Version tested: PC
Hmm. We're going to see a lot more of this kind of thing, aren't we? Standalone expansions that don't even have a retail version at all. Nothing but online content. Uprising is a pure download beast, just on PC, and it's pretty cheap to boot. It's about a third, perhaps even a half, of the length of Red Alert 3, with four short campaigns, and it's all single-player. So that includes a gaggle of further missions all delivered by the same colourful cast of actors, models, plasma-ejecting mecha-troops, transforming robots, and psychic-death schoolgirls. That seems like reasonably good value, after all, why wouldn't we want to play another stretch of the Command & Conquer series' wackiest RTS offshoot?
Well, perhaps because it's piss-boilingly frustrating.
The very first mission is a baffling exercise in face-palming idiocy - a poorly designed onslaught in which confusion repeatedly leads to death. The failure conditions are so hard to control, and so utterly galling, that there's no reason why you'd want to continue playing. Towards the end of the mission the level instructions specifically tell you to avoid engaging the units that you have pass to get out. This is bad enough, but they're sickeningly over-powered. You die again and again. It's as if you're being punished for thinking you want to play some more Red Alert 3. Finally, miraculously, you manage to dodge enough of the instant-death missiles to escape the level. No clever problem-solving required, just run for your life and hope for a lucky break.
It's one of the worst opening levels to an RTS game in memory, and it must be completed to open up two of the other campaigns. Assuming you can be bothered to drag your bored carcass through this demented grind you'll be rewarded with some FMV featuring pretty women and posturing actors, and the unveiling of the rest of the campaign: lots more fighting bears, bombarding bases, and seeing how many robots it takes to rush a Russian tank battalion. The journey into these later levels is a familiar one: heavily scripted scenarios that escalate into the unveiling of ludicrous new units and stupidly overwrought battles against the odds. It's this stuff that show off just how imaginative the EA team really is, particularly when it comes to designing insane units. It's no-holds barred here, as there's no multiplayer balance to worry about.
The Russians get a walking missile silo, a toxic-waste-spewing heavy infantry dude who is really rather unhappy with his lot, a bike with a mortar for a sidecar, and a tank with a giant, whirling grinder mechanism on the front. The ever-enthusiastic Japanese guys get a hyped-up mecha warrior, a techno-archer with lasers for arrows, and a giant transforming mobile base head thing that spews missiles into the world. The Allies, meanwhile, seem practically pedestrian with their liquid nitrogen-armed Cryo Legionnaire, and heavy bombardment artillery thing with anti-infantry batteries. They do get Holly Valance reading the news, however, so there are compensations.
Nevertheless, all this is not enough to forgive the grind that's to come. Get stuck into the various campaigns and you'll fall rapidly into a save-point attrition of moderately frustrating progress. The levels are, it seems, either too difficult and therefore agonising to play, or incredibly easy and unsatisfying, with your super-units devastating the hapless AI. It's baffling: as if much of the game had been put together without any kind of testing or care. I can't believe that anyone played through some of these levels and thought "well that's great". Instead, they left me with the puzzling feeling that they were unfinished, or that they were deliberately out of whack.
Eugh, and that very first level is still with me. What were they thinking? Did they not bother to make sure it was playable and fun? Why didn't they just launch into a great big base-building brawl like we're used to? Why wasn't it even a good-looking first mission? Perhaps I'm over-reacting - after all, can one atrociously misjudged outing really ruin a game? Maybe not, but it certainly sets the tone. What's even more frustrating, however, are the handful of missions where you take control of Yuriko Omega, the psychic-arsenal schoolgirl, as she escapes from her captors and wreaks vengeance on the world. I'ts here that the game actually manages to entertain, even dazzle.
As the ferocious floating-girl of death you pick up tanks and hurl them around, blast dudes with a psychic bomb, take over the minds of ninjas and make them fight for you. Yuriko's sections in Uprising are something like a dungeon crawl, only heavy on the massive fireworks and mad carnage. It's actually quite fun just to destroy her surroundings, and it offers a look what Uprising might have been like if the game had been based purely around her exploits, rather than stumbling stupidly into the rote mission designs that make up the rest of it. Yuriko's exploding carnival of psionic death is a wonderful thing to experience, and I don't see any reason why some clever design and storytelling couldn't have made a full campaign of it: a kind of Dawn of War with angry schoolgirls.
This is where the sparkiest ideas and most entertaining visuals of Uprising are found, and it's fortunate that they made it the one part of the game that's playable without having to do that excruciating Russian mission. It at least makes you feel like you want to continue playing, and that the USD 20 isn't entirely wasted.
Nevertheless, Yuriko's heroic experiments in mass carnage do not entirely save this from being a rather underwhelming offering: she's just three large levels. The rest of the game might be dressed up in FMV spangles, but it's simply not produced to the high standards of the original game. There's skirmish aplenty, but no co-op, and in fact no new multiplayer offering whatsoever. I'm kind of okay with that, but I do hope that there's another downloadable expansion for Red Alert 3 that remembers why the co-op was so compelling - it might help to balance out some of the residual badness I'm feeling after sinking hours into Uprising.
5 / 10