Is Red Alert 3 on PS3 the "ultimate console RTS experience", as EA has claimed? Does it have better graphics and improved performance compared with the PC and Xbox 360 versions? Does it take "full advantage" of Blu-ray? Now that the game's out, some six months after it was released on the PC and Xbox 360, it's time to put those lofty claims to the test.
But first a refresher: RA3 is the sequel to the much-loved PC RTS RA2, released eight years ago. It's a game that stays true not only to the series' camp, B-movie style but also to the tried and trusted RTS fundamentals pioneered by the likes of the original Command & Conquer developer Westwood Studios back in the early to mid 90s. And so, what we have here, despite the length of time developer EA Los Angeles has had to think about it, is a game that's more of the same. Sure, the graphical overhaul impresses in parts, with perhaps the best-looking water ever seen in an RTS, the campaign, built from the ground up to be played co-operatively, is loads of fun with a friend, and the implementation of a third race, the Empire of the Rising Sun, perhaps the most stereotypical Western representation of the Japanese ever seen in a video game, is a cool move, but, essentially, Red Alert 3 is Red Alert 2 with bells, whistles, and extra cleavage.
Even if you're not a fan of the Red Alert franchise you'll probably be aware of its core philosophies. Traditional RTS action is broken up by live action clips where actors talk to the camera as if talking to you, the player, a commander in one of the three race's armies. Rather disappointingly, these clips steal the show somewhat from the gameplay, and that's despite the fact that they are utterly, utterly crap.
Which fits perfectly with the camp, over the top, tits and bum obsessed Red Alert world. In one clip, Tim Curry, who plays an ambitious Russian general in the Soviet army, stares at his female assistant's arse as she walks away from his table, then turns to the camera with an eyebrow raised and an adolescent smirk on his face. Glamour model Gemma Atkinson, of Hollyoaks and I'm a Celebrity Get Me Out Of Here! fame, plays an English rose Allied commander with an accent that switches mid-sentence between Keira Knightley and North-Western chav. She's got a crush on you throughout the whole Allied campaign, and offers smiles and shy blushes in every scene. Mr. Sulu (aka George Takei), plays perhaps the most stereotypical Japanese Emperor ever seen, not only in a video game, but in film, TV and everything.
The alternative history plot is equally hilarious. The Soviets, nearing defeat, develop a time travelling machine and go back and assassinate Albert Einstein, believed to be the chief architect behind Allied technology, before he's able to make his mark. Back in the present, the Soviets discover that Einstein's assassination has lead to the emergence of a third military power - the Empire of the Rising Sun, which proceeds to take out all of its samurai skills on Tim Curry's astonishing goatee.
Strip all that fluff away and what you're left with is a complicated, hardcore RTS experience that's good fun, extremely polished and, at its best, a blast. Every mission in the three campaigns has been designed to be played with a friend. Do this and you're going to have a good time. Play with an AI co-commander and the fun factor is diminished somewhat, but it rarely frustrates, and you can boss about your computer controlled mate via four general commands.
On PS3, as with all console real-time strategy games, the most important thing is how intuitive RA3 is to play given you're fiddling about with a joypad and not a mouse and keyboard. Here, EALA has further iterated on the radial Command Stick interface it's been honing for a few years now in the Xbox 360 versions of Command & Conquer 3: Tiberium Wars, expansion Kane's Wrath and Red Alert 3. It works like this: by pressing and holding R2 a radial menu appears in the centre of the screen. You're able to use the left thumb stick to navigate the menu, selecting structures and units to build with a press of the X button. You're able to do this from any point on the map, so you don't have to manually move the camera to your base, position the targeting reticule over it, select it with the X button then go from there. You can be monitoring a scrap in the corner of the map and order reinforcements without shifting an inch.