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Command & Conquer: Red Alert 3

Bear-baited hands-on hints at greatness

Unless you've been living in a Siberian igloo, you'll know that C&C: Red Alert 3's release is bearing down on us like the Red Army on a vodka factory. With the code virtually finished, we got our hands on the multiplayer game and played as the Soviet Union against the technologically advanced Empire of the Rising Sun (aka Japan).

The Soviets felt instantly familiar. Possessing a linear, old school base building model confined by a build radius and sporting heavily armoured units such as the Apocalypse tank - similar to C&C's Mammoth with its dual turrets and equipped with a magnetic harpoon for pulling in nippier foes - the Pinkos were all about brute force. However, their build restrictions (only one building could be constructed at a time) meant that amassing a force took time. This is a problem that my opponent didn't face.

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My foe's ability to send several waves of attacks against me, while I prepared to send out one, was down to the Empire's ability to simultaneously construct multiple buildings. These roll out of construction yards and can be deployed anywhere on the map.

The Empire's units also proved far more versatile than my rigid combat vehicles, often fulfilling dual roles thanks to their transforming abilities. The Sea-Wing is a submarine that can seamlessly transform into a bomber, while the Jet/Mecha Tengu is a walker that doubles as a fighter.

After safeguarding my base by building Tesla Coils and the morally reprehensible Iron Curtain (which casts a protective field over buildings while wiping out any nearby infantry units), I sent out my Ore Collectors to amass the game's only resource. I also packed our base with Super Reactors that generate vast amounts of energy, but could easily destroy half the base should the enemy successfully target them.

Once I'd constructed a balanced force packed with War Bears (bears in armour), MiG Fighters, Twinblade helicopter gunships, nippy four-legged Sickle walkers, Apocalypse tanks and some devastating Kirov Airships (slow but durable blimps which release a barrage of bombs on their targets), I made my way towards the enemy's base and ploughed in, wiping out an opponent who'd spent his resources on forays into our territory, rather than on base defences. The fool! Ha ha!

At a little over 20 minutes, the skirmish felt like the perfect length for such a frenetic RTS. While the visuals weren't the step forward from C&C3 that I'd hoped, the breakneck action was instantly recognisable and accessible while the cheesy humour and imaginative units that have typified this spin-off series carried enough promise to suggest this could be the best Red Alert yet.

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