If Command & Conquer: Red Alert at all mirrors what once was the strategic acumen of the Soviet Union, then it's no wonder they lost the Cold War.
With a great presentation and controls, this ambitious real-time strategy game rushes forward with an eye for easy play over depth. Troublesome path-finding, basic missions, and lack of multiplayer raise an iron curtain between graphics and gameplay, accessibility and complexity.
All of the elements are here for stellar strategy, yet they aren't exploited to the fullest extent. Fantastic controls enable generally good unit selection and grouping, while a smart interface allows you to collapse the mini-map and build menu to clear room on the screen. These strengths, however, are not without flaw.
The camera, which crawls across the map when you flick a finger across the screen, could be better. Then there's crowding that results in several units bunching up into one big indistinguishable mess.
Naturally, it makes selecting individual units difficult at times -however, the ability to create three tabbed groups on the left side of the screen prevents crowding from being a game-killing issue.
A diverse list of infantry, vehicular, and aerial units promotes a range of strategic options. Designed in such a way that each faction has a counterpart to an opposing faction's unit, there are some cool ones on both sides including attack dogs and war bears, Kirov airships and Apollo jet fighters. There are no naval units, sadly.
Red Alert provides few opportunities to actually toy with these units and buildings, though. The two single-player Soviet and Allied campaigns enlist only five missions apiece. Skirmish mode provides another couple of maps (literally, two - you have to purchase additional maps from within the app), but without local multiplayer support it does little to extend the experience.
While local wi-fi and Bluetooth multiplayer are being promised for free in a future update, but they should have been included with the game's initial release. Additionally, all of the single player campaign maps ought to be available in Skirmish mode. It's unacceptable to require an additional purchase for maps that ought to be included with the core package.
The limited number of missions wouldn't be so much an issue if the scenarios were more sophisticated. A few focus entirely on action without any strategy coming into play. Two missions in the Allied campaign, for example, put you in control of one-woman army Tanya, with the objective being to run around the map killing enemy forces.
No base building, no resource management, no units to draft - just tap to shoot enemies patrolling the map. There's absolutely nothing strategic about it.
The other missions are better, even if they are basic. Obliterating the enemy camp is your most frequent task, most easily accomplished by rushing onto the battlefield with a legion of tanks. It's hard to knock Red Alert for keeping with the series' tank rush gameplay, though there's no hiding the imbalance in relation to the other units.
What's more disconcerting is problematic path-finding that leaves you to babysit units into battle. Units regularly get hung up on buildings and terrain, which requires you to spend extra time setting short way points to get them to the destination. It's like herding cattle more than conducting war.
None of these flaws makes Red Alert a horrible game, but they do illustrate the ample room for improvement. This starts down the right path to becoming the definitive iPhone real-time strategy game with its controls and interface. Yet, it's not enough for a game to simply look good and control well - it also has to bring gameplay to bear, not just provide war bears with which to play.