If you were a PC gamer in the mid 90's, the very mention of Command & Conquer likely brings back memories of massive battles, elaborate bases, the cumbersome Westwood Online multiplayer, and best of all- The game coming with two discs to give one to a friend to play against without having to buy a second copy of the game. Westwood was eventually acquired by EA, and through numerous sequels and spin-offs there have been over 30 million copies sold across the franchise.
Command & Conquer Red Alert [App Store] like the other games in the Red Alert family takes place in an alternate universe where World War II never occurred thanks to some time traveling trickery by Albert Einstein which resulted in the Soviet Union rising to power due to the Allies never developing nuclear weaponry. Unfortunately, the iPhone game doesn't do much to convey this fascinating game setting, but other games in the series that do a better job of this are worth checking out if you're an alternate history fiction fan.
The controls in Command & Conquer Red Alert work shockingly well. I consider myself real time strategy fan, but there are not only few of these games on the App Store, but even fewer that have controls that make for fun gameplay. The user interface has remained constant since the preview we did early last month:
The screen is framed with all kinds of interface elements, and while seeming slightly cluttered, everything works well enough and I never felt like the controls were getting in the way of what I wanted to do in the game. The battlefield can be zoomed using standard pinching gestures, and to change your field of view you can either swipe your finger around the screen or touch the mini map in the top right corner.
Lining the right side of the screen are all the buttons and menus for building your base as well as training units. Just like the PC version, units can be queued up to train multiples at once. Placing a new building in your base is as simple as tapping it from the "build" menu, at which point a grid appears on top of the terrain and your building can be placed with familiar green and red highlighting indicating valid placement.
Once you've got your army built, you can organize units in to three squads assigned to the three buttons on the left hand side of the screen. To select units, you can either tap them to select individual units, or by tapping a button on the bottom left corner of the screen you can drag a selection box around units on the battlefield. From there, another button on the bottom of the screen allows you to assign your current selection of units to one of the three buttons on the left side of the screen.
The graphics and sound in Command & Conquer Red Alert are absolutely phenomenal. Everything is rendered in beautiful 3D graphics, and some of my favorite tracks from other Red Alert games have made their way in to the iPhone version. In these two categories, the game excels.
However, like most games from long-standing franchises that wind up on the iPhone, Command & Conquer Red Alert is substantially trimmed down. On one hand, this is without a doubt among the best RTS games available on the platform, but on the other, the game is very minimal and when I step back from my incredibly fond nostalgia of the Red Alert series, it seems like a $9.99 vessel to sell downloadable content packs.
The amount of content the game itself comes with is disappointing, to the point that I didn't mention it in the preview as I was fairly certain they were going to add more in to the game when it was finally released. Unfortunately, it has remained the same. Without looking to the in-game store, the content in Command & Conquer Red Alert is limited to two brief campaigns which feel more like tutorials and two skirmish maps you can play against an AI opponent.
The single $0.99 DLC pack which is available with the launch of the game offers six additional skirmish maps and a couple extra units. In the future EA plans on releasing a free update to add local multiplayer via WiFi or bluetooth, but currently you're stuck playing these maps against an AI controlled army that has no difficulty adjustment-- likely creating gameplay that will be boring to veterans of the genre and frustrating to newcomers.
So in the end, how much you enjoy Command & Conquer Red Alert will largely depend on what you expect out of the game. For an iPhone game, EA does a great job with the controls and stellar music and graphics make watching and listening to the game much more fun. Unfortunately, the game does feel remarkably bite sized, with neither very much content nor much replay value without buying more maps via DLC. And launching a $9.99 game with a $0.99 DLC just doesn't sit well, especially when the downloadable packs don't feel as optional as they should be.
We generally try to avoid discussing game pricing, as everyone feels differently on what is and isn't an acceptable price for a game. It just seems to me, that if you're launching your game at the top-end of the App Store pricing spectrum, it shouldn't require an additional DLC pack for gamers to feel like they're experiencing a more complete game-- especially in a Command & Conquer game which historically have come with an unbelievable amount of maps.
If you can get around feeling nickel and dimed buying what seems like something that should have been included in the initial version of the game, Command & Conquer Red Alert is great. Unfortunately, with how little content is included, I'd suggest waiting to see how the multiplayer updates pan out.
App Store Link: Command & Conquer Red Alert, $9.99