When it comes to producing a stand-alone expansion for a game, there are a number of rules in play as to what you should expect. As is usually the case, there are three:
The expansion should be of comparative length.
It should improve upon the core game play
It should be able to stand as a game in its own right.
Unfortunately, Red Alert 3: Uprising manages to fail on all three counts.
This is quite painful for me to write because, as anyone who read my review of the original game will know, I absolutely loved Red Alert 3. The camp video scenes, the distinct visuals, the ridiculously high cleavage ratio for military powers, all of it. None of that has really changed with uprising, yet still EA have managed to put a sour taste in my mouth.
For a start, the game is tiny. EA were honest about this from the outset, but I found it hard to believe just how small. You get three traditional RTS campaigns, following the aftermath of the events of Red Alert 3 for each of the main factions. These are standard fare, but last a mere handful of missions each. Then you get the fourth campaign, which is where Uprising starts to fall short.
The Yuriko Omega campaign was reasonably prominent in the pre-release publicity for the game. A sort of RPG was promised, detailing the rise and fall of the Empire of the Rising Sun’s psychic super soldier It’s an enticing premise, one that goes unfulfilled.
For a start, the Yuriko campaign is only three missions long, and they’re not particularly long missions. This is compounded by controls that, while certainly not broken, can be a little bit irritating. Yuriko doesn’t seem to have the ability to auto target enemies, meaning you have to manually order her to attack someone shooting her in the face. This is understandable to some degree, considering that Yuriko is the only character you control, but the enemies are so small and speedy that it can be difficult to click on them.
To help you along this road, however, you are given some psychic powers, all of them area of effect. These are easily the most fun you can have with Yuriko, especially the very first attack you get, a psychic shock wave that causes nearby infantry to explode into a fine red mist. The other powers, a total of four if you include the shock wave, are all crafted to have specific uses in combat, and most work quite well, although they occasionally run across the same targeting problem as the basic attack.
The psychic powers also bear the focus of the RPG game play, specifically the levelling up. Instead of a generic XP bar, Yuriko levels up by acquiring secret documents from special terminals. It’s actually a pretty decent system, rewarding exploration while lengthening mission time in a non-intrusive manner. It’s quite a fresh system, so it is a great shame to find that it is ultimately futile.
I can only speak for myself, but the key component of RPGs seems to be the character building aspect. You take a character and watch it grow, shaping it yourself into something more powerful. You get a nicely accelerated look at the life of a hero, from their puny beginnings to their god-like endings. With Yuriko you are teased with this, then ultimately denied it. Every skill you upgrade, every personal touch you apply to her stats, is reset at the end of the level. The second level gives a nearly acceptable explanation, but the third doesn’t bother at all. It’s disappointing.
That’s really Uprising in a nutshell, disappointing. Despite what I’ve said, it’s not a bad game. The RTS sections are similar in game play to its predecessor, and that means they are fun even with their short lifespan. The quasi-RPG campaign of Yuriko Omega is enjoyable too, if you can overcome the little niggles in targeting and levelling, and it is always fun to make people pop using only your mind. It’s certainly playable, and the scoreboard crowd will find a lot of replayability in the challenge mode, which has a fine selection of scenarios to test the finest military mind.
What it comes down to is this: if Uprising hadn’t been made a standalone product, it wouldn’t be nearly as disappointing. Expansion packs aren’t expected to be as vast as their parent game so long as they require it to run, but making one standalone is putting it into the realm of independence. There have certainly been successful standalone games, ones that take the core game and develop it in such a way that it can justify its independence, but Uprising isn’t one of them. In some cases it even goes backwards.
Red Alert 3 was held together by its cheesy cutscenes, the campness of them helped to create the lighter tone, and gave the player a good couple of minutes between missions to shake off the war-weariness that comes from spending hour upon hour watching people die. Uprising effectively neuters this with significantly neutered cutscenes, resulting in situations where they don’t even relate to what’s going on. Again, the prime offender is the Yuriko campaign, the RTS campaigns faring better, but it is still a step back across the board.
Verdict time. I know I have been quite harsh on uprising, but that’s only because I held the vanilla game as a benchmark. Uprising isn’t a bad game, it just doesn’t really bring anything worthwhile to Red Alert 3. That said, if you enjoyed Red Alert 3 you will enjoy playing Uprising, very little has changed for the most part, and the new units are rather cool. Even the Yuriko missions, while somewhat disappointing at times, are a nice change of pace from the usual Command and Conquer formula.
If you like Red Alert 3, you will probably want to give Uprising a shot. You’ll be able to see past the flaws I’ve spent the last few hundred words discussing, and so you should, it’s a solid game. Just bear in mind, it’s a solid game that will run it’s course extremely quickly.