Command and Conquer Red Alert delivers impressive immersive RTS

Posted: November 1, 2009 in Strategy

The iPhone/iPod Touch platform has seen a fair share of real-time strategy games since its inception over a year ago. With the exception of Warfare Incorporated and Quantum Collapse, few have offered a decent playing experience suited for both casual gamers as well as hardcore fans. EA’s Command and Conquer Red Alert not only took a risk by attempting to please a diverse audience, but did so by creating a new game specifically for the platform. The result is a completely immersive game set within vivid 3D environments that fully takes advantage of the platform’s touch screen.

The Command and Conquer franchise was built around the idea of an alternate universe where the Soviets and not the United States is the military superpower. Without getting into the details of time travel and paradoxes, Adolph Hitler was taken out of the equation and thus enabled the Soviets to develop its military technology. If you’re not interested in RTS, the storyline alone may be intriguing enough to pique your interest.

The game consists of two play modes: Campaign and Skirmish. Campaign is the 5-chapter, objective-based story mode. Each chapter is presented with cut scenes of the battle sites along with mission objectives. Skirmish consists of 2 maps: Siberian Assault and Melting Pot. An Assault Pack consisting of 6 additional maps is available as paid downloadable content which I highly recommend. Also another expansion pack, Empire of the Rising Sun should be available shortly. As in the campaign, these maps provide a variety of different environments, terrains and climate conditions from snowy mountains to barren deserts.

DLC Assault Pack Skirmish Maps
* Mole Hills
* Crosshair
* Road Rage
* Death Valley
* Under the Radar
* Middle Town

C&C provides you with the option to play as the Americans or as the Soviets. When playing initially, I suggest you play as the Soviets since this runs you through the tutorial. For whatever reason, the game does not provide a tutorial when playing as the Americans, although the Help section provides an overview of the basics.

Visually, this is probably the best looking RTS on the platform. The structures, terrains and the defensive units are presented in 3D, and the use of shadows and textures provide depth and perspective. Battles are actually entertaining to watch using the pinch zoom functionality which allow for an almost ground-level view.Of course, a consequence of being able to zoom in so close is you notice that moving objects tend to go through each other. Swiping the screen allows you to pan across the area, and tapping the mini-map will instantly take you to that spot.

The epic soundtrack is well incorporated, and frankly there’s very little noticeable looping. With any typical RTS, narratives are used to call out specific actions. For example, when building a unit, the supporting audio “Constructing” is voiced. Because you have the option of playing as the Americans or the Soviets, one nice touch is the audio. When playing as the Soviets, the narrative is spoken with a Russian accent. Mind you that the performance isn’t Oscar worthy, but it points to the details that EA put into the game.

Money earned from destroying enemy forces can be used to bolster your own defenses. In terms of defensive units, C&C provides a variety of infantry, structural and assault units, although unfortunately no water defenses are included. These are located down the right side of the screen in a collapsible menu and accessible by tapping the appropriate section. For example, allied defenses include peacemaker troop, attack dog, and different types of tanks, while Soviet defenses include flak trooper, war bear, and Sputnik. Specific units are useful for certain duties such as engineers who can be used to capture radar towers, hospitals and training facilities. In many cases, certain structures need to be in place before certain units can be created such as the building of barracks before troop recruitment can occur.

As for placing structural units, tap on the structure to be built and then drag and drop onto the desired location. For EA’s, the interface for accessing these units is elegantly designed and easy to use. To move units, simply tap on the unit and tap on the desired location. Deploying units is rather easy and they can be deployed in individual units or as squads. Several buttons are conveniently located at the bottom of the screen which allows you to deploy several units at once. This allows you to drag a selection around units and move them accordingly. A handy feature is the squad buttons located down the left side of the screen. You can save up to 3 different squads which can then be accessed simply by tapping. These squad buttons are especially useful when dealing with more elaborate maps where troop movements take place in several places at once.

A deployment button appears when accessing a unit that requires manual deployment. For example, a mobile satellite vehicle can be moved to locations, and once there, tapping the deployment button will convert the vehicle into a radar system. Also, Sputnik is a mobile Soviet unit that can be sent to remote locations and then must be deployed before it can construct different buildings.

One of the huge concerns with RTS games is the AI, and with C&C, that’s not a concern. In fact, C&C delivers a solid, top notch RTS experience that will have you on your toes from the opening salvo. The AI is aggressive especially when you’re playing as the Allies. Enemy forces do not wait until you’re done building your structures or amassing troops, and for casual gamers, it may even be a little frustrating until you’re firmly grounded in the controls. One of things that make C&C even more engaging is that you can use almost everything in the surrounding environment as part of your strategy. For example, abandoned buildings can sometimes be used as garrisons. Tapping on a building will bring up an indicator showing how many troops can be housed there, and once established your flag waves above. This applies to surrounding terrains where troops can seek cover in the trees. While this may not sound like much, C&C does a more than adequate job of incorporating these little details.

As mentioned, the 3D graphics really set this game apart in terms of the battles. But, it can be fairly entertaining if you want to watch defensive unit movements. The use of Kirov Air Ships on the Soviet side is a good example, since air ships can travel over mountain tops. Zooming in, you can make out the lettering on them or just watch as they drop bombs on targets with the accompanying explosive fireworks.

C&C is not perfect by any means. For some, C&C’s biggest issue may be lack of content in the initial release, although the expansion packs address this. C&C does not have multiplayer functionality in this current release although this will be addressed in a future update. While the interface is elegantly designed, the touch controls can be a tad temperamental registering touches. This happened on occasion especially when trying to move multiple troops. Graphically, EA has provided a top notch experience, but again, moving objects visibly go through each other most noticeable when zoomed in. The Help section is useful, but it could be expanded to provide a more thorough tutorial especially for newer gamers to the genre. The game also requires a few seconds of load time during start up and in between chapters.

Overall, Command and Conquer Red Alert is an impressive RTS that sets a new bar for the genre on the platform. The balanced AI along with the high-quality visuals and eye for details make this a must have for RTS fans and may recruit a few new ones.

Albie Meter: 5 Stars (one of the best if not the best RTS offerings on the platform; top-notch graphics and well-balanced, aggressive AI; solid gameplay and touch controls; 5 chapters and 2 skirmish maps in this release may be an issue for some, although a paid expansion pack is available; no multiplayer or multiple game save slots; auto save functionality)

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