Sadly, Red Alert 3 is the latest console RTS to be hamstrung by fiddly controls. It’s a crying shame, because if any strategy series could solve the problem of real-time management using a DualShock and a sharp military mind, you’d bet on the genre-defining Command and Conquer.
However, the problem isn’t – unlike many others – that these controls don’t cover enough commands to allow you to effectively manage your troops: it’s that they’re forced to work with too many possible options. Each unit has at least one secondary attack, two different types of movement, and four stances. You’re asked to make the most of all these while building new troops and structures, managing a co-commander, and calling in special weapons attacks. It’s far too confusing – even after hours of practice.
Another major problem is that it’s tough to keep track of all your troops. There are shortcuts you can access through the Command menu, and units can be grouped for ease of use, but managing them all at once is virtually impossible when there are skirmishes all over the map. What compounds the problem is that all your units seem to have a reckless disregard for personal safety. Ask them to travel to a point on the map, or attack a certain target, and they’ll often take the most dangerous path and end up dead or crippled by the time they arrive.
One big promise EA made about this delayed PS3 version (the PC and 360 versions having already been out since 2008) is that the visuals have been upgraded to make the most of PS3’s hardware. Doesn’t look that way to us. If anything this version looks more colourful – bordering on lurid – but the level of detail in the units and environments seems poor next to the likes of EndWar. Although the cartoon-like visuals fit in with Red Alert’s tongue-in-cheek approach to modern warfare, it feels like EA has gone a bit too crazy with the colour palette. Oh, and the talking pink tanks in the two-hour tutorial: just all kinds of wrong.
Luckily Red Alert’s FMV cut-scenes and cheesy plot threads are present and correct. Before each mission, you’re talked at by the likes of Tim Curry, Jonathan Pryce and George Takei dressed up as faction leaders. Then you’re handed over to your faction’s busty field support (Gemma Atkinson, Kelly Hu or Ivana Milicevic) for a more detailed and aesthetically pleasing mission briefing. The acting in each of these cut-scenes is deliciously hammy – both intentionally and unintentionally depending on who’s facing the camera at the time – and there’s a fun, B-movie feel to the whole game.
Co-op is a saving grace. Every main mission in the campaign can be tackled with a friend on or offline, and with a buddy on-side it makes things so much easier. Instead of managing your co-commander, you can simply bark instructions to your friend, and coordinate your forces more effectively. You can split duties between offensive and defensive, or between ground and naval forces.
With a little paring back and simplification, Red Alert 3 could have been up there with EndWar as a solid console RTS. As it turns out the game only really comes into its own when your superiors are flashing their winning smiles and ample cleavages at you, and in co-op, where there are two of you on hand to wrangle the controls into submission.
Apr 1, 2009