A PC Game Trapped in the Body of a Console
Command & Conquer: Red Alert 3 – Commander’s Challenge is every bit as complex as the name implies. Not recommended for casual gamers, in some instances it’s not even recommended for seasoned vets that prefer to perform their real-time strategies with a mouse and keyboard. Commander’s Challenge is a classic RTS game, bearing the infamous signature gameplay of its heritage, the Command & Conquer franchise. There’s an addicting fun game here but it requires plenty of effort on your part to uncover.
Command & Conquer: Red Alert 3 – Commander’s Challenge is a fantasy-based RTS game that includes more than 50 challenges. It’s not an expansion pack in the traditional sense that it requires an original copy of Red Alert. It’s a stand-alone game, but you’ll be the benefactor for having played the original, as there is a lot to learn for the uninitiated.
Commander’s Challenge is very much a military-based strategy game, but the military clichés are juxtaposed in favor of enemies ranging from animals to aliens and to armies of Japanese schoolgirls. Despite the light-hearted take on enemies, the game possesses a lot of depth. Unfortunately, accessing that depth will require navigating a very steep learning curve. The interface is not user-friendly – many options require you to open several menu windows to find the command you’re looking for. And let’s not forget that unlike the PC, using the PS3 or Xbox 360 controller for selections, especially when selecting units and commands in the heat of battle, can be incredibly frustrating. It’s an imprecise method that still has not been perfected, but that’s not something I expect to be accomplished in this game. I suspect it may not be until the next line of next-gen consoles appears before any significant developments are made in this area. You just can’t replace a mouse and keyboard with a console controller.
A tutorial will give beginners the basics, but there are elements that it just doesn’t address such as advanced tactics and the newer units and technologies. It’s as though the tutorial was created before the game was completed. All is not lost, as you can always find some nerds on the net that are willing to divulge their secrets for your fleeting admiration. Many new units, enemies, and technologies are featured. You will have access to virtually all of the technologies from all of the factions. The catch is that you have to unlock them, and it doesn’t happen quickly. You also will also have to play as all factions in order to unlock all technologies.
Play as any of the following factions: Soviets, Allied Power, and the Imperial Forces of the Rising Sun. Each time you complete a mission, you’ll unlock new branches on the tech tree. There are also a series of side-missions available that are good for new technologies as well. But keep in mind you have a time limit for each mission, and considering the tough nature of the gameplay you won’t have a lot of time for serendipity. Often you’ll have to replay missions several times, trial-and-error style, in an effort to determine which sequence of actions result in success.
There’s no doubt that the storyline is inane. And that’s fine. The cutscenes are over-the-top. These are live-action cutscenes featuring the always annoying Ric Flair shouting orders and other bits of unintelligible garble. Even if you don’t understand exactly what’s going on, it all boils down to outwitting your opponent. There are several ways to do this depending on what faction you are and what factions you are fighting. Each faction uses different technologies. The gameplay will change according to the selections you make and strategies that you employ. You won’t notice this in the first few missions, which are relatively short and simple, but the deeper you get in the game the deeper the gameplay gets. Although the 50 missions remain identical, you can replay them as the other factions, utilizing and experimenting with the new units including the Giga Fortress, Desolator, and Cryo Legionnaire. Unfortunately, there is no multiplayer mode. Yes you heard me, no multiplayer mode. Damn. The good news is that the A.I. does put up a good and fair fight, although it may not seem like it if you’re new to the series.
Territories will be clearly displayed on a map. Not only can you see the overview of your empire at a glance, but during battles you can zoom right in on the action, affording you the best view of you and your opponents’ units and the terrain. Selecting units is a crapshoot. You can adjust the sensitivity of the cursor to be more or less magnetic to units in close proximity. You can use the D-pad to instantly select a particular unit, and you can use the X button to select all specified units onscreen. Units can be selected, moved, commanded, and deselected as required. The ease and accuracy of these commands, however, is inconsistent.
Commander’s Challenge is a very colourful and nicely detailed game. It doesn’t push the envelope as far as graphics are concerned, but you’d be hard-pressed to see a game this good looking on a PC five years ago. You don’t even lose detail when you zoom in. Excellent shading technique lets you instantly determine relief from a crater to a hill and all levels in between. The in-game animations are virtually flawless with smooth movements and nicely rendered explosions and real- time damage. The live-action cutscenes are good but not great. They are a little jarring, and they don’t necessarily fit with the overall style of the game. The sound effects and music are prefect, but nothing that we haven’t heard in past versions of this series.
Commander’s Challenge is a game that requires a tremendous amount of patience, skill, determination, trial and error, and plenty of luck. It’s very frustrating to lose a mission because you pressed the wrong modifier button or because the cursor didn’t go where you intended it to go. It’s about as good as a console version can be at this time, but it’s still far from perfect. At the end of my time with this game I had encountered equal amounts of hate and love for it. Things balanced out in the end, but overall I can’t say the experience was worth the anger I experienced. I recommend this game only to very serious fans of the series that can overlook the idiosyncrasies and imperfections of a PC game trapped in the body of a console.
RATING OUT OF 5 RATING DESCRIPTION 3.5 Graphics
Colorful and cartoonish in-game graphics. Live action cutscenes don’t necessarily fit with the style of the game. 2.5 Control
A console controller is no substitute for a mouse and keyboard. Expect loads of anguish. 4.5 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
Great sound effects and musical score. Some voiceovers are unintelligible. 4.2 Play Value
Very difficult game to learn for newbies, but it’s very deep and involved for the experienced. 3.6 Overall Rating – Good
Not an average. See Rating legend above for a final score breakdown.