Review by Megamanz7777
"Does EA ever take over a series and NOT completely miss the point?"
It's been 8 years since Red Alert 2, one of my favorite games of all time. EA has finally taken another stab at the franchise. I'll try to make this review as little a comparison with Red Alert 2 as possible, but considering the legacy that Red Alert 3 has to live up to, I think a little comparison will help you decide if you want this game or not. For better or worse, the whole Red Alert universe gets taken to new places throughout this game. Perhaps the most drastic change is the addition of a co-commander to every campaign mission; something that I don't think has ever been done before in a RTS game. Finally, this review is really only going to cover single player game modes, but if the things I discuss vary greatly between single player and multiplayer, I'll be rather surprised. I will talk about Skirmish mode, but nothing online.
Let me get this question out of the way right now: Why do the graphics look worse than the graphics in Tiberium Wars? Everything looks way too exaggerated, brightly colored, and cartoony. Sure, the series has been known for playing up the corniness, but the one thing that has always maintained a sort of gritty realism is the appearance of the gameplay itself. All the units and structures have this annoying, almost happy glow to them. It changes the whole atmosphere of the game quite drastically. In the process, the overall quality of the graphics seems to have dropped as well.
The above only really applies to the units and structures however. The environments themselves are beautifully done. The water in particular looks amazing. If I had to guess, this is a reflection of the effort that has gone in to emphasize naval combat during gameplay. For some reason, an unusual amount of effort also seems to have gone into rendering the superweapon attacks as well. I thought they are by far the best graphical aspect other than the environment, which is weird.
The soundtrack does the job quite adequately, and offers some fresh remixes of classic Red Alert music. That said, it's really nothing special. One minor complaint I have that ends of being rather annoying is that there is no option during gameplay to change what background song you're listening to. I always thought that was a nice feature in the other games, because I could always just find my favorite songs and listen to them over and over. In Red Alert 3, you're just stuck with what they give you. Also, every once in a while, I would load a mission and play through the whole thing without any background music at all. I found this rather confusing, and couldn't tell if it was supposed to be like that, or if it was just a glitch.
I had a hard time deciding how to rate the story. I mean, by any NORMAL standards, the story and acting are outright terrible, but this is Red Alert. Everything is expected to be insanely over-the-top. Keeping this in mind, the story is good, not great. In previous games, the cheesiness was never as exaggerated as it is in this one. The overacting and ridiculous dialogue gets to the point that there were occasions in the game when I basically felt like the 3 side weren't actually fighting at all. There is nothing in the storyline worth taking seriously, but for the most part this is good rather than bad.
A couple specific points I feel I should bring up: First, the borderline racism and deliberate avoidance of political correctness is amusing at first, but it gets tiring throughout the whole course of the game. Also, as I mentioned before, this game hardly feels like there's an actual war on, and as a result the storylines are all very anti-climactic. Finally, without spoiling too much (you can tell this from the trailers anyway), the new Soviet Premier is a failure, I want Romanov back
Now we come to the most important aspect of almost any game. There's a lot of material to cover here, seeing as EA added more gimmicks to the gameplay than any title before it. I want to make a comparison here to Red Alert 2 before I move on to judging the game on its own merits. In an effort to balance all 3 sides (which they actually pulled off quite well), EA has destroyed two of my favorite things about Red Alert 2. First, there is no Prism Tank in this game. They tried to compensate by giving the Mirage Tank a knock-off laser beam, but it's just not the same. Second, the Apocalypse Tank has been completely nerfed. It can still give out good damage, but now it can't take nearly as much. Also it can't attack aerial targets any more. This takes a lot of the fun out of everyone's usual Soviet strategy.
Now, for some complaints I have based solely on this game itself. First off, while the 3 sides are balanced pretty well, there are a few similar units on each side that are ridiculously overpowered. First there are the long-range weapons. They can attack outside the range of any defensive structure, and what's worse is that their attacks can't be stopped once launched either. Remember how in Red Alert 2 the Soviet rockets could be destroyed in midair by AA guns? That concept is completely gone in the Red Alert 3. Once a missile or laser is on its way, there's no stopping it. Commandoes have also been unnecessarily ramped up. Commandoes can not only lay waste to structures and infantry, they can also now destroy vehicles with no effort at all.
