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RTS Weekend: Command and Conquer edition

Command and Conquer 3 is a dead simple strategy game… can you expect any less? It’s dead simple and that’s all I can say. Ok, that’s too simple an analysis… and sorry for being so cold about the game, but from what I’ve been experiencing, the game feels far too dead simple to be considered a strategy game at all. Many of the units feel too weak, some don’t serve much a purpose, some just clutter the screen, and some just take up space. Well, that may be… but the game is so much fun in all cases, what a contradictory statement considering how much I just said in the opening few sentences. But ask yourself, what makes the game so addicting to some? Why does the game keep pulling you back for more after you finished a few hours of straight game after game? Well I’ll tell you a few things that can help convince the point on this matter.

Dead simplicity comes from a lack of a good story mode. Don’t get me wrong, the acting is pretty hammy and the cut scenes look equally goofy in appearance (goofy but still great looking) but the game in the story missions… just deadly awesome in the grand scheme of things. You can either play as GDI or NOD in one of the two story arcs. The only difference is that you see Kane in one more often than not, and the other, you don’t. Why I say dead simplicity, there is usually only one way and one way only to win a mission… mass units and rush—it’s like Starcraft in a really daunting way, mass tanks and infantry and watch the fireworks go. The singleplayer boils down to just that and usually give you the resources to do such—it’s a long skirmish game with limited build options, that’s all it is. The only thing memorable about the singleplayer is Kane (obviously), the story is hard to follow and uninteresting. The characters aren’t interesting (‘cept Kane) and the actors who portray them just don’t have that… that Kane quality to ‘em.

For a console game… this game really is a shiner as an example for how console strategy can be reliably done. It isn’t exactly ground breaking compared to the likes of other modern console games, but it’s still easy to use and extremely fun to play with. You can select your whole army, you can select a unit. You can select a part of an army; you can select a part of your army and put them into battle groups. Such versatility makes you fast on your feet and lends the battlefield experience to be fast and furious. The only problem is that without a radial interface to build your units, it’ll slow your game down considerably as you have to endlessly mash the down button on the d-pad to get to that last unit on the tech-tree. While the control scheme defiantly works, feats of reliability in check without a problem to bare… the lack of battlefield flow does hamper the experience.

The gameplay does speak well for itself, but faction wise… the game doesn’t differentiate the sides all that well when they explore the doctrines of each. GDI are best used as your battering rams, the stalemate breakers—using mammoth tanks to shield the infantry, Juggernauts to pound bases from afar, and Firefly bombers to pulverize key enemy structures in one run. NOD get the stealth attacks, fast movers, and die-hard infantry—you must play your cards right and use your abilities wisely (gas attacks, stealth raids, etc). The Scrin get shields and lots and lots of airships… what a guess—they rely heavily on their impressive arsenal of weapons, they combine the brute force of GDI, but with units similar to NOD. However, the airforce is where their strength as their ground units cannot stand up a fight against masses of GDI, nor can they outmaneuver the NOD forces. The game itself to is pretty basic… you mine Tiberium fields; you mass units from structures, and send.

In itself the factions still oddly play fairly well in game—still massing fun regardless of how simplistic it goes about in long, drawn out games. They all still have units that differentiate themselves apart from everyone else; nooks and crannies that make them somewhat interesting all around and as a result, in game like I said before, all factions are equally fun to play regardless of what you do. I mean, it’s the same build order in all factions (same buildings apart from super structures and upgrades, the lot), just different units in each structure. And due to this simplicity, they outta make the core action fun, satisfying, and alive… and they did that in spades! Once you get an army, infantry supported by vehicles, it’s fun to send them to their deaths across the map to your opponents base to rip them apart. Scorpion tanks duking it out with Predators, or Annihilator tripods in support of Scrin carries against an armada of Mammoth tanks. Nothing looks just as good as this in game… nothing can compare to the drama of this game when the battle is large and tense.

