- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 23, 2009

Superhero and cartoon characters are integral parts of the electronic entertainment industry. With this in mind, I salute the meld of pop-culture character and video game with a look at Command & Conquer Red Alert 3, Ultimate Edition (from Electronic Arts, for PlayStation 3, rated T for teen, $59.99).

The latest episode of the legendary real-time strategy franchise gets special treatment on Sony’s entertainment console. This classic B-movie homage made for the sci-fi warrior in the family mixes cinema and action while allowing the control of three superpowers as they wage World War III.

What’s the story: After years of conflict, the Allies finally are on the brink of victory. In a desperate attempt to turn the battle to their favor, the Soviets use an experimental device to go back in time to eliminate Albert Einstein before he creates the technologies that will lead the Allies to their ultimate victory.

After their return to the present, the Soviets discover that the Allied position has indeed been weakened but also that their actions have spawned a new global threat - the mysterious, technologically advanced Empire of the Rising Sun.

Play the role: Take command of forces from the Allies, Soviets or Empire in nine campaigns each, encompassing fights on land, sea and air. That’s right, fight on glistening water loaded with battle cruisers, tsunami tanks, aircraft carriers and Akula submarines. Each faction offers its own set of weapons and heroes, while an eye-sweating number of them can clutter up environments ranging from Vladivostok to New York City to Easter Island.

The Empire clearly leads in technological advances with king-size Mech robots, light-saber-wielding Samurai and a hero loaded with psionic power named Yuriko Omega. However, I also found the Soviets to be formidable teammates with their massive, bomb-laden zeppelins, mechanized Tesla troopers and V4 rocket launchers.

Get to the action: Real-time strategy veterans know the drill. Build structures, artillery, soldiers and vehicles on varied terrain, attack, and watch the action unfold from a near over-the-top perspective. Red Alert 3 uses the CommandStick 2.0 control scheme, meaning an analog stick pulls up a menu dial that drills deeper with the click of a button to finely hone, develop and deliver resources.

Don’t forget the impressive set of top-secret protocols and support powers that can turn the tide of war. Some of the creative weapons include dumping space-satellite junk on a target, kamikaze planes and a freeze ray.

Star power: Scenery-munching performances by pop-culture icons such as Tim (knows all about the “Time Warp”) Curry as Anatoly Cherdenko, George “Sulu” Takei as Emperor Yoshiro, and J.K. “J. Jonah Jameson” Simmons as President Howard T. Ackerman work well with the bevy of saucy female warriors on-screen, including Jenny McCarthy as special agent Tanya Adams and Autumn Reeser as Commander Lissette Hanley.

Memorable moments: I love real-time strategy games, especially those with amphibious transports that shoot soldiers out of cannons. (What will those crazy Soviets come up with next?) Throw in cheesy scenes loaded with familiar actors mixing it up with the virtual action - Mr. Curry is a riot - and I’m hooked, comrade.

Violent encounters: Look for explosions and blood to be spilled in the heat of battle and even for the Statue of Liberty to fall. I did not like seeing the Allies’ attack dogs and dolphins get slaughtered or the Soviets’ war bears taking one for the team.

Multiplayer: Find a friend online for the cooperative mode or choose from one of nine computer-controlled commanders (three from each faction). Also, up to four players from around the world can go to war on the PlayStation Network.

Read all about it: Though Red Alert 3 offers the same stylish fun as a comic book, no series has been produced. I would suggest Superman: Red Son (DC Comics, $17.99) to get a look at a Soviet-controlled world.

Pixel-popping scale: 7.5 out of 10. The live-action cut scenes look like shots from a cheap sci-fi film, which is a positive, while the actual battles are too cartoony for my tastes.

Extras and unlockables: EA packs the Blu-ray disc with the type of featurettes one might find in a making-of extra with a DVD. Of course I liked the “Girls of Red Alert,” and the developer help found in the “Command School.” A standout extra that’s very helpful for getting more deeply involved in the game is an encyclopedia of each superpower’s weapons and structures, complete with narration and animation.

The bad: It took too much time to get comfortable with the control interface. In the heat of battle, especially, I routinely screwed up and had to start campaigns over again after calling for the wrong things or picking up a structure by mistake.

What’s it worth: To put it into perspective, against the currently popular Halo Wars, Red Alert 3 is much more complicated and deep, not as good-looking, but just as accessible.

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