Command & Conquer: Red Alert 3

We invite you to enjoy a-okay preview of top strategy game. Da? Good

In Russian, the word krasnaya can mean either “red” or “beautiful.” After getting hands-on time with a skirmish match in a very early build of Red Alert 3, I can confirm that the third entry in the giddily outlandish RTS franchise is extremely krasnaya, in both senses of the word. Yes, I’ll say it - the water effects are fantastic. Good-looking H20 may be de rigueur in PC gaming these days, but it’s extra noticeable in a game that emphasizes naval warfare.

For those who missed the April 2008 PC Gamer cover story, this third chapter in the C&C spin-off begins as the Soviet army faces certain defeat at the hands of the Allies during the climax of Red Alert 2. Using a prototype time machine hidden in the Kremlin's basement, the Soviet leadership wipes Albert Einstein, the man responsible for the Allies’ advanced technology, from existence, thus theoretically crippling the Allies and delivering a glorious win to Stalin's communist forces.

Well, a funny thing happens on the path to victory: the Allied forces are altered, yet still manage to develop much of the same tech invented by Einstein. The biggest consequence of the Soviets’ time-tampering, however, is the introduction of The Empire of the Rising Sun, a new Japanese side that also covets world domination. Now, the Soviet army is fighting a war on two fronts. In technical terms, the Butterfly effect has just come back to bite the Russkies on their collective asses.

The Red Alert series has always come armed with fast action and cheesy storytelling (what Louis Castle, cofounder of Red Alert series creator Westwood Studios and current vice president of EA LA, modestly calls a "sense of whimsy"). While I didn’t get an advance peek at the scenery-chewing for myself, EA says that over 60 minutes of full-motion HD video have been shot for the game. Judging from its predecessors, expect bushy-browed reds with exaggerated Russian accents, cowboy-ish American grandstanding, and a touch of sexy time thanks to slinky super-commandos Tanya and Natasha. I’m most curious about how EA will depict the Japanese; the FMVs will need to tread a thin line between tongue-in-cheek humor and racially offensive caricatures.