Command & Conquer: Red Alert 3 Review
Xbox 360 | PC
Command & Conquer: Red Alert 3 box art
System: X360, PC Review Rating Legend
Dev: EA LA 1.0 - 1.9 = Avoid 4.0 - 4.4 = Great
Pub: Electronic Arts 2.0 - 2.4 = Poor 4.5 - 4.9 = Must Buy
Release: Nov. 11, 2008 2.5 - 2.9 = Average 5.0 = The Best
Players: 1-2 3.0 - 3.4 = Fair
ESRB Rating: Teen 3.5 - 3.9 = Good
A Weird History
by Robert VerBruggen

On computer platforms, real-time strategy games have been around for ages with a lot of success, so it's no surprise some developers are trying to bring the genre to consoles. Unfortunately, they're facing a lot of problems.

Command & Conquer: Red Alert 3 screenshot

One is that most current RTS fans play on computers, so console developers have to make games accessible to beginners; this is hard in a style of game that has become ridiculously complicated over the years. Another is that it's impossible to give all the functions of computer RTSs their own buttons on a console controller, so developers have to come up with unusual schemes (such as making players hold down some buttons while pushing others, or hold down a button to bring up a list of options). Finally, there's the main challenge all game-makers cope with: making a title that's just plain good.

Given the spectacular failures of many console RTS (see, for example, our review of Warhammer: Battle March), two out of three ain't bad, and that's the score the console port of Command & Conquer: Red Alert 3 earns. The game gets half a point for accessibility to genre newcomers, a full point for making a whole lot of maneuvers very easy to find and execute, and half a point for overall quality.

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The moment you slap the disc in, a terrific-looking live-action cutscene featuring some big-name actors begins. The story is that Soviet time-travelers stop Albert Einstein from helping the Allies win World War II, and when they return to the future, the Allies, Soviet Union, and Japan (err…"The Empire of the Rising Sun") are fighting on an equal playing field.

Command & Conquer: Red Alert 3 screenshot

It's hard to tell quite what they were going for with this and the other cutscenes (some of which are animated in part, but no less visually impressive). The dialogue is so bad, and the acting so over-performed it can be difficult to believe. Thankfully given the professional acting talent EA hired, one can manage to swallow the intentional antics. Still, it all ends up looking like a mess. It's as if the actors are not quite sure why they're standing around, wearing funny outfits, and reciting corny lines.

Also, to this day it's hard to see Tim Curry (who plays the Russian premier) without thinking back to him wearing lipstick in The Rocky Horror Picture Show, sashaying around and singing, "I'm just a sweet transvestite from transsexual Transylvania!" It's odd, to say the least, watching him in a macho military outfit, speaking in a Russian accent. George Takei (Mr. Sulu from Star Trek) also appears, though he manages to seem less out of place. There's also a collection of attractive women in military roles, one played by Jenny McCarthy, and for some reason they all feel the need to display their cleavage. Go figure.

Command & Conquer: Red Alert 3 screenshot

From there, most console players will head over to the tutorial, which they will discover (to their dismay) comprises six parts and lasts more than an hour. Three tanks, one representing each the Allies, Soviet Union, and Rising Sun, teach you through cheesy dialogue how to do everything the game requires. Often, one tank will make a bad joke at another's expense, and the offended tank will shoot him. It's not funny the first time, and it happens, oh, about a thousand times.

During the tutorial, it's striking both how easy it is to find everything and how complicated the game is. You'll get a variety of units (fighters, boot camps that create fighters, power plants, etc.), and you can select any unit by clicking it with the A button. Holding down the R button brings up a huge radial stocked with the unit's various options, and the only shortcut is to hold the right bumper and hit X (this executes the unit's special ability). The L button brings up radar, helping you jump around the battlefield, and the right joystick zooms in and out (though it doesn't zoom out nearly as far as it should, forcing you to use the radar whenever you want to see the big picture). There are no "hold this button, then hold that button, then push this other button three times" gymnastics here, and that's to the game's eternal credit.

Screenshots / Images
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