Next there are the support powers and superweapons. They work relatively well in Campaign mode; nothing more to say there. In Skirmish mode however, the support powers feel like an unnecessary complication. Maybe I'm just bad and couldn't get the hang of them though. What I KNOW the game needed though was an option to turn support powers and superweapons off in Skirmish mode. Sometimes the strategy is more fun without these elements, and I see no reason for not having the option to turn them off.
The Campaign missions themselves are varied enough to never be boring, although oftentimes I found myself sticking to the same strategies over and over, but I suppose that's how it usually goes. I don't like how the game encourages you to play the campaigns in order. From what I can tell, the 3 campaign stories are completely independent of each other. It's not like one story leads into another one, unless I completely missed something.
Next is a gameplay element that, to my knowledge, has never been used before in the Real Time Strategy genre; at least, not to this extent. I'm talking about how every Campaign mission has you playing alongside a co-commander. This commander can either be found online, or you can choose to have an AI take the reins. The AI is usually competent enough to not be a liability, but don't expect them to help out much. Of course, clicking on the Solo button at the start of a mission probably means you're OK with doing everything yourself in the first place. I have to say that I am very impressed overall with how the co-commander thing was pulled off. EA took a huge risk by making the addition of another force mandatory for all missions. There were a few times when I found myself wanting to just go it alone, but overall this gameplay element is a huge step forward for the genre, even if it probably should have been optional instead of mandatory.
There's a feature of the units themselves that I thought was a poor idea in and of itself, but EA managed to pull it off very well, so I think it's worth mentioning. Every unit in the game actually has two functions that you can switch between. This can make gameplay more complicated at times, but once you get the hang of it, all the units function very well. The dual modes are particularly inventive when playing as the Rising Sun.
Lastly, I want to talk about the new race in Red Alert 3: The Empire of the Rising Sun. The effort that has gone into making this race is obviously immense. Also, nearly everything about them defies convention. I appreciate this greatly, but overall, I think I would have rather seen them in a whole new game altogether rather than impeding on the classic battle between the Allies and the Soviets. Gameplay-wise though, The Empire quite refreshing. The only complaint I have unit-wise is the lack of a heavy bomber. Both the Allies and Soviets have one, and the lack of one in The Empire is really the only instance in the game where the balance gets thrown off a little bit. Luckily The Empire has some other overpowered units to make up for it.
I really couldn't bring myself to play through the campaigns again. The Skirmish mode is also nothing special. This is the one area where multiplayer might make up for the rest of the game, but I've never been a fan of online multiplayer, and I'm sure I'm not alone. You can pick specific missions to play once you've beaten a campaign, but no specific missions stuck out to me as being devilishly fun either.
Red Alert 3 was a bold effort on EA's part, and I appreciate that, but overall the experience is lacking. As my title implies, EA missed the point of the Red Alert series. This game takes things that are unique to the Red Alert series (Naval combat, cheesiness), and exaggerates them way too much. They seemed to miss the point that, while the unique things about Red Alert certainly are nice features, they aren't the MAIN appeal of the games. Red Alert 3 makes me think that the developers didn't notice this, and exaggerated those things thinking that they were giving the fans what they wanted, but in fact ended up doing to opposite.
Admittedly, despite my mediocre score, I did have fun playing this game. If you ask me though, wait for a price drop before you buy it. Plus, EA will hopefully have come out with more patches by then to fix some of the numerous glitches and gameplay issues. (One last point, the title of this review is a little unfair, seeing as I think EA did a fantastic job with Tiberium Wars and Kane's Wrath )
Reviewer's Rating: 3.0 - Fair
Originally Posted: 12/02/08
Game Release: Command & Conquer: Red Alert 3 (US, 10/28/08)
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