Command & Conquer: Red Alert (iPad)

Red Alert. The classic follow up to arguably one of the most important RTS games of all time - Command & Conquer. Thanks to some mad science by Albert Einstein, the fate of the world was changed, bringing the mighty Russians to the forefront as a world power. War ensued. Basically the original kicked all kinds of ass and is widely remembered as a fantastic extension of the C&C formula, wrapped up in an ace story to boot.

Nearly fifteen years have passed, however, with the genre growing and changing almost constantly in that intervening time. Does it still stand up? That, as it turns out, is a hard question to answer...

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Unfortunately, Red Alert for iPad is plagued with AI and pathing issues which all but prevent the player from being able to effect any form of strategy (good or bad). Moronic units tremble in fear before a simple bridge, often pacing back and forward trying to find a way across the (unimpeded, wide) "obstacle". Meanwhile your first unit has made it across, where it meets the immobile (and overwhelmingly strong) enemy force head on before being terminated in a thorough (and fiery) fashion. One by one your idiot force will meander into the trap, ultimately allowing an otherwise far superior force to be utterly annihilated.

And there's nothing you can do about it.

It's also (mostly) seriously hard, with the designers paying no heed to the difficulty increase that the incomprehensibly stupid AI applies: the enemy attack you relentlessly, bombarding you with attacks from multiple sides, all but absorbing your manufacturing and resource gathering capability. Be prepared to fail multiple times on the first level as the utterly unforgiving difficulty laughs you off the map time and again - only to find that the second level, featuring a lone Tanya against the entire Russian Army, is almost laughably simple.

Think you're a match for it? Think again - even if you think you can get past the difficulty and AI problems, you'll need to get there through the user interface. The controls, while far from clever or remarkable, are workable. In theory. The way they're supposed to work mostly makes sense, but that they rarely do when you want them to is inexcusable. Time and again you'll repeatedly be hammering away at the screen trying to get your units or buildings to do what you want them to, only for them to studiously ignore your flagellating.

Graphically, believe it or not, it's actually very good. Units, buildings and terrain are all very reminiscent of the original (albeit in a WarCraft III-like engine) and are each distinctly recognizable from each other. There's none of the wonderful cutscenes of the original, however, and in fact, no real story at all. Just missions with tiny briefings (that will often be continuously bombarded at you for no apparent reason) and, of course, the overwhelming need to push your particular faction's agenda.

Sound isn't as good, with harshly sampled voice clips that frequently stutter or are cut off prematurely. General effects are passable but this is one experience that's better without earphones, which will conceal none of the "blah"-ness by which the audio has been treated.

Ultimately what Red Alert represents is that some games - regardless of presentation - require a certain amount of care, love and attention in order to reach an acceptable quality threshold. That Red Alert has not been lavished with such luxuries is abundantly apparent in nearly every facet of the experience. The only reason its handful of levels per faction don't really warrant a mention in the value discussion is that the game is so hard and so frustrating (for other reasons) it will seem plenty long enough should you struggle through to finish it.

It's a major shame that the game was allowed to come out in this state because it's doing the original title a considerable disservice. Further to that, it may even prove to the bean counters that RTS on iPad is a waste of time - a legacy that this title should not be allowed to earn for the genre. Done right, RTS could be amazing on this platform, but this Red Alert is not even close. For shame.

"Incredibly disappointing"
- Command & Conquer Red Alert (iPad)
Follow Own it? Rating: M   Difficulty: Hard   Learning Curve: 30 Min


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