The Red Alert series began back in 1996 as a strategy game in a parallel universe, developed by Westwood Studios. Other than the use of time travel which sparked the events of the game, the title was mostly down to earth, and delivered a satisfying alternate version of World War II. In Red Alert 2, the series took a more light hearted approach, favoring the fantastical over the realistic, seen in units such as giant squids and UFOs. This trend continues in Command and Conquer: Red Alert 3, with units such as dolphins, war bears, and giant samurai robots all taking to the battlefield. This over-the-top style works quite effectively however, and helps deliver an enjoyable, if not super serious, real time strategy experience.
Developed by EA Los Angeles, Red Alert 3 is the first game in the series not to be created by Westwood Studios. EA Los Angeles did a great job of keeping the distinctive feel of the series alive in creating Red Alert 3, by simultaneously making it a definite Command and Conquer game, yet at the same time distancing it from 2007's Tiberium Wars. This time around, the Soviet's are on the brink of defeat, and in order to defeat their mortal enemies, the Allies, they go back in time to kill Albert Einstein so that the Allies won't have nuclear weapons. Their plan is successful; however, their tampering with the space time continuum results in the creation of a new super power: The Empire of the Rising Sun. Now, there are three factions all vying for control of the world.
The story is both ludicrous and fun. The themes of "what would happen if the Cold War had turned hot" in the first Red Alert have been replaced with humourous light-hearted themes of good old world domination. While the plot isn't especially engrossing, the way it's told is. Each mission begins with a full motion video of live actors telling you what to do, something that has become a staple in Command and Conquer. This time around, EA went all out, bringing in some big Hollywood actors, such as Tim Curry, George Takei, and yes, even David Hasselhoff. The acting and dialogue is cheesy and way over the top, but it works, especially because it's esteemed actors and actresses doing it. Not everyone will appreciate the fact that the game is so light-hearted, but as long as you have a funny bone in your body, you won't be disappointed.
For a game that is so over the top, there is a lot of strategy to be found in Red Alert 3. This mostly comes from the great balance of land, naval and air units. Most, if not all, maps have bodies of water so that an army's navy has to be taken into account. Also, a lot of units are amphibious, such as the Soviet's Stingray or the Empire's Tsunami Tank, meaning that they are just as deadly on land as they are in the sea. Additionally, there are units that transform from being land vehicles into air units. The Empire of the Rising Sun even has a submarine that has anti-air capabilities, that transforms into an airplane that attacks land units. This really takes the rock-paper-scissors element that is found in many real time strategies out of the game, and places more emphasis on constructing a well balanced army. In this game, massing one unit isn't that great of a strategy, as there are so many counters. Each faction is also well balanced and unique, with no one side having a distinct advantage in either land, naval, or air combat.
All three factions are similar in the fact that they share the same structures: ore refineries, war factories, power plants, etc. The way in which said buildings are created is just one of the differences between each faction. For example, the Soviet's construct their buildings right before your eyes as soon as you purchase them, where as the Empire unpacks their buildings from different "cores". Little touches like these aren't game breaking, but are nice in differentiating the three. Each faction's super weapons are also different. The Allies' chronosphere and the Soviet's iron curtain both return from Red Alert 2, and there are also a few new powers, such as the Soviet's vacuum imploder and the Empire's psionic decimator. Lastly, each race has various lesser powers that can be used, from dropping satellites in orbit on unsuspecting foes, from having infantry hop out of the ground to aid your forces. These powers are a welcome addition, as it breaks up the long wait in between the use of super powers.
Each faction has their own nine mission campaign in Red Alert 3, resulting in 27 missions overall. The campaign is lengthy enough to warrant the purchase, yet short enough that it doesn't get boring. The best part about the campaigns is that you can play all three of them co-operatively, which adds a whole new dynamic to each mission objective. If you don't have a friend to play with, the computer issues you an AI co-commander. You can give them simple commands such as attack here or help me, but it's not near as effective as having a real life person on your side. When you are finished with the campaign, Red Alert 3 also has an engaging multiplayer component, which is where a lot of the game's replayability comes from. The skirmishes are a blast, as strategy plays a big role in Red Alert 3, which is a nice break from RTS games that just focus on whoever gets more resources and builds the most of one unit first wins. With three distinct, well balanced factions, the multiplayer component will keep you busy for quite awhile.
The graphics in Red Alert 3 are vibrant and colorful, and look great. There are a few animation hitches, such as when it looks like a unit is running on water, but they don't occur too often. Units also don't interact so well with their environment at times, but these pathfinding issues are easily overlooked. The lightning effects from tesla coils and tanks look great, and the water looks simply stunning, probably some of the best water effects seen in a game yet. This is especially noteworthy, since there is a lot of water in the game. The frame rate will hiccup occasional when there are a lot of explosions on screen at once, say, when you blow up an entire base with a psionic decimator, but otherwise, the game runs smoothly. Audio wise, Red Alert 3 is surprisingly great. The sound effects, from the explosions to gun fire, all sound superb, as well as the spoken dialogue. What is really surprising is the game's soundtrack, which ranges from heart pounding rock songs to mystic melodies from the Orient. The music also kicks it up a notch if you engage the enemy or if your base is under attack, which is really effective at drawing you in. The soundtrack is full of really catchy tunes as well, and really helps the gameplay from getting stale in a long, drawn out conflict.
All in all, Red Alert 3 is a great game. It does the Command and Conquer name proud in delivering a thrilling, strategic gaming experience, as well as keeping the over-the-top style found in Red Alert 2. The delightfully cheesy FMVs are a joy to watch, and after you've completed all three campaigns with a buddy, there's a ton of fun to be found in the multiplayer. If you enjoy real time strategy games, and aren't looking for a super serious experience, then Red Alert 3 is for you.