App Reviewed on: iPad Air 2
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Art of War: Red Tides is a game that tries to bring battles of epic proportions to mobile. It's a real-time strategy multiplayer game that pits up to three players on either side of a battlefield, where hundreds of units can duke it out for supremacy. With such a large scale, Red Tides does a pretty good job of keeping all of the action manageable and strategic, but only if you're willing to dig deep into unit descriptions and put up with some significant technical issues.
Red Tides's brand of strategy feels a bit like competitive tower defense. Each team has a base and series of towers they must protect, and to do so they need to pump out waves of units that eventually meet and clash on the field of battle. Players can't simply spam out units though. Troops can only deploy at set intervals, and you need to manage the resources you have to build a troop composition that you think will beat your opponent's. In doing so, you can press down the battlefield to eventually destroy the enemy base.
This kind of gameplay isn't completely unheard of on mobile, but it is quite the departure from a more traditional real-time strategy game. In Red Tides, your units move around automatically, and your main focus of the player is determining their composition. You also get a limited set of commands you can issue at various times throughout battles and some active abilities for select units to deploy at strategic points. For the most part though, the game is focused on having you counterbuild your opponent.
It seems like the main selling point of Red Tides is simply how big its battles can get. In a 3v3 game, the battlefield can get crowded with up to 220 units fighting simultaneously. To keep this from turning into a homogenized mess, Red Tides sports three different factions, all of whom have their own sets of units and aesthetics that players create their own unique army combinations.
These different units also serve the purpose of creating strategic depth in Red Tides. Not every unit simply moves forward and attacks things. There are support units, aerial troops, glass cannons, and all sorts of other unit archetypes, and building the right mix of all these troops can spell the difference between victory and defeat.
Red Tides certainly seems capable of providing a fun and deep strategic experience, but only for those that are extremely dedicated to it. The game doesn't have a great tutorial, and a lot of the best information about units and army compositions is hidden in odd menus and dialogue prompts. On top of this, the game's Command Academy mode, which seems to exist to teach players some key strategies to the game, locks its missions behind level requirements, which forces players to play a whole lot of matches where they don't know what they're doing in order to learn some of the game's finer points.
To make matters even worse, Red Tides is a horribly unstable game. Even when playing it on the lowest graphical settings on a completely stable wifi signal, the game is prone to hard crashes out to your home screen. If this happens in the middle of a multiplayer match, re-opening the app can put you right back in the action, but the fact that the game crashes so regularly is inexcusable.
The bottom line
Art of War: Red Tides has just about everything it needs to make a satisfying strategy game full of epic battling. It just so happens that it also has some significant issues that make understanding and playing the game much, much harder than it should be. It's my hope that Red Tides fixes its stability issues with a patch in the near future, but simply fixing those technical issues still leaves you with a game that isn't very good a teaching you how it works.