Having finally gotten around to playing Command and Conquer: Red Alert 3, I've found a unique gameplay element that I am in love with. The tutorial system for this game is both engaging and virtually flawless. Let me explain:
Most games, if they have a tutorial system, use a very basic one. The tutorial is, at best, a scenario mission on easy mode with pop up windows that give you guidance into how to play the game and hint at advanced gameplay elements. At worst, it holds your hand and requires you to go through basic gameplay step by step (and since most RTS games have a similar "right click" system, going through controls isn't usually neccesary for someone who has played a RTS before). In the former case, tutorials seem to be the first mission in the campaign and are required to play the rest of hte campaign (i.e. like C&C Generals). In the latter it is an annoying aspect that doesn't actually help the player get into the game. Either way, these tutorials are rarely important to the story, and often aren't that helpful to playing the game.
Red Alert 3 takes tutorials to the next level. The tutorials are guided by three NPC tanks, one for each of the factions in the game. They declare in the first tutorial that they "have declared a temporary truce, to train you, commander, so that none of us need to face death needlessly." The three tanks have distinct personalities; the limey Allied tank is snarky and british, the Japanese tank has an arrogant and superior air, and the soviet tank breaks the fourth wall regularly, making comments and asking questions about things like "Where do the engineers go when they take over a building?". The three personalities are well developed, and their interactions are hilarious. For example, the soviet tank gets shot by the other two whenever he breaks the fourth wall, which is hilarious in a slap-stick kind of way.
Having played C&C Generals, most of the interface and gameplay is familiar to me, but these tutorials actually introduce advanced concepts. The second tutorial allows you to play as all three factions with virtually limitless cash, allowing you to build bases and units and experiment with them. The only downside is that there are no enemies in this mission, so you can't test combat ability of your units, but that is just about the only complaint I have about these tutorials.
The background elements are what make these tutorials special. For example, in the third tutorial, the NPC tanks get a lift from helicopters to the second island to continue instructing you. Also, little things make these tutorials glorious. When describing how to use the mostly dual-use units, the scenario requires you to disable an enemy tank. The unit you are to use is normally a formidable anti-air unit. As this is described to you, a half dozen air units scream accross the screen and are promptly blown up by the unit. These little elements really make these tutorials.
In my opinion, tutorials tend to be thrown in at the last minute. C&C Red Alert 3's tutorials show a clear effort. If the C&C team spent this much time making the tutorials, the rest of the game has me giddy with anticipation (well, not giddy, but intrigued). I hope that any future C&C games continue with this tutorial system, and hopefully it will be copied by other games.