Like the use of the vocoder in pop music, or the presence of a story in Hollywood films, the real-time strategy genre is a once-popular fad that has been replace by cooler, younger upstarts.
Namely, tower defence. Perfectly suited to the touchscreen and accessible to the casual gamer, its simpler take on strategy has supported a strategic iPhone uprising.
Stragea looks to redress the balance, placing a simplified real-time strategy experience at your fingertips. The trouble is, while it ticks all the major boxes for what makes a real-time strategy game, it misses all of the nuances that make a good real-time strategy game.
The setting for Stragea is wholly high fantasy, with you taking control of a powerful sorcerer, the Archon, in an effort to create an all-conquering army with which to vanquish your rivals. You start by building a crystal mine in order to fund your warmongering, which then opens up the possibility of constructing both offensive and defensive units.
This branching structure allows you to go from simple soldiers and watchtowers to catapults and cavalry, and then on to the uber-powerful (and uber-expensive) sorceress and dragon units. Each of these units can be selected and moved with a few touches of the screen, automatically attacking anything within range.
While this automated approach frees you up to concentrate on unit development, it does so at the expense of any kind of strategic scope. As soon as your units get a sniff of an enemy unit they're off like greyhounds, taking the most direct path possible to their target.
Any lofty ideas of pincer movements or decoy runs are dashed, particularly as the maps are so small, with your enemies only ever a few seconds away.
This has a knock-on effect of dictating your approach to battles. The only real choice you have is to rush enemies with a glut of units. This means a digital arms race to build as many powerful units as possible (the catapults being the tank equivalent here) and storming your opponent's base in one decisive blitz. Subtle it ain't.
There's not even much judgment involved when it comes to deciding how big you should make your attacking force, with a fairly modest limit of 17 units allowed at any one time. You just keep churning out the units until you reach the limit, then set off on your offensive.
The presentation is similarly simplistic. It looks something like a 'My First RTS,' with chunky little soldiers and cute flapping dragons hacking away at each other. It's pleasant enough, but rather crude and lacking in wow factor.
Regardless of this stripped back approach, though, the controls often feel clunky and frustrating. It feels as if there's always one too many screens to sift through for anything to be done.
Building a unit with the Archon, for example, means selecting him, then the build icon, then the unit you want, then selecting the build icon again before finally touching on the area you want the unit to go. It's not ideal when you're being attacked and need to build an extra defensive tower, sharpish.
Stragea reverts to the stripped-back approach when it comes to its campaign, which offers a meagre eight missions. As the game itself admits upon completion, this is really just a tutorial mode, but where other games might offer a sizeable campaign to follow on Stragea simply unlocks a Battle mode for you.
This is effectively a skirmish or quick game mode where you get to decide the location, number of opposing armies and whether you want fog of war turned on or off. Then it's on to a one-off battle with no wider significance within the game's mediaeval universe.Stragea is a laudable attempt to reinvigorate real-time strategy on iPhone. Unfortunately, it lacks the strategic depth, seamless interface and sheer level of content required to pull your attention away from even the most average of tower defense games.