As the Need for Speed for the RTS set, saying that Command & Conquer has the market cornered on live-action video would be something of a misnomer. The market isn’t cornered – it’s simply packed up its belongings and moved on, leaving the venerable series gloating over a feature that certainly warrants mention, but isn’t worth discussing much further once it’s been said out loud.
Red Alert 3: Uprising crews the largest live-action cast of any Command & Conquer expansion ever released, though only Guinness Book of World Records readers will feel the need to bandy that statistic around. Gemma Atkinson (Hollyoaks) reprises her role as Lt. Eva McKenna, 16-time world heavyweight wrestling champion Ric Flair is the slurring Commander Hill, and Malcolm McDowell – flawless as always – is Allied Commander in Chief Rupert Thornley. The biggest missed opportunity is in how very little Uprising takes advantage of the series inherent campiness. The most squeezed out of these cutscenes is a cocky grin or an exasperated sigh. It’s uncertain what effect they were going for, but surprisingly dull probably wasn’t it.
The Red Alert series has always capitalized on a now all-too-common alternative history scenario: bringing the Cold War to a ‘weapons hot’ apex, where the Soviets, Allies, and Japanese take off the kid gloves and duke it out. Uprising is a continuation of the events concluding Red Alert 3, although the would-be jewel of the package is a prequel, dungeon-crawler campaign. The prequel looks at the origins of commando Yuriko Omega, a Japanese school-girl-skirted psionic nightmare with the power to blow up units and tear down buildings with megatons of mental TNT. The mini-campaign – one of four comprising the stand-alone expansion – is a winning idea, though it feels like the R&D budget for said idea dipped into the red. The wide-berth hallways of the science labs are appropriately sterile, but are look-alike enough to lose your bearings in the sameness. The bits of computer-hacked info are juicy but feel oddly out of context, despite the focus of the campaign; while Yuriko’s audible responses to the info send her character reeling from gentle naivety to Firestarter-scary to sadistically megalomaniacal, but not necessarily in that order.
Only “The Tale of Yuriko” and the Soviet campaigns are available from go. The “Wounded Wolf” Empire of the Rising Sun and the “Tough Reform” Allied campaigns are available immediately after completing the opening revelation of Uprising. And it spoils little to say that the initial revelation unveils a third-party mega-corporation with enough capital and high-tech weaponry to put all three warring factions to shame.
Though Uprising is a stand-alone module that doesn’t require the base Red Alert 3 to play, many of Uprising’s missions are balanced to leave a player surviving by the skin of their teeth. Coping with varying levels of AI competency is part and parcel with real-time strategy, but the Command & Conquer series (as a whole) forcibly keeps supreme commanders in micromanager mode with the intensive hand-holding required to move units, engage units, and use units’ special abilities. Barely able to tie their own shoes, sending ‘blobs’ of amassed units unsupervised across the map is, of course, recipe for nothing but disaster. Units, left to their own devices, react only to an ‘aggro’ radius put out by the enemy, and have no qualm against letting fellow soldiers get gunned down if they’re resting spitefully outside of that radius. And – curb your excitement – the face-palm path-finding is yet another adventure in babysitting. The C&C series has been around for over a decade, and these problematic issues mirror even the first titles from 1995. Not only has C&C refused to ‘grow up’ (which isn’t a bad thing, story-wise) it’s largely refused to make expected improvements in its gameplay mechanics, which is either egoistic, lazy, or both.
The absolutely generous and well laid-out tutorial, however, is a preemptive apology for those difficulties. Infused with punch-in-the-shoulder humor, the machinima instructors take a deliberate and informative pace through the bulk of Red Alert 3’s concepts. This is where Uprising gets away with being a standalone expansion, regardless of the ramped difficulty broiled into the scenarios.
Variety is also nailed into the missions’ 2x4 framework. There’s undoubtedly a workmanlike diligence carbon copied into the scenarios that are welcome but just as unsurprising. A mission here begins with a staggeringly low supply of troops and only a stuttering trickle of reinforcements. A mission there begins with a feast of options and some good old base-building comfort food. Yet another mission transforms you into the spearhead of an already-waging warfront with tanks, bombers, and armored bears (?) engaged in that familiar two-step of kill or be killed. Yes, variety is intact, but any feeling of newness is already sanded thin, even for newcomers to Red Alert.
About 30 new maps populate skirmish mode, though bereft of online play – a dubious decision considering EA’s robust online components with the capability of handling such traffic. The Commander’s Challenge also lines up 50 scenarios of increasing difficulty to tackle, complete with best times to beat, spanning all manner of bastardizations and bulwarks to reconfigure on-the-rails strategies.