Outlandish humor, intentionally cheesy live-acting, and an “anything goes” attitude are all fine trademarks of the Command & Conquer Red Alert series, separating it from other standard real-time strategy games by a thick, barbed-wire wall of silliness. What’s not to love about sending sonic laser-equipped dolphin attack squads, giant Japanese robot mechs, pig-tailed psionic schoolgirls, and armored Soviet war bears charging into battle? Command & Conquer: Red Alert 3 – Commander’s Challenge distills the core gameplay into a standalone, challenge-based expansion that’s light on plot and heavy on the difficulty.
Taking up arms as a commander for FutureTech, a high-tech weapons developer with untoward aims, you’ve recently uncovered the schematics to construct the basic military units and installations of the Red Alert’s main factions (The Soviets, The Allies, and The Empire of the Rising Sun). With this hot intelligence in-hand, your new assignment is to swoop in amidst all the squabbling and chaos between the three factions and “acquire” the technological knowhow to launch FutureTech to the top of the military food chain. This sets you up nicely to dive into a branching series of 50 different missions (divided into main challenges and side challenges) that, when completed satisfactorily, will unlock new badass units for you to throw at opponents.
Commander’s Challenge plays like any other RTS. You’ll start most missions by establishing a base, mining ore resources, and erecting power generation stations as the foundation for your growing army. There are special abilities to research, buildings to upgrade, defenses to lay out, and tons of units to stockpile. Thanks to the plot setup, you can play as any of the three factions for any mission. Though they have many similarities, each has its own quirks to consider strategically and other unique factors that make it enjoyable to hop around between the three from time to time. Scenarios range widely in terms of scope and strategies. Most can be defeated by staying alive long enough to bolster a large force and send it thundering across the screen, leaving lots of bodies and debris in its path. However, reaching critical mass in each stage isn’t easy.
Red Alert 3 on the PC was a force to be reckoned with, but the series’ gameplay is downright unwieldy on consoles. You can do a lot with the controls in Commander’s Challenge, but there’s no substitute for a mouse and a keyboard. Selecting, grouping, and managing large numbers of units in different areas of the map feels imprecise and tricky, often railroading you into the less strategic approach of gathering everyone in one spot and embarking on a destructive rampage en-masse.
Beyond control issues, it’s not always clear how to best use the units and resources at your disposal. The tutorial does a solid (and funny) job of introducing basic and advanced strategies, but moments of confusion are still bound to still crop up in the midst of battle. The lack of checkpoints or inability to save your progress within a mission can make for some frustrating trial and error in some of the tougher levels. Even with its problematic moments, Commander’s Challenge has hours of tough and intense gameplay to offer console owners with a hankering for more Red Alert 3 action.
Sep 28, 2009