It's been quite a while since we last checked on the Command & Conquer: Red Alert games, but maybe the time is right for a new chapter. The classic formula of real-time strategy games is built on harvesting resources, constructing a base, and churning out armies to crush your opponents before they can do the same, but this unusual strategy series was built around an alternate history. This is a world in which the so-called Cold War between the Soviet Union and the United States never ended, and in which all the potential of experimental technology from that era, from the Manhattan Project to Tesla coils, was actually realized as devastating (and in some cases, fantastical) weapons on the battlefield. The series is set to return with Red Alert 3, a new game built on the modern Command & Conquer 3 Tiberium Wars engine, but with all the over-the-top enthusiasm of a summer blockbuster popcorn movie. We recently had a chance to take a look at the game in motion.
Like with the previous games in the series, Red Alert 3 will take place during the extended Cold War--in this case, just after the Soviet assassination of one Albert Einstein by means of the recently discovered technology of limited time travel. Yes, time travel. As lead producer Chris Corry explains, the Red Alert universe is much more of a humorous and playful place, perhaps because all of the outlandish technology that was being researched at the time seemed plausible. What if time machines had worked? And if they did, why not circus cannons that launch armored, parachuting bears over walls into enemy territory? No, we're not making that up. Yes, parachuting bears are actually in the game, and they're supposed to be very powerful units, because they are bears, after all.
Along with the bears will come more than an hour's worth of full-motion video cinematics featuring the kind of Hollywood talent you might expect from a C&C game. Considering the setting of the game this time around, the actors (who have not been revealed yet) may be given a little extra leeway to chew the scenery a bit, along with a colorful look and feel that's suitable for the game's lighthearted tone.
Yet although the game will attempt to maintain its ties to classic C&C conventions such as full-motion video cutscenes and the "fast, fluid" style of gameplay that characterized Command & Conquer 3, Red Alert 3 will still be going in some very different directions. For starters, the conflict will no longer be confined to a two-sided war between the armies of the Allies and the Soviet forces. Yes, Red Alert will now have a third playable faction: the Empire of the Rising Sun, a faction inspired by World War II Japan, which we saw in action briefly. In addition, the game will not only feature a full campaign and competitive multiplayer, but also a cooperative mode that will let you play through the game with either computer-controlled allies or a human friend.
The game will also feature a tweaked pace that perhaps won't end as quickly as some top-level matches of Command & Conquer 3 do, perhaps to let players explore more strategic options and get a chance to research the most powerful military units and superweapons at the very top of the line. In addition, you'll probably need a little extra time for exploring, given that Red Alert 3 will also distinguish itself from most other real-time strategy games by having a highly integrated naval game. Interestingly, the naval game will be crucial to victory in Red Alert 3. Not only will the game feature units that are seafaring-only as well as amphibious (can operate on either land or water), but it'll also include resource nodes in water and will even let you build bases in water. As such, if you decide to not get your feet wet, your opponents may be able to develop larger and richer holdings than you by seizing water-bound resources, and you may not even be able to reach your enemies to attack their base if they're out in the water and all you have are land-bound tanks.
We were able to watch a brief demonstration that showed the kind of back-and-forth gameplay you'll see in a typical match. It began with Soviet forces using a standard MCV (mobile construction vehicle) attempting to build up a small, landlocked base. The Soviets will apparently be able to develop new bases very quickly, but their unfinished structures will be especially vulnerable to damage while they're still being built. We watched the Soviets build a refinery to harvest a nearby resource node, as well as a handful of energy generators, and then move on to an infantry barracks. The barracks were used to commission the infamous C&C engineer unit, which has the ability to seize buildings. In Red Alert 3, the engineer unit is also equipped with an amphibious raft. The engineer hopped into the nearby water to take control of a lighthouse on a small island, and control of this structure opened up a massive line of sight that revealed a huge enemy installation. The Soviet faction then built a handful of sickles, which are mechanical walker units with antipersonnel armaments, though these units were quickly plastered by allied air units that bombed out the base.
Undaunted, the Soviets rebuilt their base, this time churning out bullfrog walkers with antiair flak cannons that shredded the returning Allied flyers. What followed was a constant back-and-forth struggle as land, air, and sea units from all three factions took each other on in a grand game of rock-paper-scissors--a balance philosophy that will clearly be at the heart of the game's unit design. We watched as antiair vehicles took down flyers, while getting trashed by antivehicle units, only to be bombed back into the stone age by naval destroyer ships. The remaining units on each side got mopped up by huge King Oni mechs from the new Empire faction, which we saw very little of otherwise.
Interestingly, Red Alert 3 will also feature multiple terrain heights. Units on high ground will enjoy a tactical advantage in terms of line of sight and offensive advantage, whereas units on low ground won't even be able to see their elevated enemies. This makes leaping units such as the Soviet bullfrog walkers extremely useful, as well as the aforementioned parachuting bears--who will, incidentally, be vulnerable to antiair fire while they're falling from the sky.
It's clear from what we've seen that Red Alert 3 won't exactly offer the kind of buttoned-down, deadly serious experience you might have seen in other, more straightforward strategy games, but it should still clearly offer plenty of strategic depth, especially given the new naval gameplay. Even in its early state, the game looks excellent visually and has a bright, colorful appearance that works well with its humorous tone and over-the-top units. Keep an eye on GameSpot for more updates as we approach the game's release later this year.