Heritage goes a long way. But it has its limits. If a great game's sequels and spin-offs are to keep us interested, they have to find new ways of engaging us. A different skew, a new idea, something innovative enough to compel us to part with another fistful of crinkled notes and an extra-large portion of spare time.
Since Command & Conquer turned RTS gaming into an international phenomenon in 1995, the C&C series has sired three games, two Red Alert spin-offs, a myriad expansions, and the misjudged C&C: Generals. And yet the series' success continues unabated as it has cemented its position as the most successful and enduring RTS franchise of all time. And thanks to RA3, it's likely to remain that way for some time to come.
The reason for this bold prediction are the game's all-new co-operative play and co-commander features, which make RA3 unique when compared to its illustrious predecessors, while never compromising the unrelenting battlefield havoc that has typified the series.
Just like its predecessors, RA3 is set in an alternative world where Soviet and Allied forces are locked in a brutal conflict: Great World War III.
Things haven't been going too well for the Ruskies of late. Pushed back to their own borders by the Allies, the Soviet superpower's two premier military minds, General Krukov and Colonel Cherdenko, are forced into one last desperate gamble to reverse their nation's flagging fortunes. Stepping into a top-secret time machine designed by gormless scientific genius Dr Gregor Zelinsky, Krukov and Cherdenko travel back in time to eliminate the man they believe is responsible for the Allies' edge on the battlefield, Albert Einstein.
Returning to the present day with the frizzy haired one eliminated, they discover the landscape of power has been reversed. The Allies are in full retreat and Cherdenko has become the new Soviet Premier. Much vodka swilling and affectionate moustache tweaking ensues, only for the duo to discover that their space-time continuum meddling has created a new superpower: The Empire of the Rising Sun (aka Japan).
So ensues a three-way conflict between a trio of vastly different superpowers. Which side prevails is up to you.
Whereas C&C3: Tiberium Wars featured one long, connected war in which you played all three factions, RA3 provides standalone campaigns for the Allies, Soviets and the Empire, each driven by a plot infused with more cheese and ham than a Frenchman's fridge.
After you've sat through the fittingly pounding intro, the first thing that'll strike you is just how much diversity EA LA has injected into the factions. This is easily the most eclectic mix of arsenals that a Red Alert game has possessed, with every unit lavished with imaginative design and secondary skills that a canny commander can utilise to great strategic effect. RA3 has captured the type of factional diversity that few RTS games have. And, indeed, that Red Alert insanity that other strategy titles wouldn't dare broach: parachuting war bears, battle dolphins and paralysing-bark powered Alsatians rub damp noses with Tesla troops, tanks and airships.
The Soviets are the brutes. What they lack in manoeuvrability and subtlety they more than make up for with sheer firepower. Spearheading the Red Tide's advance is the Apocalypse Tank, a thunderous metal hulk possessing two 125mm cannons and a magnetic grapple that snares nippy enemies, petrifying them until they're vaporised.
The faction's aerial behemoth is the Kirov Airship. Ostensibly a blimp with bombs, this terrifying flying fortress may have the turning circle and acceleration of an oil tanker, but position one over an enemy base and it'll wreak utter carnage in seconds as it drops its load.