With EA making the official announcement of Red Alert 3 shortly after the release of Battle For Middle Earth, Command and Conquer fans have a lot to be excited for. Many of us have been waiting for the next installment in the C&C universe, though some have doubts about the franchise as a whole mainly because of the bad taste left in the mouth by the relatively bitter pill of Generals and Zero Hour.
I feel it would be pointless to regurgitate the oft-repeated laments of community critics about Generals not being a ‘true C&C', but regardless of these voices it has to be acknowledged that Generals must act as a base from which to build the future. An unpolished work, Generals had good intentions, but got lost along the well-travelled route of big business. In terms of improvements, EA simply has to take the intentions of Generals and combine them with the clinical execution demonstrated in titles such as Red Alert 2.
It simply cannot be understated how important multiplayer excellence is, especially when it comes to battling alongside established (if aging) games such as Warcraft III that are not technically advanced, but have an aura of competence about them. Many have made no secret about their deep mistrust of EA and their handling of the C&C franchise, and no better example of this is eminent than that of the debacle of the ‘official ladder kit' which was simply an embarrassment for such a large company. The fact is, a similar mistake cannot be made based on empty promises. Delusions of grandeur which were allowed to precipitate a lackadaisical attitude in the mind of the proverbial suits caused a certain fall from grace, and we all know that the name of C&C is capable of returning to where it was once: top of the pile.
A consultation with fans probably wouldn't go a miss, particularly with prominent voices in the community. Singular entities must be rigorously tested after such meetings, before a smaller and more focused response is calculated and implemented. This would allow the development team to accurately focus on community objectives, as opposed to just technical and financial ones imposed upon them by their superiors. Here, I review some key aspects that will be vital to Red Alert 3's success.
Battle For Middle Earth - What features will be used?
An improved engine is obviously on the cards. Generals showed a new focus on fancy, shiny things, and doubtless this will once more be prominent. Already Battle for Middle Earth has shown not only graphical improvements but also a much more robust modding tool, and we can expect further advances to be made here. A point of contention may well arise when it comes including certain units from previous outings, and ditching or significantly re-working others. Personally, I'd like to see the return of Prism, Mirage and Tesla tanks, and maybe even the old-school Chrono tank. Though in the case of the Tesla tank, I think a re-work is definitely needed, as it was one of the chronically underused units in Red Alert 2 and Yuri's Revenge. Greater functions for basic grunts would also be welcome. It tends to add a further dynamic to battles with low-tech units: just ask a seasoned RA2 player about how often a trio of GIs have made his most intricately planned manoeuvres go horribly wrong. Whilst I can do no more than speculate at this time, it would be commercial suicide to release too many new units within an established franchise, so rest assured that Mark Skaggs will be putting in the best of the bunch once he's returned from his hiatus. In essence, the developers must try and strike the fine balance between new and old.
What this means exactly is that some of the new elements created in Generals and Zero Hour will be put into Red Alert 3. A good example of this being infantry who are able to garrison into buildings, unless only certain infantry have this ability as a form of strategical depth. However, one would believe that they would keep this in Red Alert 3 since it made infantry a lot more useful and flexible: how often did you find yourself flashbanging troops out of buildings during the early stages of a battle as you fought for the choke points in Generals? Another area of weakness was another failed promise. Air-to-air combat which actually works would be a marvellous achievement; the key word there being ‘works'. Evasion measures (the success of which should increase with unit experience) should be implemented in a similar way to how infantry are deployed on the ground. Activation of a hotkey would trigger whatever countermeasures that particular unit had and if this could even take into account physical attributes pertaining to the map (weather, visibility and so on) then that would be a true triumph.
Tesla Tank: Proving that looks can be deceiving.
Though we are clueless as to whether Red Alert 3 is going to go back to the old building style with the Construction Yard and the vertical sidebar, this time around there will be at least a more 'Command & Conquer feel' to it, with the return of the great conflict between the Allies and the Soviets. Many fans will feel at home with the Allies having their high tech trickery and creativity, and Soviets having their tried and tested brute force and large armies. In terms of ‘tanking' (as the hardened veterans would say) the Soviets have always dominated. This led to a focus on the infamous tank rush, which it took a very skilled player to stop. My own personal solution to the ‘problem' of the tank rush, for Red Alert 3, would be to narrow the gap between the very low tech units of each side. Differences would still have to exist, and weaknesses be available to be exploited, but I think the armies should grow apart as they move up their tech ladder. This should lead to a gradual change of strategies according to the units in play as the game moves on; this sort of dynamic adaptability was missing in Generals and I for one would welcome it in Red Alert 3. If anything, it should lean more towards RA2's differentials to maintain the sense of familiarity, but it should take note of recent strategy releases in terms of experimenting with the tactical outlook of the game.
We can all appreciate the tightrope that must be walked in terms of familiarity and bringing something new to the franchise, but I think this is why EA should be listening more closely to the community. Our collective heart is calling out for a traditional C&C, but with minor experimentation which should provide ample distraction for newcomers and diehards alike. If anyone has any specific ideas about how best to achieve this act of balancing new changes with old features, I would welcome your thoughts in the comments section.