Let’s head to another problem I had with the gameplay as it almost directly alleviates the usefulness of one particular type of unit (all strategy games do this to a degree)—the infantry. The game allows you to build infantry en masse—they supposedly counter tanks, but out in the open, they are just as useless as the engineer is when it comes to open combat. On maps where there aren’t any buildings to bare, infantry may as well take a back seat (least till you get the last tier of infantry for all factions) because none of them are going to be useful to you—less you’re GDI and are doing the APC and infantry combo, with that then you require tons of micromanagement. But with that being said, the last tier of infantry like I said before are going to be your coup de grace (assuming you didn’t mass your unit count) as they are the only thing that will not be killed when tanks decide to crush your infantry (yes, tier one and two infantry can be ran over quickly, alleviating their usefulness). So when you play this game, remember now… no infantry less you want them to be ran over by tanks.

Graphics—in short, they’re reasonable if not sort of pathetic. The maps all look small, the unit sizes are out of proportions, details aren’t immaculate, and the objects that populate the maps all look… drab compared to everything else. It can be considered a dread to look at, but the core action when the shooting starts look tense and brilliant from the side lines. Pluming explosions, jarring tracers, and impressive pyrotechnics make it a dream to play, if you’re in it just to blow shit up. The sound is though, what makes the game shine in comparison. The plough of explosions, the whizzing of air bombers looming the air, the cracks of rifles, and the roar of tanks make the battle tenser than ever. Chattering of units, jiggle of tank treads, and the constant echo of fire makes the dynamics of the game rise. Though the only complain you can levy against the game is the hammy voice acting all around—too dramatic, too mellow, too angry, or too happy… the voice acting is at the extreme ends of the spectrum, but that’s the charm of Command and Conquer 3 J.

As for the multiplayer… while the match making system is fairly decent in its own right, the only problem I had was that I had to create my own EA account. A hassle on its own right… but after that process was done I was off to kick some ass online. The skirmish modes with others, the suspense built within silence, and the moody tracks to coincide with long drawn out matches makes for an exciting suite, complete with slick match-making and leader boards to boot. If I were to get a game back from the dead in 2007, this would be one of them… definitely a must have if you want to get into the strategy game genre.


Red Alert 3 is a game where if you took what C&C had to offer and mated it with Operation Flashpoint, the Frankenstein of a game you would get is this… don’t take it the wrong way, that’s a good thing because the quirky sense of humour, the deadpan acting of all people involved in the cut scenes and the strong sense of individuality between all the factions involved in this massive war is what makes this game so special. While the strategy still remains fairly barebones and old school, the core actions is spot on and the units on the field make for an interesting fight—the addition of naval combat just adds another layer of depth some strategies lack in cases.

The story goes that one day the soviets thought, "Hey, what the hell… let’s go kill Einstein back in time!" they did. Doing this disabled the Americans nuclear arsenal, evening the playing field by a huge margin. After doing so, the war is waged between both the Soviets and the Allies are now at war… what a guess. But during this whole conflict, there flanks are left exposed to the Japanese who are ruled over by their god-emperor—a fanatical fiend who wants to take over the world (played by that Asian guy from Star Trek). While the whole story is has an interesting setup, it just doesn't drive you to care what happens to the nations, nor is it an interesting tale of morality, twists… or anything for that matter. It almost feels as if many of the twists and turns were there to enhance the game and give the singleplayer challenges (something it lacks in early missions).

Characters are played by actors who look dead reading their lines—played with weirdly hammy expertise, it’s terrible yet funny at the same time… which is a hectic situation that makes me question whether or not the aim was to impress, or to parody. Many of the characters are stereotypically driven and evil—their catchphrases of your foes almost seem stereotypical again of archetypes of driven Supreme nations. Take the British commanders, whenever they face you… they always have that nasty tendency to show-off, “They sent you?” one guys says. “Alright, let’s makes this quick… my tea’s getting cold.” It’s funny, but it can get annoying sometimes… that and it just feels forced, almost archaic in nature.

While the singleplayer story consists of all three nations—all of them equally challenging, it almost feels like an elaborate tutorial with a story that makes you shrug in comparison. You’ll see it and say… meh. So as such, you may just pass up the singleplayer for such a reason (even if you like the cut-scenes, the missions just aren’t terribly fun…) but EA managed to pull one trick out of their sleeve. I don’t believe it’s been done before—if it has, tell me what game did it—but the one feature that makes this game bearable is the coop. Yes, RTS with coop… I know, try not to get all giddy. In reality, coop in singleplayer makes the game tons a shit easier because of the incompetence of your AI controlled bot that supports you on many of the singleplayer mission. So instead of ordering your bot around, now you and a friend can easily match up and tackle singleplayer missions together… and beat down the Yankees, Asians, or Reds down to the ground.

