When did everything change?

Monday, April 13, 2009
There I was, playing Red Alert 3, beating the piss out of the Allies again, when it dawned on me that this used to be harder. Skill and years of practice be damned, there was something fundamentally different about the RTS genre as I knew it. Somewhere along the line, these games got a little more forgiving.

For example, one of the later soviet missions has you on an island, surrounded by enemy forces. These enemies have significant air power and because of their vast numbers, I'm not really able to gain a foothold in the area. They cripple my resource production as I cripple theirs, their numbers are far greater than mine and my defenses are marginal at best. After 15 minutes of limping around the map, waiting for the death blow, I realize it isn't coming. Rather than finish me off, the computer seems more content to let me sit and whimper while it picks me apart. What military textbook did they study?

The skirmish mode for Red Alert 3 further proves my point. It took me about 5 minute to reach max tech level units while my adversary was still slinging conscripts at me by the dozen. It just didn't seem fair.

The rift between low tech and high tech units reminds me a little of Empire Earth. Few things feel better than dropping an atomic bomb on an enemy that still uses rocks as anti-air defenses. Delicious.

I've had little experience online so far, but given my history of dark diplomacy, I don't expect much of a challenge.

Anymore I have to go back to the Total War or Combat Mission series to really satisfy my strategy cravings. They offer a sufficiently complex structure and challenging AI for my style of play. The Total War games especially quench my thirst with the risk-esque world map and highly complex unit breakdowns.

I can understand why so many strategy games have dumbed down their difficulty. The console crowd (no offense) hasn't always been the type to leap at complexity. After all, the controller only has so many buttons. On top of that, most of the RTS games out there require strict unit management and quick-clicking around the map, something no analog stick could ever compete with. So the PC remains the dominant territory of the true RTS and I am left to mourn the pitiful specs of my once beloved PC.

I doubt we'll ever see a really solid RTS for the consoles. At least not until they offer keyboard and mouse support for it.