I've read a lot of negative reviews of the Red Alert 3 download-only expansion and the new Watchmen game released to coincide roughly with the new film version. While some of the points raised by reviewers in critiquing these products are valid, I disagree with the overall evaluations. Here are my thoughts:
First, let me say that I belong in the camp of Command and Conquer followers who enjoyed Red Alert 3 and generally found it to be a fun and worthy follow-up to RA2. Although there's no Yuri in it, there are more time-bending antics than you can shake a flying Japanese schoolgirl at. The cutscenes are excuses for actors of varying degrees of ability to ham it up. The missions were inventive, although the degree of difficulty appeared to be all over the map at times, and the new single-player co-op feature was very cool indeed. Some of the most challenging missions were prevented from becoming exercises in frustration thanks to my AI partner (and on rare occasions, I had to pull his or her fat out of the fire). The new units were fun and the graphics were bright and colorful, almost cartoony. In short, it was terrific fun.
Back in March, EA released a standalone expansion called Uprising, available from a few download outlets at the modest price point of $19.95. What do you get for your Andrew Jackson, you ask? You get this: Four single-player "mini-campaigns," several new units for each faction, a new "Commander's Challenge" mode, and a Skirmish mode (because this is a standalone expansion, it loads separately from the original game and you can't use the new units in the original RA3). Does it sound like a fair bit of content? It is. There is one campaign for each faction from the original game and an action-RPG-style campaign that gives backstory to the Yuriko Omega psychic commando character from the original game. Each faction campaign consists of four missions. The Commander's Challenge mode is a series of missions with specific objectives that must be completed with a limited number of units; each mission unlocks new units for use in future missions in the tree. It sounds like a nice idea that would give the game even more replayability, but frankly, I've had the game for several weeks now and I'm still on the Allied faction campaign.
Many critics have trashed Uprising because of its lack of multiplayer. Here's what I have to say to those folks: EA stated upfront that this expansion would have no multiplayer and, indeed, that it is strictly single-player. Don't criticize a game for something you were already aware wasn't going to be in it before you started downloading it. That's just asinine. The lack of multiplayer is due, as EA has stated previously, to the presence in the single-player game of ludicrously-unbalanced new units; these units would break the multiplayer and take many months of playtesting to balance properly. I say "kudos" to EA for being ballsy enough to release a single-player only expansion--I like single-player and I don't play multiplayer. Apparently there are enough people out there like me for the practical decision to be made to bankroll this project.
One design decision that was probably a mistake was to make this a standalone expansion. It seems to be all the rage now--just look at the Company of Heroes and Warhammer 40K series--but it seems a bit pointless. It's probably a lot easier and cheaper to lock units out of multiplayer functions than to create a new standalone package. Who is going to play this game that didn't care for the first one enough to pick it up at its reduced price (reduced several weeks prior to the release of Uprising, mind you, not subsequently) of $29? The indifferent and the RA3-haters won't be interested in anything that represents (and Uprising does) more of the same.
Others have sharply criticized the difficulty of the first Soviet mission, which is required to unlock the Allied, Rising Sun, and Yuriko campaigns. It's a pseudo-fixed-force setup where you sneak a tiny force onto an Allied base in order to free some captured scientists who may have vital intelligence about new Allied technology. It is difficult. Your force is periodically replenished with troop drops until you reach a certain point and then you're stuck with just the forces you've got and the scientists (it's not clear to me but this may be a bug). In any case, you will run into new anti-infantry units as you try to escape and they're very powerful. I did blow this mission several times, but I eventually switched to "easy" difficulty for it and was able to succeed through judicious use of a new unit available to the Soviets in this mission. (You guessed it, I'm trying not to give away unit spoilers.) However, for the next three missions, you do work from a base of operations, which makes life much easier.
Finally, I don't find that the acting by the FMV stars is any better or worse than the original. Malcolm McDowall is as good as he's been in any TV or movie lately (yes, I'll say it: his performance here is on par with his performance on "Heroes"). Ivana Milicevic turns in a slightly more intense performance, befitting her "beleagured rebel force coordinator" role. Gemma Atkinson still comes across as a bit silly. So far it's all been quite entertaining.
Watchmen is a densely-layered graphic novel with themes touching things like what it means to be human and the nature of good and evil. It's also a movie that captures some of that storytelling, while shifting it to a radically-different medium. Now it is also a video game that ignores much of the subtext of the novel and even the film in favor of just having some fun stepping into the role of one of the protagonists (if this truly represents an apt description for any of these broken human and superhuman beings). Allen Rausch of Gamespy spent a lot of time comparing and contrasting the versions in his Angry Bear column on ign.com a few weeks ago, and I don't want to rehash what he said (the article is here: http://www.gamespy.com/articles/962/962744p3.html), but I read his piece after playing the demo for The End is Nigh briefly and it really made me think about why I enjoyed it.
The End is Nigh (which appears on one of Kovacs's signs in the novel) is a rather short beat-'em-up. It is another download-only title and is also available for $19.95. Having said that, it's not as good a value for your money as Uprising. Why? There's just not as much to it; I finished The End is Nigh's six chapters in a long evening of play. On the other hand, what is there is fun. The story is a prequel to the novel/film, taking place during the period when Rorschach and Nite Owl worked together to clean up the streets of New York. What is good about the story is that the characters feel like their comic counterparts and there are several sly references to the book. What is bad about the story is that it's very thin: (SPOILER) Rorscach and Nite Owl are being manipulated into tracking down an escaped crime boss whose prison break appears to have been orchestrated by forces well beyond his control. That's basically it for six chapters.
The game largely consists of using a series of standard attacks and combos to beat your various garden-variety thugs senseless. There are a few puzzle elements, but these are essentially using a button to shimmy up a drainpipe, jump from a ledge, flip a lever, pull a switch, et cetera (in other words, you won't strain your grey matter sorting these out). You can play any chapter as either Rorschach or Nite Owl. Like most people probably do, I played through as Rorschach, although the game does have a bit of replay value playing as Nite Owl, as his moves and attacks are different (although the story obviously isn't). The gameplay is good, although a constant source of irritation for me was that the game's onscreen control references were clearly intended for the XBOX 360 or 360-controller user; it took me several chapters to figure out which buttons on my Logitech Rumblepad 2 corresponded to X, Y, A, and B. A few of the button references I never could figure out. There aren't many of these kinds of games out there for the PC, so it was a fun experience.
Graphically, the game is impressive. There are several "motion-comic"-style cutscenes between chapters and the game engine has really nice lighting and weather effects. On the other hand, many of the environments look so similar it's sometimes a little hard to tell which way to go at first. Sound is well-done, with the film actors reprising their roles as the main characters here, while foes use character-specific taunts, most of which are unprintable.
What is the overall value of The End is Nigh? Well, that probably depends upon both how much of a Watchmen fan you are and how much you enjoy beat-'em-up-style games. You're not getting much game for your buck here but what is there is a well-crafted product. Hopefully when the subsequent chapters are released, the pricing scheme will be rethought. Even $5 off the asking price would make this an unqualified recommendation.