When John Kooistra, the developer of Blue Defense and Blue Attack, announced his upcoming real time strategy game, Red Conquest [App Store], fans went crazy. Kooistra has developed quite a following over time, and expectations were high for this prequel/sequel to the Blue games.
One of the big talking points for Red Conquest is the fact that it ties together the story of Blue Defense, Blue Attack, and this game into one comprehensive whole. Aside from pre/post-battle text dialogue, the story is largely told through the use of cutscenes with zero talking. Quite frankly, the cutscenes, while cool in concept, fall flat due to the arguably weak art direction that was taken as well as the fact that the story itself is pretty difficult to make heads or tail of.
Red Conquest does not feature a ton of different unit types, but it covers all of the necessary bases. Harvesters collect resources from floating rock formations, Cruisers and Battleships serve as combat units, and Carriers serve primarily as support units. All units are initially created from the Base unit, but can also be created from the Foundry unit, which is created by the Base. You'll be playing as the Red team throughout most of the game, but it is possible to play as the Blue team in multiplayer (the differences being that Blue units cost less resources to create, take more time to create, and do not heal automatically).
The core gameplay of Red Conquest can be extremely complex for first time players, with multi-touch menu navigation being required for such simple actions as moving a small group of units. While I really believe that they're some of the most well thought-out RTS controls on the iPhone, the learning curve at the beginning of the game is just too intense.
The tutorial can be blamed for a majority of the problems that players are likely to experience, as it's one of the most confusing tutorials that I've ever seen. In it, players are thrown into a level containing three "elders," all of whom offer differing kinds of advice on how to play the game. This is all fine and well, but instead of letting players know when they've done something correctly, the elders just randomly blurb out instructions, ignoring all player interaction. This was extremely confusing for me, as I didn't know if I was supposed to do what the elders were telling me until they told me I could stop, and I had no idea why I would use any of the controls that they were pointing me towards.
Shortly after this tutorial, players are tossed into a level that, while easy for experienced players, can be incredibly difficult to the uninitiated due to the almost instantaneous bumrushing of the A.I. opponents on the player's base. Only after reading up on the Red Conquest Strategy thread in our forums and watching the below video did I manage to get a full grasp of what the correct strategy should be on that particular level. I say all of this as a guy who is intimately familiar with the concepts behind RTS games; I can kick nearly anyone's tail in Age of Empires II, and I've always been a big Starcraft fan. If Red Conquest was this difficult for me, I suspect newcomers to the genre don't stand a chance.
I began to really like Red Conquest after I spent some extended time with it, and I see a lot of potential for the game as more content is released for it over time. The ability to play with bots in multiplayer or up to 8 human players is a real feat, and something that I think really enriches the game and gives it some long-term viability, but the current lack of online play is a real bummer. The campaign is fairly short, but the inclusion of the 16 challenge levels and the promise of more content to come likely makes up for that.
Those who are not fans of RTS games are not likely to enjoy Red Conquest, as it's really packing a complete RTS into a small, complicated control method that only genre veterans are likely to figure out. For those who stick with it and master the controls, one of the most complete, well-made RTS experiences on the iPhone await, but some real patience will be required.
App Store Link: Red Conquest, $3.99