Somebody needs to put a stop to the Red Alert games. Not because their quality is going downhill, mind. Red Alert 3's an awesome continuation of the series, and the decision to make all three of its campaigns co-operative affairs is the kind of game design that makes you pray whoever it was that came up with the idea got promoted and laid on the same day. It's just that with every new Red Alert game the series drops further into the gutter. The cheesy plot, the unbelievable national stereotypes, the comic book science, the cleavage, the animals that act as improbably effective military units, all of it is increasing at an exponential rate. I mean, they cannot keep this up. Unless someone stops them, Red Alert 4 is going to come out one day and it's going to be a DVD containing nothing but an hour-long video of William H. Macy dancing on a topless Steve Buscemi. One of them will probably have a Russian hat on or something.
For the moment though, Red Alert 3 is still just about holding it together. The plot begins with the Soviets using a prototype time machine to go back to the beginning of the 20th century to kill Einstein, thereby stopping him from developing powerful super-weapons for the Allies. The Soviet top brass return to a future where their nation is kicking ass and taking names, although for some reason the death of Einstein also means the Japanese, now known as the Empire of the Rising Sun, are a nanotechnology-equipped world power (and third playable side).
But we can talk about the Japanese in a bit. As a feature they're completely eclipsed by the new co-op nature of the game's three campaigns. This isn't just the option to play through each of the game's missions with a friend; all of the levels are designed from the ground up for two people, and if you're playing alone then a subservient AI general fills the gap and a simple order system opens up so you can boss him around.
But you really don't want to play alone. Unless you honestly vomit in your own mouth a little bit on contact with another human being, you want to play this game co-op. It just works, and that shouldn't surprise anyone who's ever tried teaming up with friends to take on hard AI in Dawn of War, Sins of a Solar Empire or... well, almost every RTS ever made, come to think of it. And RTS teamwork against the computer only gets more fun when you've got set-pieces and personal limitations thrown into the mix. Missions in RA3 might limit the ability to build base defences to one player, another might order you to capture a distant island when only one of you can build land units and the other's stuck with submarines and aerial transports. And throughout all of it the two of you get to experience the laugh-out-loud corny voice acting, seeing the cute animations of your troops for the first time and the advent calendar-like drip-feed of new abilities and units. Unless you load up skirmish mode first of course, in which case in traditional RTS fashion the tech tree's completely unlocked and you can see everything RA3 has to offer in under fifteen minutes. Your call.