yuriko Omega who is a psionic schoolgirl who floats rather than walks, and can crush soldiers and vehicles with her mind, and pull aircraft right out of the sky. Yeah. Their engineer is a funny little man who uses a water-segway to travel amphibiously. In addition they also have ninjas that work much like Allied spies, only with swords.
Japanese Support powers tend towards the destructive like the Soviets. You can summon entire squadrons of kamikaze fighters to bombard an area, drop parachute bombs on enemy bases (they can be shot down though) and even set up your vehicles to explode with self-sacrifice when destroyed.
So a lot of crazy fun like normal for Red Alert games, and an incredible amount of polish gone into the details of how things look and act. Sadly I’m not sure I can say the same for the balance, at least in multi-player. The support powers can be absolutely ridiculous in their effect, and an orbital drop or kamikaze flight in the right spot can end entire matches. If there was a cost attached to them like in Tiberium Wars maybe it would be more balanced, but I’m hardly an expert. Perhaps a simple power-nerf would be enough.
Before we move on I’d just like to say the tutorial is ridiculously extensive and well put-together. You are guided by one tank from each side through six different tutorials that let you try out basically everything in the game. And the tanks all have their own silly voice-actor and some amusing interplay between them. I probably spent like an hour (or maybe more) just having a lark with the tutorials.
The single-player feels better than it did in Tiberium Wars though, I’m almost sad to say. While the only really memorable moment is when I got to play with a giant mecha as the Japanese and crush an entire city, it nevertheless has been a lot less frustrating to play because I haven’t felt that the AI has cheated unnecessarily. This probably has at least a little to do with the fact that RA3 is the first game in the series to offer co-op in the campaign.
You can still play alone, and the AI will control your co-commander. It works alright, and you co-commander can handle themselves well, but coordinating is an issue. You do have a few limited commands you can give him/her, but on the whole it’s best to just let them fend for themselves while you do your thing. Surprisingly often you make headway at much the same tempo. You also share resources, which I personally didn’t mind, but I can easily see this being a point of annoyance for some.
Playing with a friend is great fun though. Especially since a lot of the missions involve you having control of different types of forces. Like one of you might get a naval base, and the other a land base. One might get a special unit, and the other gets the escort. And then you might have levels where you just pool together giant death-balls of some unit, like that level where my friend and I built a massive flight of Twinblade choppers and just overwhelmed everything. Playing co-op is just inherently a lot of fun, though I’d recommend playing with a friend rather than a random (there’s still a surprising amount of people playing online).
The interface is pretty much the same as the one Tiberium Wars had, only with the buttons slightly rearranged. It’s easy to keep track of, doesn’t clutter the screen and most everything has a hot-key. The most important new one to learn is F. F activates the special ability for a unit, and all units have some special ability. It can be just unloading troops for those able to carry them, switching weapons (like to the Allied Trooper’s riot shield, or to the Soviet Hammer tank’s leech beam) or completely transforming the unit like switching between the Tengu’s mecha and jet forms.
I don’t really have any major complaints to make. The path-finding is still a bit iffy, and it’s not made easier when you have two armies to worry about. For some reason the game never really stuck with me the first time I played it. I remembered very little when going back to it, even though it’s not that old. Some of the units feel perhaps a bit too good, like the aforementioned Twinblades. They’ll just overwhelm most air defences. And there was also the aforementioned issue with Support powers just being too un-balanced in multi-player.
All in all though, it’s a very nicely put-together and just plain fun game. It feels like they had a lot of fun making it as well, both the developers and the actors in the cut-scenes. It’s clear EA poured a lot of money into this title, and I wonder if maybe it didn’t pay off quite as well as they had hoped when it came to sales.
Next time is the final regular chapter, where we take a look at Command & Conquer 4: Tiberium Twilight. There will still be an epilogue and a bonus chapter after that though, so it’ll be a little while yet before we move on to the next series.
For chapter 6 discussing Tiberium Wars, see here.
For chapter 8 discussing Tiberian Twilight, see here.
Posted on November 15, 2012, in Games, Retrospective and tagged analysis, Chapter 7, Command & Conquer, EA, EA Los Angeles, Of Tiberium And Time, PC, Red Alert 3, RTS, serial, videogames, Xbox 360. Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.