It’s a game series that’s gotten much love over the years, despite, or perhaps because of, the cheesy live action cut scenes featuring actors like Tim Curry. Now, Command & Conquer comes to the iPhone with Command & Conquer: Red Alert ($9.99, iTunes link), named after its PC and console counterpart released in 1996.
How well does the beloved RTS translate to the iPhone platform? That depends on what you’re looking to get out of the game. EA (s erts) Mobile has clearly tried to faithfully translate the experience, but as with any translation, no perfect one-to-one relationship can exist. What does come through, however, is definitely worth looking at.
Graphics & Audio
Perhaps just to make me sad, EA chose not to go with live action mission briefings for this installment of the series, opting instead to brief you with static cartoon images and scrollable text. It’s not nearly as pleasant as hammy acting, but it does get the job done and prepare you adequately for the in-game action.
In-game graphics look great, and are probably a bit of an improvement over their original counterparts in the PC version. Units are clearly distinguishable from one another, animations are smooth, and the visual special effects look good. My sole complaint for the in-game look of things is that units can tend to stack, which renders some of them invisible. It’s confusing and can hamper effective unit management.
Sound is good, with music from Red Alert 3, which is the latest game in the series for the PC and consoles. In-game voices are well-recorded and clear, as are most sound effects. Again, the lack of audio in briefings and other between-action components is a little disappointing, but not terribly so.
As with any real-time strategy port for the iPhone, the key to enjoyable gameplay lies in making sure the controls are well-designed and intuitive. This can be particularly challenging even when porting RTS games to consoles from the PC, so EA has its work cut out for it with Command & Conquer on the iPhone.
Selecting and commanding individual units on the iPhone is simple enough. You touch a unit to select it, and touch somewhere else to tell it where to go or what to attack. To select multiple units, you have to activate a selection tool by clicking an icon in the lower left-hand corner. At first it wasn’t clear (I hadn’t reached that part in the tutorial yet) and I tried tapping and dragging and two-finger pinch and zoom type gestures.
Once you have selected a group of units, though, you can assign them to a command group using another icon at the lower left of the screen. This assigns them to one of three slots on the left, and allows you to re-select that group at any time with a simple tap. It’s the saving grace of the game, control-wise, and I wish there were more than three spots available to assign unit groups to.
The campaigns are fun, and not too challenging. There is both a Soviet and an Allied campaign, each of which contains five chapters, and there’s a skirmish mode with customizable starting resources and different maps, which really adds to the replay value of the game.
All told, EA Mobile does a great job skirting the limitations of the iPhone’s controls, and provides ample gameplay while still retaining a fairly casual feel, so that you can pick it up and put it down as necessary between meetings or while commuting.
For an iPhone game, Command & Conquer: Red Alert feels polished and professional, but it leaves me wanting something more. I can’t help but yearn for the easier controls and richer storyline and gameplay of the PC version, which may in fact be what EA was intending. Perhaps the iPhone game is meant as a sort of teaser demo to attract new customers to the PC/console line. Either way, despite solid gameplay, Red Alert left me underwhelmed. I’d wait for the inevitable price drop to $6.99 or less before picking this one up.