Version tested: Xbox 360
Watching the RTS genre attempting to break the console market is a lot like watching a very persistent pigeon repeatedly smashing into a window. Of all the genres spawned on the PC, real-time strategy is the one most tied to the mouse and keyboard control system, since it revolves around pointing and clicking rather than moving and shooting. The Command & Conquer series has fared better than most, however, and Red Alert 3 continues to refine the successful "command wheel" interface that's helped achieve this.
The command wheel allows you to call up a circle of icons with the right trigger to manage all your production and construction options from anywhere on the map. The wheel becomes more specific should you call it up with a particular building type selected, but you can access most features simply by drilling down into the different options from the default menu.
Flexibility is key to making the controls work, so however you prefer to do your armchair strategising the game finds a way to accommodate you. Selecting units, for instance, can be a question of simply highlighting one with your cursor and hitting the A button. Clicking on additional units with the left bumper held down adds them to your selection. Alternatively, a double-tap of the A button automatically selects every unit of that type. Or, if that doesn't suit, a double-tap of the X button puts every unit on-screen under your control. The d-pad can be used to shuttle between available units, and the stickiness of the cursor can be tweaked to find the right balance between speedy selection and smooth scrolling.
The downside to this wealth of control options is a rather steep learning curve. With over thirty different control options cluttering up the command list - all modified with varying uses of the two shoulder bumpers, plus single and double taps and holding buttons down - it can be a bit overwhelming trying to remember the exact combination you need under pressure. Thankfully a lot of these options, such as forcing units to retreat in reverse under fire, are only really necessary playing on the higher difficulty settings. But it doesn't say much for the accessibility of RTS games on a joypad that this daunting set-up is probably the most intuitive option right now.
At the basic end of the scale, however, the system proves more than adequate and soon allows you to stop worrying about control and start mucking around with the new toys that Red Alert 3 has to offer. Both the Allied and Soviet factions have new units, but the big addition is the Empire of the Rising Sun - a new Japanese faction accidentally created when the Soviets travel back in time to kill Einstein, thus preventing the creation of atomic weapons. (If you've never played a Red Alert game, by the way, this is about as sensible as it gets).
The Japanese army does an entertaining job of mixing up the traditional RTS framework. Based on nanotechnology, structures are no longer plonked in an increasingly hectic cluster around your base, but instead emerge as roving pods, which can be guided to anywhere you want before generating the required building. Maintaining and defending this military sprawl offers a unique tactical challenge, but the payoff is the ability to expand your quest for resources far beyond the dotted line that marks the boundary of your base camp.