Real-time strategy games have been slowly coming into their own on the iPhone, and Red Conquest does its part to push the genre forward. Once again, John Kooistra (creator of Blue Attack and Blue Defense) has created a triumph of design, but despite its gameplay accomplishments, the whole package is diminished by a lack of content.
While many other RTS games have been pushing for simplicity in their control schemes, Red Conquest does the opposite. The controls are quite complex, and take a good deal of practice to understand.
Just as you’re starting to get comfortable with the controls, the game ends abruptly and without warning after only an hour or so. The story, which follows a confused amnesiac as he slowly regains his mysterious power, also ends with a cliffhanger. You’ll have to wait for Episode 2 in March 2010 to find out what happens.
To be continued.
Generally the controls work pretty well once you’ve had a chance to practice. However, some simple things like selecting a group of units never feels comfortable at all, and even after lots of practice it’s still needlessly complex. The trade-off for all the complexity of the controls is that there’s a fantastic amount of control over your units, and a great (yet simple) AI system.
Sooner or later in any RTS you’ll find yourself yelling, “Why are you doing that? Did I tell you to go over there? Just shoot him, already!” as your units just don’t seem to comprehend your orders. This never happened even once in Red Conquest, so that frustration is utterly eliminated. Also, units will automatically defend themselves when an enemy ship comes into range, so you’ll never return to your base to find charred corpses where your fleet once was. Newcomers to the genre will take this for granted, but veterans understand all too well the anger this could induce.
Demonic onslaught? Count me in.
The only fault with gameplay is that combat can be quite simple. You often just gather your troops in a mob and attack en masse. It’s simply a shame that the complexity of Red Conquest doesn’t extend to the potential strategies. The problem is that simplicity in an RTS is normal in the opening stages, but due to Red Conquest’s extremely short length, its opening stages are its last as well. It never gets a chance to gain momentum and challenge the player.
It may not be too complex when it comes to the action, but the controls are responsive and it’s a beauty to look at. Also, in one of its cooler innovations, Red Conquest includes an awesome map-zoom feature. Somewhat similar to the PC RTS Supreme Commander, it allows you to zoom into the action, or zoom out completely for a full view of the map, all in real-time. It’s a really nice feature to have, considering that you can watch the entire map during moments when you want to control the entire fleet, but then get down into the battle and watch your individual ships.
This is the start of a great RTS package. It’s really a shame that Red Conquest ends so soon, because its only sin is not offering enough value. It will be interesting to see where this game goes with the upcoming three episodes. If the developer can simplify some of the controls and flesh out the experience without putting too much of a burden on gamers’ wallets, then Red Conquest could be a genre-defining RTS for the system.