Where else but in the Red Alert universe could you pit transforming mechs against bears, or decide the fate of your mission by attacking floating fortresses with intelligent dolphins outfitted with sonic disruptors? Command & Conquer: Red Alert 3 doesn't take itself seriously, but that's what makes it fun to play. This is the most rambunctiously over-the-top strategy game to reach store shelves in years, filled to the brim with laugh-out-loud cheesiness and a cheerful disregard for political correctness. Unfortunately, the Xbox 360 version is still enjoyable, but it doesn't exhibit the same level of care taken with previous games in the C&C series, and comes across as a bit halfhearted.
George Takei takes the Red Alert franchise into the final frontier.
Here's the setup, told in a hysterically overacted cutscene that could have been ripped directly from a bad sci-fi flick: Russian leaders, including the premier (played by a heavily accented, wonderfully hammy Tim Curry) travel back in time to kill Albert Einstein. The theory is that doing so will change the course of history, causing the Soviet Union to dominate as a world power. Instead, this bit of time tampering gives rise to a new threat, the Empire of the Rising Sun--and, of course, more broadly played histrionics. The whole thing is a live-action riot: JK Simmons as US President Ackerman is all anticommie swagger, and George Takei scrunches his face into superserious knots as the Emperor. Then there is Jenny McCarthy as Tanya, stroking an enormous toy gun in one scene, holding a sexy pose but still prepared to slit a man's throat in another. Skimpy, ill-fitting costumes, blatant computer-generated graphics, and bad accents--it's all quite wonderful, with tongue firmly planted in cheek.
All three factions--Soviets, Allies, and Empire--are fun to play, and though not dramatically different from each other, they're distinct enough to make each of them feel fresh. For instance, Allied structures can be placed only after fully completed within the build queue (a standard C&C mechanic), whereas Soviet refineries can be placed immediately and assembled afterward. The new faction for the franchise, Empire of the Rising Sun, is even more flexible in this regard, but it also requires a bit of micromanagement. In this case, you queue up movable vehicular pods called cores that then unfurl into the appropriate structure. Additionally, most Empire structures (with the exception of defensive turrets) can be placed anywhere without the fetters of a nearby base, which makes them the easy choice for players who like to establish an early presence across the entire map. Of course, these differences extend to ore refineries, but in all cases, resource collection is more measured than in prior C&C games. Gem fields are gone, which makes ore mines your only source of income. The method of implementation is a departure for the Red Alert franchise, given that it generally means a one-to-one ratio of ore collectors to refineries and a resulting slower pace.
Nevertheless, a slower economy doesn't make for less explosive gameplay, and each faction boasts a number of awesome units to throw into the fray. Some of them, such as attack dogs and flak troopers, are carryovers from previous games. But no matter whether you're using familiar units or new ones, clashes are fiery and tense, especially when you've grasped the nuances of each unit's secondary mode. This is particularly true when playing as the Empire, considering that most of its units are more than meets the eye; they transform between two distinct states with differing strengths. For example, the mecha tengu can attack infantry from the ground or do antiair duty in the skies. This flexibility translates to most Empire units and makes them fun to use.
These stingrays can traverse both land and water.
This isn't to say that Soviet and Allied units aren't equally entertaining to use. All factions use ground, air, and sea units, with many of them doing double duty in water and on land. For example, the ever-helpful Soviet bullfrog can transport troops across land and water (and can amusingly spew infantry a good distance with its man-cannon). Late-game skirmishes bring the best and most fun-to-use units, such as the Allied aircraft carrier, which sends a squadron of drones into the fray and is one of Red Alert 3's most autonomous naval units. The campaign introduces these units with style, and the size to which some of its maps expand will often keep you busy across the entire map, particularly during the frantic final missions.
No matter which side you choose, the comfortable control scheme does an admirable job of letting you keep your units under control. The command wheel implemented in C&C 3: Kane's Wrath is a pleasant fit here and lets you access your build queues by simply pulling the right trigger. There are also some welcome new enhancements to the series, such as an enlargeable minimap (a feature first seen in developer Petroglyph's Universe at War) that lets you move quickly around the level. You can now hold the A button to select multiple units at a time as well, which makes it easier to establish mixed control groups.