Whilst the original Command & Conquer series has been a tiny bit plausible, it's crazy offspring in the form of the Red Alert series have always been so absurd it's amazing. The Red Alert series has been well known for taking actual historical events and throwing time machines, a mind reading Russian, war bears and other insane sci-fi'esk things into the mix. And that has always been the charm with the Red Alert series. The next one of the series, Red Alert 3, does no different with more time travelling, Transformer like mecha robots and...Tim Curry?!
The story of the game is as far-fetched as the previous Red Alert titles. The game begins with the Soviet leaders using an experimental time machine to go back in time and stop Soviet Russia from being crushed by the Allies. To do this, they decide to kill Albert Einstein, thus eliminating any creation of nuclear weapons. The leaders arrive back in Russia to find themselves the top dogs, however a new threat in the form of the Empire of the Rising Sun arises creating a three-way conflict.
The three factions; Soviet Russia, Allies and the Japanese, all play their own part in Red Alert 3. They both follow different strategies, so you will need to get accustomed to how each faction works. For instance, each faction builds differently. The Allies follow the basic C&C structure of "wait for your buildings to be built then place them on the battlefield." The Soviets, on the other hand, build directly onto the battlefield, leaving the buildings open to attack as they are being built. The Japanese have little core vehicles that you create in the construction yard, which you can then direct to a part of the map where they can then unfold into the building you want them to be.
The campaign allows you to play through each of these factions through their own individual campaign. You can tackle them in any order, but difficulty does seem to ramp up a bit by the time you reach the Empire of the Rising Sun campaign, so it's best to start with the Soviets to get a feel for the controls. The missions themselves are all pretty fun to play, but there are a few weak links in the missions. The story for each mission is portrayed through brilliantly cheesy FMVs, reminiscent of the old C&C FMVs. You will also, throughout the missions, gain little updates from your communications officer giving you information on any bonus objectives or any other goings on in the battlefield.
If you're playing in single player you will also gain updates from your co-commander. Every mission has a co-commander that you can use for many strategic purposes. You could tell them to attack one side of an enemy base, while you take the other, or order them to attack the enemy while you try to build your army back up. The co-commander AI is pretty good anyway, so you could just leave them to their own devices. However, it is more fun to play alongside a friend who is able to set up a base and build their own army to assist you when needs be. This is pulled off extremely well and is a welcome addition to the C&C franchise, allowing your co-op games to have more structure than just a bog standard skirmish match against an AI opponent. It is disappointing that online there is no matchmaking for the co-op side of the missions, so you'll either have to play offline with a friend or tell your friend to get the game so you can manually invite them in.
The introduction of the naval aspect of the game adds a whole other degree of strategy to your battles. A lot of the levels within Red Alert 3 will feature water and some levels the majority of the level will be made up of water. This allows for entirely new unit types which can be very effective in battle. The Bullfrog for instance is very useful for transporting your ground troops across to an enemy base and then firing your troops directly behind enemy lines. The aircraft carrier is also useful for getting your planes closer to the enemy so your bombing runs can be quicker and more frequent. You can even build your base on the water, minus any buildings that deploy any ground units. This really does force you to think in an entirely different way. Will my base be safer at sea? How will the sea help in my favour? All questions that you will need to think through before making any decisions thanks to the new additions. The naval aspect also involves dolphins.....with sonic guns on their backs. Awesome.
Special unit abilities are also pretty useful. Pretty much every unit has one. For instance, the Japanese Mecha Tengu has the ability to transform into a two legged walking mech and then quickly transform into a jet. It makes you think more about how you will manage your units as well as how you will use their special ability. It takes a bit of time to get used to how you will organise your units and use their abilities effectively, but it doesn't take long and pretty soon you'll be on your way to creating an unstoppable army.
Behind all these new additions, Red Alert 3 still follows the same C&C routine. Build a base, build a barracks, train some troops, make some tanks and then go and attack the enemy. It's a tried and tested formula which is proven to work, so why change it? Again, it's all down to how you prioritise and manage everything to create the most effective base and army to boot. The controls make this relatively easy, with most actions being placed onto a wheel that is simple to navigate, this allows you to queue up structures from anywhere in the battlefield or group together troops with ease.
One thing that most C&C games have had are FMV sequences. Red Alert 3 is no different featuring big name stars such as Peter Stormare (Fargo), George Takei (Star Trek), J.K Simmons (Juno), Jonathan Pryce (Pirates of the Carribean) and Tim Curry (Everything!) Then there are the sort of bit parts played by people such as Gemma Atkinson (owner of the most dreary voice ever and possibly the worst actor to ever appear in a C&C game. Someone please help my ears!) and Autumn Reeser. The sequences are pretty well put together (minus the use of Gemma Atkinson who JUST WON'T GO AWAY!) and the dialogue is extremely tongue-in-cheek but not to the point where it becomes tedious. The FMV sequences give the game a little personality that really adds to the experience.
The game itself looks average really. There's nothing to shout about here. The explosions look nice and some of the units are well detailed, but otherwise it's just your bog standard RTS fare. The music, on the other hand, is brilliant. I found myself just sitting in the menu listening to the romping theme that plays through the menu screens. The music, suitably, picks up during big action moments and quietens down whilst you build up your base. It all works well to get the adrenaline pumping.
Red Alert 3 adds some welcome changes that really add to the C&C formula. For a console RTS, this is the best since..well...C&C3. If you are a die hard fan, you're in luck especially if your PC isn't good enough to run it. If you're a newbie to the C&C world, the strong cast may be enough to draw you in, although you probably won't enjoy the actual game.