Command & Conquer: Red Alert 3 Commander's Challenge Review

Basic Information:
Developer: EA Los Angles
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Date of North American Release: September 17th, 2009
Price: $9.99
Trophies: Yes

When I first saw the file size of 2224MB, I figured this game hit the jackpot or I was getting a massive pile of trash. Lucky this game is the former, as it is one of the better Playstation Network games available. This is a full game, not an expansion pack to the previously released Red Alert 3. If you are unfamiliar with the real-time strategy genre, the learning curve can be a little bit steep for newcomers.

If you've never played the Command and Conquer series, it is a real-time strategy game. You build a base from the ground up with options that seem endless. Almost anything you can imagine in a real war is there: turrets, soldiers, vehicles - for both sea combat and air combat. Players also have the ability to advance technology levels and gain access to air strikes and other unique features which vary according to your chosen faction. The game takes place in real-time and there is no turn-based action to be found.

What Commander's Challenges brings to the table are 50 "challenge" missions that will vary anywhere from 10 to 30 minutes to be completed. Each mission allows you to choose between the three factions: Allies, Soviets and the Empire of the Rising Sun. The missions you play open with a short little storyline that is unique mission to mission. However, there is no real main story arc in the game. As you progress, you unlock even more building and unit options. Each mission you beat is easier than the next one will be - the game can get very challenging at times, however this is better than it is worse.

Commander's Challenge is a military themed real-time strategy game. You are required to acquire resources in order to fund the ongoing production of various types of forces, buildings and defensive capabilities. It is up to you as a commander to choose the location of buildings (some can be built in the water!), what type of buildings to build, and what units and technologies you want produced.

Now every time a unit or building is created, it will cost you money. The main source of revenue in the game comes from Ore. Funds are acquired by specialized "harvester" units which collect the ore that is converted into spending cash. In Commander's Challenge there are preset locations where ore is stored at. Your harvester units will automatically seek the nearest one and begin harvesting the raw material. There are other ways to make income like capturing oil rigs with engineers or selling previously built structures.

A structure in the process of being built in an allied base.

Virtually every type of structure for all three factions act as starting points to build additional units, structures and faction-specific abilities. For example, you cannot start building a tank factory without a power plant and infantry barracks already constructed. Access to advanced units and abilities may be temporarily blocked if the required structures are destroyed, or if they are not being provided with enough power from power plants. The same idea goes for your construction yard - once it is destroyed, you cannot build anymore structures (unless of course you spent money to create a backup construction yard). This means you have to juggle many variables like income, spending and infrastructure - a very worthwhile challenge.

There are three factions for the players to choose from: Allies, Soviets and the Empire of the Rising Sun. All three factions have structures and units with the same basic abilities at their disposal. However, each has their own theme and unique way of doings things, whether that's special units or specialized building procedures.

When building and training units you choose from infantry, transports, aircraft, ships and land vehicles. Now there are subcategories within each of these classes like riflemen, engineers and rocket infantry. This means you have a wide variety to work with and it keeps gameplay fresh through the entirety of the missions.

Each of the factions have their own strengths and weakness and no one faction is the same as the others. The Soviets are more of your old-school Russian Army. You will find those soldiers to carry more themed weapons like AK47s, and have access to trained bears. The Allies seem focused on the current state of American military, but the Empire of the Rising Sun have access to some far-out there sort of stuff, like giant Mecha and psychic schoolgirls - overall the units and animations have a bit of a tongue-in-cheek feel to them, which is a staple of the Red Alert series.

If you are familiar with The Three Stooges you will enjoy the game's five tutorial missions. Three talking tanks from each of the separate factions will teach you the various concepts of the game. Unlike your average talking tank, they are actually rather funny and poke fun at each other in a “Stooge” like way (The Soviet tank gets hit with a blast from the Allied tanks and screams "ow!"). I was actually surprised at the length and detail that is present in each of the tutorial missions - it will give you all the knowledge you need to play this game, and you'll get a bronze trophy for your efforts!

