Things have changed with the Command and Conquer franchise over the past few years and it seems that ever since developer Westwood was first devoured by Electronic Arts the series has had a turbulent time.
It’s not all be bad, admittedly; Kane’s Wrath was pretty good after all, but it’s not all been good either. Command and Conquer 3 and the recently cancelled Tiberium left a sour taste in the mouth of many gamers – like the cloying of gone off cheesecake as the curdles wrestle with your palate.
One thing you can’t fault Electronic Arts for though is trying as, despite the reactions of the unsatisfiable hardcore elite, we think that it’s clear that EA has really tried its best with the series.
That’s especially true for Red Alert 3 – the sequel to Red Alert, which was the first game I personally ever played on the PC back in the halcyon days when 256MB of RAM was more than enough. Much of the effort that Electronic Arts has put into the new game has been rightly focused on recapturing the nostalgia of those bygone days when full-motion video was the height of sophistication and nobody had ever thought of making a game with a totally mute character while still telling a decent story.
Thus the entire game, from the ground-up, is an attempt to fit as seamlessly as possible into the Red Alert franchise. The units, the characters, the maps, even the plot – they’ve all been crafted to re-ignite your love for Westwood.
The story then starts from the Soviet perspective, with Tim Curry an officer in the army who hurriedly escorts General Krukov down into an over-elaborate, super-silly underground lab that’s been cunningly hidden behind a bookcase. Down, down, down they go and it is slowly explained that though the Soviets are about to be crushed by the Allied forces, hope may not yet be lost.
The time machine swings into view and a memory jingles, jangles and...um, jongles in the back of our minds. This is all terribly familiar. Quickly, just as the Allies did in the Red Alert, the Soviets travel back in time and ready themselves to kill the man who was the biggest thorn in their sides. For the Allies, that thorn was Hitler. For the Soviets, that man is Einstein.
Returning to the present, Curry and Krukov expect their present to be restored to a glorious, communist time. Without Einstein, the world would never have discovered nuclear weaponry – and the Allies would never have been a threat to the Hammer and Sickles. Sure enough, the Allies are on the verge of defeat and only Great Britain (hey, that’s us!) stands between the Red Army and its total occupation of Europe.
The Russians however are surprised to see how the absence of Einstein has reshaped history when a Japanese invasion force starts pushing into their borders. Suddenly, history’s new path distils before them like ice cold vodka; no Einstein means no nukes and no nukes means that the Japanese war machine has expanded, unchecked for decades.
Suddenly, everything has gone more topsy-turvy than a drunken grizzly bear rolling down a Siberian hill. The Allies may be almost crushed, but they aren’t out yet. The Japanese are assaulting the Russians on all fronts and, with no nuclear power or any of the technologies attached to it having come about, the Soviets are unable to put their time machine back into action and try and correct it all.
The past has been irreparably altered. This is a world without Hitler and Einstein; a world where Tim Curry is the most powerful man on the planet and where women in the British Intelligence wear skirts that could be best described as belts.
Sure, that last bit doesn’t sound do bad, but let us repeat; Tim Curry is in charge! God help us all.