The Good: Some good new units. Lots of skirmish maps. The Bad: Single-player campaign is brief and loaded with stupid, puzzle-driven maps. The Ugly: Game no longer has Cooperative mode, or any multiplayer at all.
An expansion pack? For Red Alert 3? Hasn’t it only been about five months since RA3 came out? It hasn’t been even five months, but nonetheless here we are with Uprising, a standalone expansion pack for RA3, and hooo-doggy does it feel rushed. The single player campaign is quite short and the most god awful mash of puzzle-oriented, script-heavy maps I’ve ever seen, and it has almost no plot to speak of. Multiplayer is gone entirely, including arguably the most innovative part of RA3 – Cooperative mode. There are a dozen new units divided between the various factions, and many, many new skirmish maps, but those items taken alone would in some other, better, gaming universe come as an update patch to RA3 and not its own game release. The sole point of interest that might drive you to purchase Uprising is something called Commander mode – I’ll get into that more later.
It seems that all the complaints I had about Red Alert 3 remain in the expansion pack. Unit pathfinding is as atrocious as ever (just try to get a half dozen tanks across a bridge). The enemy AI is still oblivious to you picking away at base defenses and does little or nothing to alter its strategy if its offense is not working. Units routinely approach your bases defenses, get hammered, turn around as if to retreat, and then decide that they have nothing left to live for and so turn back again and throw themselves to their deaths. If the first dozen tanks died against your gun emplacements, certainly the next dozen will do better! I also can’t help but wonder why the enemy rarely if ever uses its superweapon. The counter runs down, their weapon is ready, but they simply don’t deploy it. Is the AI hung up trying to find a target tempting enough? Is it waiting for some criteria or threshold that it never seems to meet? It’s a complete mystery to me.
The single-player campaign consists of ten missions – four soviet, and three each for the other two factions – and another set of missions (I’m not sure how many – I haven’t completed them), which tell the story of the psychic commando from the Empire – her early life, her escape from the lab, etc. The whole psychic campaign is sort of off in the weeds, from a plotline perspective, and plays like a poorly designed fan mission set of some isometric dungeon crawl. They furthermore are essentially nothing but scripted events, having no base construction or management tasks at all (they don’t even use the minimap). It’s just you and little psychic chick against the world. The campaign missions are uniformly awful, dull, scripted to the hilt, and without any replay value whatsoever. On a map with a number of small islands where an air force would be useful, the game locks that technology out. Or it sets you up with a number of small outposts – good luck keeping them protected as the game delves out scripted waves of enemies against them. Defeat that enemy using only these units. OK, we’ll give you access to the full array of units, but there won’t be any resources on the map that you can get to. Here the enemy is on an island without any beachhead that amphibious units can mount, and we’re not going to let you have an air force. That kind of thing.
The movies have dredged well past B-list actors and strayed to the C and D list (Ric Flair? Seriously?), though I do like Malcolm McDowell. Beyond the acting, the quality of the movies and the special effects remains high. The plotline, a continuation of the Red Alert 3 plotline, doesn’t seem to go anywhere. The Soviets are working to stop an Allied company (“Futuretech”) from deploying a superweapon that stops time (but only for a very short time). In the Allied forces campaign they work to defeat the remaining Empire forces. The Empire is trying to beat back Soviet aggression. How all this relates back to killing Einstein in the past, except that his death set these events in motion, I couldn’t see it.
One of the best things about Red Alert 3, the Cooperative mode, has been removed from Uprising completely. In its place they’ve put something called Commander mode in which you play through fifty maps against increasingly difficult computer opponents, something like a linked skirmish series, earning credits that can then be used to purchase units in future commander maps. The Commander mode maps are in a sense sort of puzzle-like as well. The individual maps unlock a particular unit for you to use, and the enemy uses that unit heavily in that map. The surest route to victory is to develop a strategy against that unit. The fifty maps taken together represent a significant chunk of gameplay, and you can choose to play any given map as any faction, which boosts the replayability some. Along with the Cooperative mode the game has lost any multiplayer content whatsoever. There just isn’t one. You’re limited to playing the new skirmish maps alone, against the pathetic AI that has to cheat its socks off to even give you a challenge. That’s too bad, because I think the new maps and the new units together would be worth playing around with if you could do it with another person.
I’m not familiar with all the new units, but the ones that I have played around with for the most part I like. The Soviets pick up an amphibious unit with a huge grinding wheel on the front that can be used on absolutely anything. Oddly, the grinding wheel seems to take the same amount of time grinding up a small vehicle as an infantryman – you’d think the guy would grind up faster. The Soviets have also picked up a heavy walker that throws many, many rockets against either air or ground targets. They also have an infantry unit the spews poisonous goop, which reminds me a lot of the similar toxic unit from C&C3. The Allies now have an infantry unit with a freeze ray that’s pretty devastating, as well as a long-range artillery unit that packs a good punch. The Empire has gotten the Gigafortress, which is a huge transformer that can attack land, sea, or air units from the land, sea, or air. In the bizarre mix of units that Red Alert already brought to the table, these additions add to the craziness, bringing more of the comic book flavor to the combat than every before.
From a finishing perspective, Uprising remains as glossy as ever. Unit animations are smooth and detailed. The artwork is outstanding, with a vast collection of units that stalk, shamble, roll, chew, and stomp their way across the landscape. Buildings are colorful, futuristic, and intricately detailed. Superweapons have good special effects, destroying units and buildings in a distorting, rending of gravitational forces or a massive discharge of elemental forces. Sound effects are rich and varied. The whole game looks like a comic book come to life, which is clearly the feeling they were shooting for, and they achieved it admirably.
The heart of RTS games is all in the maps and how well your enemy plays them. Perhaps some players like being led down a very specific path in a campaign (take this force, kill that base, build a base there, attack that base next, use this unit to do it). I vastly prefer to just be given the RTS tools and see what kind of working battle plan I can muster. That probably wasn’t an option in Uprising, as it seems like the AI is barely capable of running its own affairs once the scripted events have run out – they had to script the snot out of all the missions. Uprising could have been saved had multiplayer allowed players to go online with the new maps and new units and find an adaptive, flexible challenge in their friends, and here too Uprising has come up short. The Commander mode is interesting, not as good as the Cooperative mode, and suffers from the same AI problems as the entire game. There will no doubt be further stuff coming out in the C&C universe in the future, but now I’m suffused with a vague queasiness at how far this series, once nearly the apex of RTS action and quality, can sink.