Although the iPhone is a casual-dominated platform, there is still a place for ‘hardcore’ genres such as first-person shooters and real-time strategy games. When it comes to the latter, there is one title that has had gamers stirring about for months: Command & Conquer Red Alert. This celebrated franchise gained success due to its exciting multiplayer and generally comical live-action cutscenes. While neither of these made it into the iPhone version, there’s still enough quality content to appeal to fans of the series.
The premise of C&C:RA can best be described as a fantasy Cold War. Playing as either the Soviets or Allies, you must crush the opposing faction so that your country can prosper in victory. Each faction has a unique campaign with five missions and a storyline, albeit a basic one. The first few levels ease you into the game at a steady and understandable pace, with a visual tutorial when a new mechanic is introduced. These are great for RTS newcomers, since most games in the genre throw you into the fray instantaneously.
Should have worn a sweater!
Playing through the campaign is a blast. The levels last for a good 15 to 20 minutes on average, plus optional objectives bring in extra replay value. There is some variety in the missions as well. For example, one could have you using a hero unit and brute force to fight through the opposing faction, while others require tactical placement of new cities and buildings. It never gets too hard, considering the platform, but we would have liked several difficulty levels to challenge ourselves when we revisited missions.
C&C:RA has some of the most intuitive controls we have seen on a touch screen. Unit selection, movement, and attacks are all initiated through taps and drags, with the occasional need to press a button. The camera angle is panned in and out by pinching and expanding, and moving around the field is as easy as dragging or tapping on the minimap. Everything works so naturally and seamlessly that it almost feels like the game knows what you are going to do even before you do it.
RTS games usually have intricate interfaces, but C&C:RA has successfully simplified this aspect without sacrificing functionality. Three custom unit groups can be created in order to quickly jump between different troops around the map, and the display shows you at a glance which types and how many of each unit are part of the group. A detailed minimap allows you to spot an assault before it happens and choose the best route to victory. The UI even expands to the audio, where an officer will alert you of any occurring events.
Who says the real estate market has tanked?
Building bases is also easily accessible. Scrolling panels give you all the options, and dragging an icon onto the map expands it. You can then place it down with surprisingly pinpoint accuracy. As always, you must keep a balance between defense towers, unit deployment building, and energy towers in order to keep the base in operation.
The selection of units consists of your average infantry, tanks, and airplanes. However, there is little depth in their implementation. They don’t have any special moves and no stat tables are provided, which makes it hard to play with tactics. Another unit is the engineer, who can convert enemy buildings for use by your faction.
To put a cherry on top of the gameplay are the graphics, which are beautiful. Different camera angles allow you to take in the little details of full 3D models. All of this and there was rarely a stutter in the game’s framerate on our 3GS.
One detail that this iteration of C&C was missing is live-action cutscenes. These are a staple of the franchise, and we had expected them after EA made original videos for Need For Speed Undercover. Unfortunately, all we got were text-based discussions prior to each mission. This results in a lot of lost personality.
Zeppelins, the invincible war machines.
The strongest aspect of almost every RTS game is multiplayer, but C&C:RA oddly has none of this. After all, the genre is built perfectly for it. On the PC, we have enjoyed the novelty of high-intensity wars against friends, but without that in the iPhone iteration there are hours of value cut out. EA has said that Bluetooth multiplayer will eventually be coming for free, but in our minds it should have been included at launch.
Another weak point is the game’s shallow skirmish mode. Since both campaigns are filled with unavoidable tutorials and set layouts, after completing them most players will want to play fully-customizable sessions. However, instead of fleshing out one of the most important modes, EA only gave the options to choose your faction and the amount of money given to each side to begin with. On top of this, there are only two maps, which is odd when each campaign missions has a different one. These limitations are discouraging. Six new maps are available via in-app purchases, but we feel that for the premium price these should have been bundled with the full game.
These issues aside, Command & Conquer Red Alert is the most playable RTS on the App Store. If the lack of multiplayer and a deeper skirmish mode don’t turn you off, we recommend giving this game a shot.