The Strategy in the game is fine if not somewhat derivative of this games predecessor, Command and Conquer 3. The factions are all unique with a few nooks and crannies that make them fresh when you switch from one faction to the next. Take it this way, let’s do a little compare and contrast to what C&C 3 had, to what Red Alert has faction wise. The Soviets are your heavy-weight juggernauts that use pure brute force to see through to victory. They have the largest array of ground forces and the most powerful tanks to be fielded. All vehicles are crude and are designed to take a beating and punch the living hell out of all opponents before they can effectively react… they are GDI pretty well. The Americans are designed to be micromanaged and micromanaged well with tons of non-lethal gadgets and abilities designed to slow opponents down and keep them at bay. Cryo-helicopters, time-travel, etc… they also have the largest airforce in the game… if you’re lenient, you can consider them the Scrin because of the air-force they possess. The Japanese are the most versatile of the bunch who are considered the most mobile of the three—their bases can be packed and moved into water, so they can setup shop wherever they please… they also support the biggest navy—they are the Nod because of said versatility and flexibility.

The interactions in-game can be spotty at best—the strategies of many are there in-game, but the most basic one is what usually comes out from many multiplayer games… numbers. While you can micromanage your units well, it grows to be tough in game and on the 360 controller, by the time you have the ability you want to perform with a certain group of tanks (Apocalypse tanks can use magnet beams to grind opposing tanks to dust for example, useful for taking on masses and annoying arty units)… your opponent usually comes into your base and rapes your dudes. But that isn’t at all bad, the strategy is all in the micro-management, so you have to be fast on your feet when the game starts to role—makes it tense and varied, though somewhat of a handful. The most interesting addition though to the formula was the inclusion of naval combat which hasn’t seen much action in RTS in a long while (Supreme Commander doesn’t really count… and it was pretty bad to start on the 360). So while you deal with the land wars you wage out in the open, the tensity arises when you have to deal with units at sea—this can grow to be a bit much if you are waging the two wars on the 360… but in time you’ll learn fast and will dominate the online space.

The graphics are very colourful and vibrant all the same. It makes for some interesting set-pieces being that the colour design and influence throughout the game are that of a very campy cel-shaded design. There is a certain silliness to the game now after seeing such technical feat and makes the game look unique apart from the series—without the seriousness, the story actually becomes a little more bearable and the battles become more visceral so-to-speak. Explosions look the same, yet still have more colour saturation that makes the game feel tense—almost hypnotically explosive. Tanks rumble with a silly whim to them and the animation compliments the art design faithfully—walking spiders, tesla coils, it’s all in there. Strong sense of colour, and beautifully architected fighting spaces makes the game feel visceral and almost cartoonish in a sense. The sound design is pretty, sounds pretty well what Command and Conquer at the time of release—the voice acting again is almost terribly hammy… but in a good way that gives it that cartoon like feel throughout the game.

Multiplayer feels rather standard for such a game—it feels like Command and Conquer 3 all over again with a new makeover. The same modes are still there, the same options… the same everything pretty well. Though innovation isn’t what the multiplayer needed and it’s still tons of fun to play with people of all archetypes. The problem though is the game grinds to a halt when the action and the plot thickens within. When lots of units start to deploy on screen (this only happened in multiplayer, hence why I write it here) the game starts to drop in frames, this is where the strategy starts to wane down. You’ll feel rather slow and if you have a group up north getting hammered by gunships, but the time you get there, they will be gone because of the framerate drops. But with that in mind, the mind-games you can play with people, the tensity of stalemates, etc. make this game a dream to play with friends and unknowns alike.

For a game that featured old-school strategy without the help of innovation that modern strategy games have included into their formulas, this game still manages to shine through even the worst of its flaws. The story is meh, the strategy is tense and satisfying, if not simplistic—the graphics are pretty, the sound design is there, and the multiplayer is a blast to play to seal the deal. If I were to go back and play this game, I would—but it would only be for a short term event as it doesn’t have the lasting power of games such as (I love this game :D) Company of Heroes or Dawn of War II. But it definitely is a great game to play if you are new to strategy games in general—this is a definite replay.




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