Red Alert 3: Preview & EA Los Angeles Chat
We check out the anticipated title in the Command and Conquer franchise and speak with EA's Amir Ajami.
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Our Loyal Opposition at IGN recently published the results of a survey, undertaken with Ipsos MediaCT, on North American gamers. They make for heartening (if incredulous) reading: on average, advocates of videogames in the US are higher-earning, sportier and more out-going than their non-gaming buddies. They are also - and this is the bit which had our jaws brushing the carpet- twice as likely to go on a date in any given month. No wonder our forum dies a death on a Friday night.
Leaving aside a few begged questions - surely the fact that gamers are more likely to go on dates implies that they're less likely to be in steady relationships? - this little titbit couldn't have come at a better time. EA has been stepping up the publicity on Command & Conquer: Red Alert 3, you see, and Red Alert 3's cast of live action talent is iron-hard (ooh matron) evidence that gamers and game makers are a bunch of giggling, unemancipated walking nutsacks. Do us a favour, Google the words "Jenny McCarthy" and "warrior femininity". You won't be disappointed. Well, on second thoughts you might. You naughty boy.
But then, puerile silliness has always been a foundation stone of Red Alert, as the latest iteration's producer, Amir Ajami, reminded us when we sat down for a demo. If you want screechy melodramatics, you go to the main Command and Conquer series; Red Alert is all about big tanks, silly accents and late-night softcore acting. The presence of triple-A thesps like Jonathan Pryce only makes Jenny's bleached blonde pout all the more ludicrous.
"First and foremost it's a funnier universe to be in," Ajami began. "It's much more light-hearted, it doesn't take itself too seriously. The Tiberium universe from the main Command and Conquer franchise is very dark and grim. You've got this element, this resource that two nations are killing themselves over, you've got NOD which is fanatical - it's very dark and while it's still fun to play, it's not funny or tongue-in-cheek like the Red Alert universe is."
Just to bring you neophytes up to speed, Red Alert is a real-time strategy sub-series set in an alternative twentieth century in which Nazi Germany never existed, leaving the globe split between the Soviet Union, the Western Allies and the Empire of the Rising Sun (aka Japan). Each faction has its own unique nine mission campaign and thoroughly demented range of units and powers. The Commies get Stingrays - sea-faring tanks equipped with lightning-dispensing Tesla coils - and armoured attack bears. The Allies make do with time-travelling commandos and helicopters loaded out with shrink and freeze cannons. The Empire, finally, brings to the table psychic schoolgirls, possessed giant squids and transforming mechs. Realism, as you might have guessed, isn't really a priority.
If Red Alert 3 gives the repressed teenage contingent acres of loosely-clothed mammary to gloat over, it also, encouragingly, places the emphasis on wholesome gregarious cooperative play. Ajami was pretty clear-cut on this front. "Every single mission was designed with two player slots in mind, so if you don't have any friends - like me - you play with an AI personality. Every time." If that was you fishing for sympathy, Amir, we're sure you can do better.
Cooperation is, indeed, the key to success in every mission, as each player is endowed with one half of the tech tree and hence only a specialised selection of units. To win out, you'll have to pool your strengths with those of your comrade. One player might find him or herself churning out cheap, high-tech infantry troops, useful against other infantry or structures but little more than bullet fodder in the face of machine gun defences, while the other gains access to potent but expensive vehicles like the Allied Assault Destroyer, an amphibious mobile fortress. If that's not incentive enough to collaborate, the Xbox 360 version will benefit from a few unique co-op Achievements.