There have been many great gaming legacies of modern times, keeping gamers hooked through sequels and add-ons whilst the universe before their eager eyes is manipulated and changed. However, few have been without their low points, and most go through at least one severely barren patch.
After the disappointment of Generals, and the period of nothingness since, Command & Conquer seems to be finally stepping out the wilderness; its forty days and forty nights served to the gaming lords on high. As you undoubtedly know, Red Alert 3 was announced last month via a community mailout which more than hinted at the tough act of late that RA3 must follow. Half-Life 2, Rome: Total War and their contemporaries have been slowly stealing fans from a wide selection of communities via a process of osmosis brought on by a compounding impatience at the suits who now control the direction and ultimately the reputation of the C&C franchise. Since the release of Red Alert 2 on 21/10/2000 and Yuri's Revenge on 9/10/2001, the C&C community has been looking to EA to tell them when they can next expect an instalment on one of the two storylines they care about, not a Hollywood War-esque cash-in on the terrorist paranoia of recent times. True, it may be that some C&C 'fans' care not for Red Alert's take on past world paranoia when America was close to forgoing the rest of the world in its attempt to annihilate the Red Army and choose only to concern themselves with the original C&C series, but for the all-rounder, this announcement means exciting times ahead.
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Now, going on past experience, I would say that RA3 has already undergone very significant development. EA never announce titles until they're a few months away from a solidly playable version. If memory serves, Generals was announced in about March time, and we had a playable version (in the form of the Multiplayer Test) about six or seven months later. If EA decide to go down this route of external testing again, I would expect us to have something of substance in our grubby little community mittens by August, or thereabouts, with an eventual release looking at something like October or November. That is, of course, assuming that the promised alterations to the SAGE engine which RA3 demands, are significant enough to warrant such a time span. It would worry me greatly if we see a rushed release to Red Alert 3. This game cannot afford to be anything less than what it promises to be by reputation; marketing hype should be additional to that. I was utterly disgusted at the lack of online/community support that came, masquerading itself as post-product support for Generals. The ranking ladder (which was promised in the original game) never appeared in patches as promised, and then never manifested itself in Zero Hour, or at least in the form that most players wanted. This is a key issue EA must address if they wish to be taken seriously, and accepted into the rapid rise of pro-gaming/contested online matches which is almost ready to break through into mainstream popular culture, as online gaming's meteoric rise in console form has illustrated. Else C&C will be condemned to the dogs, becoming just another FIFA: littered with worthless yearly updates.
The Ladder Debate
That, however, is a little grim. I'm an optimistic type of chap, so I'm willing to give EA the benefit of the doubt, for now. But the consequences of a poor showing this time around would spell catastrophe for the community that Westwood nurtured, and is now seemingly taken for granted by faceless online representatives, who have limited involvement outside their professional capacities.
In terms of the game itself, however, where can we expect Red Alert 3 to go? I would like to see a blend of engine-rendered cut-scenes and real-life footage with actors when it comes to the missions and a storyline which attempts to utilise the best of both Red Alert 1 and 2 would be nice. What will the setting be? Perhaps at the start of an apocalyptic world-ending battle, where populations are fought over by armies which have decimated large areas of the planet by creating a mini nuclear winter? I think the game should have more of a 'titanic struggle' feel and really engage the player on a personal level. Less 'do this, do that, kill enemies' in missions, and much more honed narrative and flowing storytelling, based from the infrastructure and ideology of the game upwards. This would be the only fitting tribute to a great name in gaming.
As has often been said, gaming can be about escapism, and some argued that Generals fell down in this area. It was too real, too close to home, and all-too possible they said. There was no 'getting away from it all' when playing the game: it was a gaming version of what they saw on their news channels. Some people had difficulty in literally extracting entertainment from it because of this. Now, Red Alert has never been one for out-and-out realism: mind control, dolphins with sonar pulses and the like were tongue-in-cheek portrayals of (often very real) government experimental technologies which never made it out of secret testing labs or perhaps more realistically, the minds of those who have been banging their heads on white, padded cell walls for far too long. I feel RA3 must take you back to the unifying undertones that its prequels had, which drew heavily on real world 'This could be the end' type scenarios.
Doubtless, the game will at least be a success as an individual entity, whether it is any good or not, just because of the C&C brand. But we, as fans of the series, should be expecting more for our money. Generals was 'just another game'. A good game, but not good enough to be considered a good game amongst the C&C collective who have high expectations for their beloved community and the games it centres around. This next C&C needs to be the whole package. One RTS game to rule them all. Else with Rome: Total War on the scene, and other big names with sequels appearing in the next year or two, C&C could be forgotten amongst the 90s RTS games it worked so hard to rise above. Last chance saloon, but here at CNCSeries.com, we're ready to give it a chance to become the game it deserves to be and the game its legacy demands.