Reviewed: April 23, 2010
Released: April 1, 2010
App Store Price: $12.99
A couple years ago I saw a tech demo for a massive 32Ē touchscreen display situated like a tabletop and running an RTS game. The guy doing the demo was working magic on that screen, tapping and stretching elastic selection boxes ordering units around with an ease that we mouse and keyboard players could only dream of. Well, my iPad might not be 32Ē but it still gives me a taste of this futurist command console gameplay with EAís latest release of Command & Conquer: Red Alert.
Command & Conquer is still going strong after 15 years with releases on next-gen console and even a new PC title that shipped a few weeks ago. Red Alert is an established part of that franchise and rather than redesign an entirely new game for the iPad, EA simply ported over the existing iPhone title and chose to spend their time on interface and gameplay nuances suited to the unique possibilities of the iPadís touch interface and larger screen.
For those whoíve already played Red Alert, much will be familiar starting with your opening faction choices of Soviets, Allies, or Empire of the Rising Sun. You can tackle the massive 15-level campaign mode and lead your faction to global victory or perhaps take on the slightly shorter skirmish modes for when you donít have hours of free time to kill. You can even take the battle online via Wi-Fi or Bluetooth in exciting multiplayer modes that will even interface with an iPhone or iPod Touch.
The iPad offers a few nice exclusives you wonít find on other portable devices including some unbelievable graphics. When I first started playing RTS games back in the 90ís I was lucky to get 1024x768 graphics. Now with PCís boasting 1600x1200 and higher resolutions, the iPad might seem a bit antiquated, but I think these visuals are exceptionally clear and intricately detailed right down to 3D modeling on the units, the lighting and shadows, and especially the lush environmental detail. The cutscenes skip the live video of the console and instead use artistic character panels for conversation and story.
The nuances of the new interface are slowly revealed through the opening tutorial levels that teach you to tap, drag, and select units and move and order them around the levels. It takes a bit of getting used to but by the third mission youíll wonder how you ever played these games with a mouse and keyboard. And for those who canít master the art of the triple-touch selection box, you can always tap the drag button and pick your units the old-fashioned way. As you delve into the more complicated commands the sequences of taps and menus can get a bit convoluted, but honestly, itís still better than any console interface.
A few notable hiccups include a limit on the camera zoom that keeps you a bit too closed in on the action, even at the furthest zoom, and there can be some odd framerate glitches when panning around the more complicated battlefields. But these are minor issues that are far surpassed by the sheer joy of playing a classic RTS using an interface that is perfectly matched for the genre. Red Alert is an admirable first effort for an iPad RTS but they can do better, and I canít wait to see whatís coming next.