The Soviet Union was a pretty sinister place, what with all the oppression and extra-judicial killings and whatnot. The thing is, there’s something deeply alluring about a nation who only seem to recognise the colours red and gold. It’s pretty, and that seems to be what Red Alert 3 is hanging all its hopes on.
Let’s get the important stuff out of the way. Do you like the 1960’s Batman? If you don’t you won’t like Red Alert 3 because this game is almost as camp. The actors cannot be described as taking their roles seriously at all, with Tim Curry’s hilarious attempt at Russian being both the best and worst acting all at once. There’s some excellent actors in the cutscenes, and one or two poor ones, but you’d be hard pressed to work out which is which as they all seem to be aware they are in an alternate history videogame, playing up the amazingly daft premise really well.
The problem is that despite all the atmosphere they’ve built up, the beautiful aesthetic of a world trapped in a perpetual World War, the story is disappointing.
A lot of people will say that all RTS plots are disappointing, but they’re wrong. Warcraft has always had excellent stories before it sold itself to the MMO crew, but even the older C&C games managed passable stories. Red Alert commits the cardinal sin of stories, in that it has one at the start and then manages to lose it by the end. You spend the majority of the game fighting hard for ideals that seem to make sense, yet you reach the culmination and your reward is a 30 second cutscene that feels like a joke.
This effect would be worsened, however, if the game was difficult. If you had to fight tooth and nail to get the end I imagine it would be completely infuriating, but as it stands it’s far too easy. For every campaign mission there are top tier units that you can just churn out to create an invincible force of doom. There are even some missions where, if you are patient, the only thing stopping your from immediate victory is the cooldown time on your command power. I’m pretty poor at RTS games, but still managed to breeze through with only one or two missions requiring a restart.
That’s not to say the game isn’t fun. Red Alert 3has a sneaky habit of making you think you’ve finished a mission before expanding the map and laughing at you. C&C 3 had a problem with this idea as the minimap would tend to give away the fact that sooner or later the map would expand, but RA3’s map is much better at keeping secrets. This makes for a game that is actually pretty long and, if you don’t mind the flimsy story, quite fun.
The stand out feature, however, is the new second commander to back you up. They are actually intelligent and useful, which came as a shock to me. They were so good, in fact, that I rarely had to step-in and order them about as their natural AI seemed to be able to know what I wanted it to do anyway. It was liberating, having an AI partner that didn’t need constant babysitting, unlike some of the units that refused to defend themselves when under fire.
It’s a flawed game but it’s still fun. Simple, imaginative fun. EA haven’t moved the goalposts with this game, not even an inch. What they have done is paint them pretty little colours and stick on all sorts of funky decals that give the impression these goalposts are the envy of all the lady goalposts for miles around. And, you know what? There’s probably some truth in that.