Red Alert 3: Ultimate Edition
20th Mar 2009 | 16:16
Or rather Red Later 3. Still, here it is on PS3 at last, but don't be angry - you should embrace this. And not least because of the bevvy of foxy ladies in uniform...
Command & Conquer Red Alert 3 is, to put it mildly, a massive turn up for the books. See, less than six months ago PSW were firmly told by EA, its publisher, that it was dumping the PS3 release because it wasn't up to scratch. And yet here I am, barely a few months after the Xbox 360 release, playing the PS3 version. Know what the best thing is? Not only is it here, it's very much up to scratch.
Before I even clapped eyes on PS3 code, EA was making very appealing noises about how the resurrected version of the game would appear, noises that would make me totally forget the worry that I wouldn't even see it. Really, this is Red Alert 3 Ultimate Edition, so called because EA has rammed a bundle of extras on to the Blu-ray disc.
EA is saying sorry you had to wait. It's like a restaurant manager knocking all the booze off your bill because you had to hang around for your steak. Except EA is going: "Here, have a high-def video of all those gorgeous lasses we put in the game," which is almost as good as free booze.
As well as assorted developer diaries, outtakes videos and other goodies to sweeten the deal, there will also be a number of maps available via the PlayStation Store right from the off. The first one's even free. When this much effort is gone to with a port arriving a little later, it really puts other tardy games to shame. BioShock, I'm looking at you. You were late - where were your compensatory gifts?
Not only that, but Red Alert 3 actually looks just a tiny bit better on PS3. It's a bit pissy getting on the 'my console's better than yours' bandwagon, but the extra development time has obviously been put to good use. There's not a great deal of difference between the two, but the water effects in particular are lovely. Most of the campaign levels here feature a significant portion of water, and that's a constant reminder to PS3 gamers that they're playing the superior version of the game. Full marks there EA for a job well done.
If you've played a Command & Conquer game before, you'll know roughly what to expect. The fundamentals are the same. You command a force around a map, destroying enemy units, with asset management thrown into the mix for good measure. That's it, broadly speaking. Mind you, it's been a good few years since we last saw C&C on a PlayStation console. This is like a regular unassuming kid being packed off to university and coming back with crusty dreads and tie-dyed cargo pants years later.
At first glance I barely recognised it. It's camper, cheesier and a painful jolt to the retinas. In fact, it looks much like EA's behemoth Sims games now. Levels are populated with dinky, colourful buildings, fairground rides, bright blue waterways, trees of various striking autumnal tones. It's a bit of an assault on the eyes. It might be a good idea to turn the colour on your TV down a bit at first, or until you get used to how everything looks.
Really, the overt brightness of the game is more than an aesthetic gripe. Add into this the potentially barf-inducing mix of the equally eye-catching units under your command and it's mighty tricky to actually see your units, enemy units, bases and objectives clearly, especially when there's a full complement of units on screen vying for your attention. The snowier levels therefore come as some degree of relief, as it's so much easier to see everything clearly against a stark, white background.
Still, it's a big change from the generally featureless levels of the much older games and once you're attuned to it, a welcome one. As is the control system; which is always the huge stumbling block when any real-time strategy title makes the leap from PC to console. PC fans say an analogue stick on a joypad offers nowhere near the sort of control needed for high-pressure, multitasking games. Red Alert 3 does much to blow this argument out of the water with its command wheel system.
Squeezing R2 brings up the wheel, wherever you are on the map. Previously you had to bring up a sidebar with all of your construction and command options and it was all a bit fiddly. Now you can be laying siege to an enemy base all the way over in the far corner of the map and still be able to manage your bases.
Every option you'll need in battle and preparation for it is available to you on the wheel - it's quicker to build specific units if you have the appropriate facility selected, but it takes a second longer to find it on the command wheel.
It's a simple case of selecting icons with the Right stick; in this way you can add to your base defences, call up more troops, set rallying points, patrol patterns and command groups. The list of options is lengthy, as is the control set you'll need to memorise. Long it may be, but that gives you the flexibility to play with a broad swathe of tactical options.
Be warned though - the tutorials, while useful are excruciatingly annoying, with an unexpected 'hilarious' set of talking tanks guiding you through the three factions' peculiarities. The British tank is voiced, seemingly, by Dick Van Dyke in his 'Meeery Poppins' mode. The berk.
Selecting units was another bugbear, and this has had a similar tweaking. Instead of awkwardly trying to hold down q and draw a box around a group of units, as on a PC, you now simply hold down q and 'paint' the units you want to group together. It's so much easier - and if that's too fiddly, then you can do it all through the command wheel.
Choose your faction
You play as one of three factions: the brutish Soviets, the Sixties sci-fi Allies and the tech-tastic Empire Of The Rising Sun, the latter being the best - featuring mech units, tanks that double-up as gunboats and ninja units. Inventive and quirky units are a big plus of the game.
The Soviets have war bears and huge airships, the Allies have killer dolphins and the Athena Tank, which calls down fire from satellites (whereas the Soviets just call down an entire satellite in a special attack called Satellite Dump). Part of the fun comes from seeing what else you'll uncover on the sprawling tech-tree available to you.
As you battle to one objective, the map expands to take in the next one, so you end up with a map far larger than the one you started out on, while the volume of missions to play is impressive. But the same can't be said for variety of missions. You're rarely given the chance to use the full force of the faction at your disposal.
You can spot some series clichés too: destroy this power station to knock out those defences, blow up their ore refinery to slow production and so on. But the good ideas - garrisoning infantry inside buildings, the Soviet Bullfrog which shoots troops, human cannonball-style, into enemy territory - make up for it. It's a shame you have to make your own fun.
But this is great fun. There's a lot of humour, a lot of crackpot thinking. And the cutscenes are the funniest, daftest yet. If that off-the-wall thinking had been applied to more of the missions, this would be an astounding return. Still, it has got Gemma Atkinson and missile-packing dolphins in it. Spot on.