See if you can guess which RTS we’re talking about here: “Your units’ pathfinding abilities are somewhat erratic, they’ll frequently stand around watching a friendly structure get destroyed, and controlling large numbers of them is awkward.” Correct! It was the one you said. And all of them. So we’re used to this stuff. We occasionally conducted shrill, incredulous and rather one-sided conversations with some of our less cooperative soldiers in Red Alert 3, but it didn’t spoil the game for us. We loved it.
It spoils Uprising, a non-costly standalone episode of new single-player campaigns and game modes. There’s a small speck of spittle on our screen as we write this, and the number of heated, profane rows we’ve had with 50-pixel computer game characters in the last few hours is enough that we don’t even recall which was so exasperating as to trigger an actual ejection of saliva mid-vituperation. It’s not something we’re proud of.
There are two reasons Uprising causes particularly acute levels of impotent nerd rage. The first is the missions. They suck conspicuously. Red Alert 3’s campaign had a few duds too, but its prevailing philosophy was that when it took away your tools (like the ability to build a base) it would give you something cool to play with instead (like the KING OF ALL ROBOTS). Uprising’s philosophy is that when it takes away your tools (which almost every mission does), it gives the enemy something cool to violate you with (which they do vigorously). When the few units it does let you use start to behave unexpectedly, it’s pretty much Game Over.
The first Soviet mission, which for some reason must be completed to unlock any of the other faction campaigns, is a perfect example. It starts you with a limited number of the most boring unit in the game, and ends with you facing new Allied artillery pieces that can wipe out your entire force before you ever even see them. When your objective instructions are clear, it’s Simon Says: you just have to do what you’re told when you’re told to do it. When they’re not, it’s Simon Wordlessly Incinerates Everyone You’ve Ever Known, Pausing To Flick A Smoldering Cigarrete Onto Their Blackened Bones Before Turning Away In Disgust.
In addition to a mini-campaign for each faction, Uprising also adds the Commander’s Challenge mode: a global campaign in which you choose which mission and which faction to play. The idea is to unlock new units by defeating a commander who uses them, which sounds nice until you consider the obvious implications. As well as giving each of your opponents a cool toy you can’t use, it means you start with no interesting units whatsoever. For mission after mission after mission, it’s tank rush, tank rush, tank rush.
The second reason that Uprising makes us thrash like a petulant schoolboy is that we still love Red Alert. You don’t curse if you don’t care, and we cursed prolifically. We want our Mecha Tengus to follow our VX Choppers properly when we set them all a target because, and we don’t say this often enough, we freaking love Mecha Tengus. We love the new units too: the Soviet Mortar Bikes are swift, flexible and fun, the Empire’s Giga Fortress is a floating head of hilariously fatal deathbeams, and the jetpacking Allied Cryo-Legionnaires talk like a Schwarzeneggian Mr. Freeze.
Interestingly, an old unit is the star of Uprising: psychic Japanese schoolgirl maniac Yuriko Omega. There’s a special prequel campaign in which you play as her alone, with four hotkeys to her special abilities in place of the usual interface. It works at first: this is a genuinely new way to play, and her Telekinesis ability is wonderful to hurl enemies around with. But by the campaign’s conclusion, trying to avoid every unnecessary hitpoint of damage to survive becomes a tiresomely fussy task.
Like the rest of Uprising, the Yuriko campaign is single-player only. And bizarrely, that extends even to the skirmish mode: you can play against the AI, but there’s no Versus mode or multiplayer of any kind. It’s a particular shame because Skirmish is the best way to play: the new units up the kerplosion ante significantly. It proves what should have been obvious: a good game is best when you don’t script it, gimp it or over-restrict it.
The file that runs when you start Uprising is ‘ra3ep1.exe’, which suggests Electronic Arts LA are planning more. If so, we hope they accept that their interface and AI simply aren’t good enough to let the player’s success hinge on a handful of units. And we hope they create something that lets us flex our tactical creativity a little more than this.
Apr 1, 2009