Commander’s Challenge is far and away the largest XBLA game I have ever downloaded. It weighs in at a huge 2.1 GB because you are downloading not only extra mission for RA3 but all of the art and music assets needed to play Commander’s Challenge. Such is the tradeoff for an expansion pack that does not require the base game to play. If you played RA3 then the aesthetic and units will be familiar to you. If you didn’t then you’re in for a treat. RA3 was gorgeous, and in keeping with previous installments of the Red Alert sub-franchise RA3 features some out there units that are exceedingly fun to use. Most of that fun comes from saying things like “yeah I totally sunk those submarines with my laser dolphins,” but I will take any chance I can get to use the term “laser dolphins” without getting looked at like I’m crazy.
Commander’s Challenge, in case the title was not obvious, features no real story. The game is a series of standalone missions that are all connected by a central hub. You can tackle missions in whatever order you choose, but don’t be surprised if you try one and end up thinking “there really ought to be a unit that solves this exact problem” because there probably is and you just haven’t unlocked it yet. Certainly, the game could come right out and say “this mission is locked until you have unlocked fighter planes that magically transform into war mechs,” but that starts you down a strategic path and robs the player of any sense of satisfaction for figuring out the scenario on their own.
Commander’s Challenge uses the exact same control scheme that Red Alert 3 did. Personally, I found the controls serviceable, but wished they were a bit closer to Halo Wars. Regardless, after a few rounds you won’t be fighting the controls. There’s no denying that keyboard and mouse are easier to use here, but EA did a bang-up job piling RTS commands onto the 360 pad in a way that makes sense.
Commander’s Challenge is an expansion pack. Yes, it can be played standalone, but in terms of difficulty the developers assume that you beaten RA3, know what the units do, know their rock-paper-scissors relationship with other units, and don’t really offer you a playground to figure stuff out. Commander’s Challenge features 50 missions, all of the base RA3 units, and a few new ones to sweeten the pot for those that played through RA3 already. Oh, and Commander’s Challenge is skirmish only so there is no competitive multiplayer. You can and should tackle the missions in cooperative mode though as the coop design philosophy stays in the spotlight in Commander’s Challenge just like it did in Red Alert 3. For a scant $10 Commander’s Challenge is a great value, but be prepared for the game to beat you up and take your lunch money for a while.
Pros: Huge amount of content for $10, new units
Cons: Difficulty ramps up quickly and early
Plays Like: Command and Conquer: Red Alert 3, Halo Wars
ESRB: T for blood, mild language, violence