From the time immemorial (or at least since the early eighties, which in the world of video games basically amounts to the same thing) real-time strategies have been one of the most popular genres. The secret behind their meteoric success and longevity lies in the ingenuity of their format, which combines a complex tactical component of the turn-based strategies with the more immediate approach. This real-time factor transformed what was essentially an elitist genre, and brought it closer to the wider audience. Another great thing about RTS games is that they often go beyond the strict confines of their own genre, and borrow elements from other game types, which over time had resulted in some pretty interesting hybrids, as can be seen from hits such as Warcraft 3, StarCraft and Spellforce.
The situation on mobile devices is a bit more complex, though. Although smartphones may seem like an unlikely choice for an average RTS buff, there is actually a booming real-time strategy scene on mobile platforms. Of course, besides visual aspects, game mechanics, story and all other things that make a great RTS title, mobile developers must deal with some objective technical limitations of the mobile medium, and always be on the lookout for the most effective control system. All these criteria must be taken into consideration when deciding which are the very best RTS games. In no particular order, these are our top five picks for the best mobile RTS games, the cream of the crop of the mobile genre.
Iron Marines by Ironhide had been frequently dubbed as StarCraft for mobile devices, and it isn’t really difficult to see why. Imagine a cartoonish version of BIizzard’s hit, complete with cute character design and glitzy, almost iridescent color pallet, and you’ll have a pretty good notion about how Iron Marines look and feel. This game also shares a number of other similarities with its role-model, including the presence of heroes equipped with their own array of powers and game-changing special abilities which can be unlocked through the surprisingly well-developed skill tree.
As for the gameplay, you’ll get to build your base, expand your territory, harvest resources, and train units that range from humble space jarheads to the heavy mech behemoths with awesome destructive potential. However, Iron Marines also shows a marked influence of tower defense games, which shouldn’t come as a surprise because Ironhide’s previous game, Kingdom Rush, belongs exactly to that genre. A word of warning: if you decide to give Iron Marines a shot, don’t let the cute visuals fool you – the game can be brutal and challenging to the point of frustration.
Total War Battles: Kingdom
In case that you had previously doubted it, Total War Battles: Kingdom will provide you with ample proof that ambitious PC and console games can work perfectly on mobile platforms. Although some of its aspects may seem a bit diluted in comparison to other games from the Total War series, this transition had gone remarkably well and mobile players received an epic title that successfully recreates the life and duties of a medieval lord. That means that you’ll get to manage your estates, build the necessary infrastructure, develop an economy, govern your subjects and do all those unglamorous things that were frequently left out from medieval chronicles.
Of course, when the time comes, you’ll wage war against your enemies, and you’ll do it in the recognizable style of Total War games, through massive, realistic and beautifully rendered real-time combats. Another nifty bonus feature of Total War Battles: Kingdom is that it allows you to play the game simultaneously on a variety of devices, from PC, through tablets, to mobile devices. How’s that for cross-communication between platforms?
Anomaly will probably be always remembered as the groundbreaking game that reversed the established concept of tower defense games and displaced players from their familiar role of defenders into that of attackers. Its sequel Anomaly 2 continues with this “tower offense” idea and upgrades it with improved game mechanics, a new range of units, and fresh visuals that are even more appealing than that of its predecessor.
However, the biggest novelty is that units (which are created as a part of the Shockwave project in a desperate attempt to repel alien invaders) are now endowed with morphing abilities. Obviously, this opens up a plethora of fresh tactical possibilities, because each unit has its unique alternative form, with different combat capabilities. You’ll constantly be forced to morph your vehicles in order to adapt them to the current combat situation. That elevates this deceptively simple concept into one of the most exciting RTS experiences in recent history.
This is a game that, at the first glance, shouldn’t be featured on our list. However, although it’s mostly branded as a simulation game, at Plague Inc. everything happens in real-time, which conveniently qualifies it as one of those thought-provoking genre mixes we’ve mentioned before. Now, have you ever played Matt Leacock’s famous board game Pandemic where you rush in a desperate attempt to rid the world of four deadly diseases? Well, Plague Inc. is the total opposite – instead of an altruistic struggle for the salvation of humanity, you’ll get to manipulate a wide array of bacteria, viruses, fungi and other lethal pathogens for the sole purpose of wiping us out from the face of the Earth.
The whole game is obviously done by someone with a thorough understanding of health and sanitation protocols, as well as how the epidemics function. You’ll choose a country and a first victim of your plague and then watch as it spreads across the globe (in real-time, of course). You’ll be awarded DNA points over time, which you’ll use to evolve your disease and make it even more efficient. Although its premise is rather morbid, this game by Miniclip has extremely infectious gameplay, if you don’t mind our pun.
Art of War 3: Global Conflict
Finally, Art of War 3: Global Conflict is a recent title that managed to develop the concept of classic real-time strategy to a perfection. With two distinct, yet flawlessly counterbalanced factions, each with its exclusive units, structures, and playstyles, Art of War 3 consciously recalls legends of the RTS genre such as C&C and Red Alert. In addition to two gargantuan single-player campaigns that unfold the global conflict from the perspectives of the opposing factions, you’ll also have the opportunity to engage in a number of multiplayer events such as PvP, Tournament, and Skirmish.
Another reason why Art of War 3 deserves a mention on a list such as this, is that its controls are perfectly optimized for mobile phones – you’ll issue complex orders to your units using a clever control system that involves the combination of designated icons and standard tapping and swiping mechanics. The result is a totally immersive and fluid experience that does credit to the RTS icons of old.
Now, although each title that we’ve showcased here totally deserves its high placing, our list isn’t definite. The field of RTS games is dynamic and the situation can change in the blink of an eye. Pretty much the only thing that we can be sure about is that there’s a host of high-quality RTS games out there that merit your attention, and that they’ll continue to appear on a regular basis. As for those doom and gloom talks that you can sometimes catch, and which predict the imminent downfall of RTS games…to that we can just say: let the idle tongues wag. In the meantime, the best thing that you can do is to play some of the outstanding RTS gems from our list.