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Command & Conquer: Red Alert 3 - first look

The system poses challenges when playing with a friend (of the communication variety) but this is easily solved with VoIP, and it’s worth the effort. The co-commander includes other advantages such as sharing line of sight, being able to put units in friendly transports, using an ally’s airfields and repair abilities, and even building units and giving them to your ally. “However, we’re not allowing you to give money directly, which causes balance problems,” explains producer Amer Ajami. “If your buddy is under attack, it’s more fun to send units rather than money, as there’s physical gameplay tied to them - they might get ambushed by the enemy on the way to the rendezvous, for example.”

But if you leave the AI co-commander to his own devices, will he just complete the missions for you? “No, that wouldn’t be much fun!” says Chris. “We have to make sure that the AI is competent enough, as you’ll always compare it with human players, but also that the experience is always satisfying. I feel that the AI in C&C3 was the very best in the business, and the early indications for RA3 are very good.”

Other aspects of the gameplay are being finely tuned up until the game’s late 2008 launch. EA LA wants fast, fluid fun, but they felt that the wide-open economy of C&C3 (allowing you to generate units very quickly) made for a game that was perhaps too fast - in fact the 1.09 patch gated the economy and slowed the action down, which is the direction they’re going for in their next offering. Games will still be quick, but instead of matched multiplayer games lasting 10 minutes, RA3 will have matches of between 20-30 minutes.

Apparently Corry is attempting to head off the traditional “rush-fest” of other C&C games: “We don’t want to lose that feeling of being under pressure, but we’re going to dial that back a notch. If you try to rush early on, you probably won’t be successful. Gamers have got more sophisticated and we want to inject more depth - the combat chain isn’t just rock, paper, scissors, so there’s more nuance to which units are effective against other units.”

As a result, Red Alert 3 will have fewer units that have multiple capabilities, with most being dedicated units that do one thing very well. So, a large force of one type of unit won’t be wildly successful now; a response to the Mammoth ‘tank spam’ from C&C3, which was popular with gamers because the super-vehicle could crush infantry, destroy vehicles and shoot down aircraft. Also, every unit now has a primary and secondary ability; a very clear cut, binary rule that’s easy to grasp but adds complexity to gameplay. Plus, Red Alert 3 will be adopting the tried-and-trusted RTS staple of building on grids, to avoid any issues of choke-points or units getting stuck behind badly-placed buildings.

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