The first time you boot up the Challenge Mode there is only one map. Now, every time you complete a challenge you gain access to around three or four more. This eliminates the monotony of being stuck on a certain mission for countless hours - just choose a new one when you get frustrated. In total, there are fifty challenges for you to accomplish. Depending on your skill level the game can take up to 10 hours or longer to complete.

In the first challenge titled “Dead Meat”, players are tasked to enter a battle in Eastern Europe as they battle Commander Hill (played by the legendary WWE wrestler Ric Flair), a washed-up war hero who is well known for his command of attack dogs at his training camp. Players don't have to worry about the early missions being much of a challenge - they can be completed using the most basic tactics. The game will become more demanding of your strategic prowess, however, as you progress through the missions.

There's no overall story to this game, just a limited arc within each mission. After selecting your mission, a video will open with a short thirty-second verbal abuse of the competition by the other commanders. Having two sexy Japanese school girls call each other out will certainly catch your eye. The same five or so cast members make appearances in the game over and over, though, again leading to a somewhat repetitive experience.

The Allies' unlockable units tree after missions are completed

Following the completion of a match you unlock additional technology for each of the three battling countries. Every faction has around twenty additional units that to be unlocked - sometimes it can be as simple as a new tank, or it will be devastating as an tesla coil. The unlockable units will vary from each of the groups.

The challenges themselves are spread all across the globe, which is represented by a full map that players can choose to play. Commander’s Challenge asks the question: “Do you have what it takes to conquer the final challenge and every side challenge? The greatest commanders could achieve all under posted par times.” Attempting to win within the select par time, players are timed for their work in every challenge. Attempting to beat the par time is very rarely easy, but none are impossible, and you can retry them as many times as you want. Achieving a record time will not reward you in-game, but complete all 50 missions this way and you'll receive a gold trophy for your efforts.

Once you finish the game there is hardly any replay value. Each mission has a "par time" to try and beat. You can go and replay the levels, which you may want to do if you love the game. There are 12 trophies to unlock with bronze, silver and golds available. The game also offers online leaderboards that will track stats on the missions that are completed. However, if you do not wish to go after par times and global leaderboard placement, there are no multiplayer components or additional challenges to pursue - after all, this is a $9.99 title.

There are no online or offline multiplayer modes in Commander's Challenge.

Unlike other RTS games, this one adapts to consoles extremely well. The biggest concern you might have are the controls. However, this needn't be much of an issue as the controls are easy to learn. You can easily navigate and build in a fluent movement while attacking or defending your base - I cannot mention enough how beautifully they work.

The button is used to select units and perform actions; holding it down paints the ground to select units in a particular area. Pressing the button twice will select all units of a particular type on the screen. The right stick rotates and zooms the camera while the left analog stick moves the camera. The D-Pad allows players to snap to a particular unit on the field instead of moving the cursor to hunt them down. The build menu is very simple to navigate as all you do is get your selection and find a place to build on the ground.

As far as graphics go, this game is on the right path. The explosions and gunfire are eye candy as are the unique-looking level textures. Sound quality is absolutely wonderful! You will be notified in-game almost non-stop by a command network every time a building is complete, a battle is going on or you give a unit an order. The short little cutscenes in game are actual actors performing their parts which adds a unique feel to the atmosphere.

Gameplay: 8/10 Superb
Singleplayer: 8/10 Superb
Multiplayer: N/A
Technical: 9/10 Brilliant

Overall: 8.3/10 Superb

If you want to try before you buy, go on the Playstation Store and search for the Red Alert 3 demo. It is the same basic game that you are getting as far as gameplay and overall concepts are concerned. The only differences lie in the limitations that this game offers with a maximum number of only 50 challenges.

This is the first true real-time strategy game available on the PSN. Overall, Commander's Challenge would make an excellent addition to anyone's collection. The only flaw is the lack of replayability after the 50 challenge missions are completed. However, if you're looking for a great real-time strategy game don't let this deter you.