Red Alert 3 is nearly upon the gaming world. I’ve had a few days to play with the latest beta build, so time for show and tell!
The beta version for this preview was just for multiplayer. Some single player campaign action would have been nice as I was a big fan of the original Red Alert storyline, but you get what you are given when it comes to beta testing.
I’ll assume that you're familiar with the RTS genre, and somewhat familiar with Red Alert and the Command and Conquer series. Red Alert 3 is the latest in the ongoing saga between the Russians and Allies. However this time around there is also a new party in the mix, a Japanese faction called the Rising Sun. I was half expecting anime and tentacle nookie but it appears the new faction is pretty much a mech and tech bunch. As this beta is multiplayer only, there isn’t a lot of background on the Japanese faction or how they will fit into the story, other than that they are likely to be unlockable after playing the Russian and Allied campaign.
In terms of gameplay, regulars of the Red Alert series and its sibling series C&C won’t find that much has changed. Typical RTS fans will find nothing that hasn’t been done before, either, whether by other developers' games, or within these franchises themselves. There are a few minor gameplay tweaks, such as the addition of water structures and amphibious units, and changes to the way tech advances for some factions. That’s about the extent of it though. You build a base, build some units, run out of money, then power, then money, then the other player somehow has twelve tanks at your doorstep. It’s definitely fun, but perhaps I have been spoiled by Supreme Commander, Empire Earth II and Rise of Nations. By comparison to these games the Tech advancement and number of units in Red Alert 3 seems rather small.
However, simplicity is possibly the magic of this series. It has enough depth to be interesting, but also manages to shift the focus to the battles and short term strategy rather than simply a race to climb the tech tree. It makes for fast games, and sometimes that’s exactly what you want. It also still has many of the fun little quirks that made the previous games enjoyable.
You’ll see in the screenshots that you can still build a giant army of attack dogs to terrorize the enemy's tanks with. Sure, it won’t work, and they’ll be slaughtered, but you can do it. And let's not forget the ‘Chinook full of engineers behind enemy lines’ technique.
The unit balance at the moment seems good, though buildings do appear a lot weaker in this version. Allies are fairly strong in the air, the Russians have some pretty powerful subs, and the Rising Sun mechs are the best ground units in the build I played. The game favours aggressive tactics, and those that prefer turtling may find themselves outgunned early in the proceedings, unless they slip under the radar.
An interesting thing to note is that because you can build not only amphibious units, but also amphibious bases and structures, water almost becomes a non-event, as it functions exactly the same as landmass. Sure is pretty though.
Speaking of graphics…. Red Alert 3 certainly looks unique. Whether you like that look is up to you, and it certainly is causing a bit of controversy around the net.
Personally, I’m not sold on the new look. It seems just a little too cartoon, and gave me night terrors about the horror that was Empire Earth III. However it does provide a more light-hearted art direction than the C&C3 world. The bright colours, gimmicky units and camp accents all make the game feel less serious than perhaps the prequels have been. Transports eject units at high speed into the air rather than just drop them off. You can build dogs, bears and dolphins, and the naval units float around like cartoon pirate ships. It does however give it a certain amount of personality and makes a nice change from the deluge of washed out colour palettes that designers seem to be so keen on at the moment.
Keeping in mind this is a beta version of the game, I’d still like to mention that the network code at the moment is appalling. I have not been able to finish many games online without sync errors or lobby kickbacks.
Matchmaking is currently like pulling teeth, with a slow clunky lobby, few match options, and huge ping.
To be fair, as there was no location info on who you were playing with, you had no idea if it was your flatmate or someone in Guatemala. One can assume this will all be polished before the game is released, but then again many readers will remember how many patches it took before Battlefield 2 approached anything close to stability. Fingers crossed.
Red Alert 3 looks to be a promising title. Multiplayer is frantic as always, and fans of the series will likely be entertained. One could argue that if you are already playing C&C3 Kane’s Wrath multiplayer, that this game at full price won’t offer much value. But if you have room for three RTS games on your hard drive, and you already own Total Annihilation (the best RTS ever - commence flaming now) it’ll likely be worth getting. If EA can tidy up the online code, if the story is as interesting as the prequels, and if the same C-list celebrities appear in the ham acted cut scenes, fans of the series won’t be disappointed.