While the Command & Conquer series is revered by real-time strategy players, Red Alert holds a special place in many a fan's heart. The first Red Alert presented an alternative history of the Second World War, where the Soviets replace the Nazis as a power intent on conquering the world. The second game was released to further acclaim in 2000, but the franchise has been lying dormant for the eight years since. With Command & Conquer: Red Alert 3, EA Los Angeles is planning to expand the story while introducing new online modes, new interface features, and Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 versions for the first time.
The Los Angeles development team made a visit to the UK and invited us to play multiplayer mode and hear more about the inspiration behind the game. First off, the influence of Japanese culture is clear, and the self-confessed geeks at EA promise plenty of material for pop culture junkies. The new faction is called The Empire of the Rising Sun, and it features units that Japanophiles should recognise immediately. Yuriko is a psionic commando with neurokinetic booster braids, and she has been modelled on the schoolgirl character Go-Go Yubari from Quentin Tarantino's Kill Bill. On the technology side, the Mecha-Tengu are similar to the Vertech from the anime series Macross, while the Rocket Angel units are inspired by the Power Suits in Bubblegum Crisis. The developers admit that they're huge fans of this sort of thing, even to the point that the tankbusters use similar lasers to the one Kaneda has in Akira.
We managed to get a short play of the game itself, facing off against a member of our video crew. We played on the side of the Empire, and our opponent opted for the Russians. We could see a huge amount of difference between the units. The Japanese mech units can change Transformers-like into helicopters, which can then fly over mountains and skyscrapers. There is a downside, however; these units can use their weapons only when they're on the ground. We loved playing around with the intricate units as if they were toys, especially with the new unit-building structures that can be built offshore. In the end, though, the brute force of the Russians allowed their powerful dirigibles to take out our major structures with relative ease, while our preoccupation with mech units left us with few resources to build ground-to-air missiles.
While we played the conventional multiplayer game, the entire story mode is also played cooperatively, even if you don't have a real person to play with. The team says that co-op is integral to the game with specially constructed levels, so you'll have to pair with an AI-controlled commander if there's no one around to partner with. In true Red Alert style, you'll have to play as all three factions in the story mode, and there will be 27 missions in total to fight your way through. The last piece of information that we gleaned from the developers is that there will be around 65 minutes of full-motion video in the game, with the entire cast set to be revealed at the Leipzig Games Convention in August. They also revealed that one or two of the cast will be "prominent" British thespians, but no matter how hard we pushed, they wouldn't be drawn on specifics.
What we do know is that the story is told from the Soviet perspective. Having been defeated by the Allied forces in two Red Alert wars, the Russians take it upon themselves to build a time machine and travel back to kill Albert Einstein. Players of the previous games will remember that Einstein originally traveled back to kill Hitler and prevent the rise of Nazi Germany, but in succeeding, all he really did was allow Stalin's Soviet Union to stand unopposed in taking over the free world. With Einstein going on to develop the nuclear weaponry that helps the Allied forces defeat the Russians, the Russians have now plotted to travel back through time and get rid of Einstein. They succeed and with the scientist out of the picture, the Russians return to find that a new power has emerged on the world stage--the aforementioned Empire of the Rising Sun.
We didn't get to play the Xbox 360 or PS3 versions of Red Alert 3, but we know that the Xbox 360 version will launch alongside the PC version. EA says that the there's no release date set for the PS3 version, but they want to make it the best game they can. Having received good feedback on the radial user interface in C&C3: Kane's Wrath, the team has decided to stick with a similar interface for Red Alert 3. They're also promising to add 20 to 30 percent more features on top, meaning that on the 360 you'll be able to use the right trigger to call up the build menu without needing to have your cursor over a base. From there, you choose options with the right stick and drill down the menus using the A button. Aside from the luscious graphics in the main part of the game, the menus and box art for Red Alert 3 are particularly stylish. After seeing an exhibition at London's Tate Modern gallery, the team decided to base the art style on World War II propaganda posters, which used stark colours and thick black lines.
Red Alert 3 is now feature-complete, with just the final polish needing to be implemented between now and the October/November release. Thankfully there will also be a demo for the PC and Xbox 360 alongside the full game, so we won't have too long to wait before we can sample the game's delights once again. Expect us to bring you more information on the game from the Leipzig Games Convention next month, and right up until the game's release.