by Sergio Brinkhuis
previewed on PC
It was Westwood Studios that invented the real-time strategy genre with their 1992 release of Dune 2. Back then, I worked in a very quiet computer shop and remember lugging my PC back and forth between home and work so that I could play the game every spare minute that I had. Three years later, Westwood released Command and Conquer. It had the same gameplay mechanics, but introduced a whole new universe to explore. I took a week off from work, lived on pizza and cola, until my girlfriend told me to snap out of it. Which I did, reluctantly. Ahh… those were the days.
Inventing a genre is one thing, but then dominating it for 16 years straight is an entirely different beast. If you want to know how hard it is, you can ask John Carmack from id Soft. He invented the First Person Shooter but has been second best to the likes of Epic Games and Valve Software for nearly a decade. While Westwood Studios no longer exists, the spirit of its creation lives on in the Command & Conquer franchise. There is absolutely no doubt that there is no other RTS series that has been just as successful. Red Alert has always been my favorite branch and I could hardly contain my excitement when I heard that Electronic Arts started work on Red Alert 3.
Messing up the timelines
Red Alert 3 once again thrusts the gamer into the unknown territory of an alternate history. The Russians, unhappy with the fall of the Berlin wall and their ever dwindling power, contrive to regain their former supremacy. Realizing that democracy is on the rise and not so easily beaten, they use Einstein’s own time travel technology to go back in time and kill Einstein before he can tamper with the timelines and give the west the upper hand. But something goes wrong. Instead of ending up the dominant military power in the world, they inadvertently create a third world power, unleashing a third faction onto Red Alert’s battlefield: The Empire of the Rising Sun.
Rather than fighting your battles on alien landscapes with hardly recognizable units, games in the series have always been set against a somewhat realistic ‘what could have been’ background. At the same time, they never took themselves too seriously. The player was treated to missions that were filled to the brim with colorful, futuristic looking units and weaponry, strung together by excellently scripted yet comical looking cut scenes. Red Alert 3 will continue along this same path, taking it a few steps further where it can.
Looking at some of the new units, it quickly becomes apparent just how much further. The Soviet faction for example, can count on an armored attack bear that can parachute into enemy territory and wreak havoc behind enemy fortifications. A new, amphibious version of the Tesla Tank called the Stingray is also introduced and its versatility promises to make this a favorite for any commander seeking to dominate both land and sea. The Bullfrog is perhaps the most outlandish new addition to the Soviet war machine. It not only replaces the Flak Track anti-air vehicle but also features a canon from which the armored bears or foot soldiers can be propelled towards enemy positions.
Commanders fighting on the Allied side will have a new type of attack helicopter at their disposal. Equipped with powerful freezing rays, these Cryocopters are able to quickly immobilize enemy units for short periods of time. Tanja also makes her return, more dangerous than ever before. When hurt, she is able to shift back in time where she can heal herself until she is ready for combat again.
Obviously the new Empire of the Rising Sun faction is where most of the ‘new unit action’ takes place. Electronic Arts carefully avoids giving away detailed information, but we do know that the overall ‘theme’ for their units is the ability to transform themselves, becoming a different machine entirely. One unit that was recently revealed is the King Oni, a heavily armored fighting robot that deals death a great pace with either its twin energy beams (coming from its eyes) or by using its massive arm-armor to protect itself while hurling itself into the enemy.