Massive Scale is Back
Gas Powered Games brought a classic back to life with the original Supreme Commander, spiritual successor to Total Annihilation. Since then, fans have been anticipating the sequel, which they hoped would bring more of the massive-scale RTS gameplay they’ve come to know and love, as well as performance tweaks to make running it as painless as possible. Now, after Forged Alliance, an expansion pack to the original, fans have a true sequel in their hands, but is it everything they hoped it would be?
The current trend in RTS games is to make things simpler; a design philosophy that has already affected other games such as the Dawn of War series. It is also obviously influencing the yet-to-be-released RUSE. With this trend becoming more popular and mainstream, it is no wonder that Supreme Commander 2 was also designed around simplicity.
Unfortunately for the fans, however, Supreme Commander was not a game founded on simplicity – it was a complex RTS featuring multiple tiers of advancement, hundreds of workable strategies, and a surprisingly complex economic system given the game only had two types of resources. For example, players had to connect their energy generators into “webs” to increase the efficiency of their output. Simply creating a huge “web” wasn’t necessarily the best way to go, as having too many would eventually lower the efficiency and make them a target for a well-placed bomb, which would cause a chain reaction, destroying multiple, if not all, the generators that were connected.
The first thing veterans of the original will notice is the simpler approach to the economic system. Generators no longer form “webs” to enhance efficiency. Instead, they function entirely separate from one another and can be placed on opposite sides of the map from each other and still produce the same amount. Players must still collect both Mass and Energy for producing units and making repairs. While these changes make it much easy for casual gamers to enjoy Supreme Commander 2, they also ruin much of the fun for the more diehard ones. You won’t see any forum threads debating the best “webs” of generators for the sequel.
The unit system has also been simplified in Supreme Commander 2. Instead of each unit being upgraded to the next “tier,” units are now upgraded using a research tree. This completely eliminates the need for players to manually upgrade their factories to produce the next tier of units. Instead, units are simply produced with upgrades after they are researched. Research points are collected gradually and used to unlock specific upgrades and abilities. Players can increase the rate at which they get research points by building research laboratories. While the research system is very different from the tiered system in the original, the gameplay repercussions remain relatively the same. Essentially, players will have to find a balance between researching and building, which is exactly what they had to do with the tiered system, although it was more complex.
Aside from the gameplay changes, Supreme Commander 2 does share one major thing in common with its predecessor, and that’s a weak single-player campaign. Science fiction stories are difficult to convey in video games without falling into cliché, and Supreme Commander 2 managed to find the bottomless pit. Granted, the original game’s single-player campaign wasn’t filled with riveting dialogue, intriguing and deep characters, or out-of-nowhere plot twists, so veterans will be happy to know you’re getting much of the same.
Here’s the plot. Three factions, who were enjoying a time of peace and unification after thousands of years of war, are suddenly at it again. You play the role of three different main characters; each of them belonging to a different faction and each of them have their own reasons for fighting. Unfortunately, the story doesn’t do a very good job of convincing you of why things are unfolding the way they are. The plot does attempt to reach the player on a personal level by introducing you to the main characters’ families, but there isn’t any emotion.
The poor story isn’t done any favors by the mostly terrible voice acting in combination with badly written dialogue. I’ve never heard anyone say, “What have you done?” with less emotion than the main character after watching a nuclear warhead decimate a city of civilians.
The gameplay in single-player doesn’t really bring anything you can’t get from the Skirmish mode. There are a few defensive maps, requiring you to hold out against wave after wave of enemy forces. There is even a defense tower type of level where the player must capture turrets and build defenses to bombard a naval force that attempts to pass through a narrow inlet. In the end, Supreme Commander 2’s single-player campaign just seems very slapped together and incoherent. But, thinking back, so was the original’s, but that was never intended to be the game’s selling point.
Visually, Supreme Commander 2 isn’t much of an upgrade, considering the original was graphically intense for 2007. Many people have difficulty getting their PCs to run the game on its highest settings. Thankfully, Gas Powered Games has managed to improve the running performance of the sequel. I was able to run the game with all of the settings maxed. Of course, I wasn’t able to compare the two games to see which one sports the better visuals, so there is a possibility that some visuals were sacrificed for the sake of performance.
While it is impressive that a game can render so many units at once across such large battlefields, I can’t help but think the battlefield environments look muddy, lack detail, and have no character. The terrain, aside from a few trees, craters, and wreckage, is mostly bare, and while players probably won’t have time to sit and enjoy the views that much, it would have been nice to feel like the environments had some modicum of personality. The units and animations don’t appear to be much different from the original at all, and they are mostly good.
The controls remain nearly unchanged from the original. Selecting units and issuing orders is still just as easy as it always has been. However, it is a little difficult to arrange your units on the battlefield, as this wasn’t covered at all in the tutorial mission. Zooming all the way out still gives you the tactical view, where all the units you can see show up as colored icons, representing what type of unit they are and who they belong to. Considering the controls of the original were top-notch for an RTS, there isn’t any wonder they’ve remained the same here.
The multiplayer game also introduces veterans to new territory as it now involves Valve’s Steam community. Interestingly, I find it to be an improvement over what Supreme Commander used for its online lobby/leaderboard system, as I can remember the headaches involved with trying to connect to other players. Interestingly, however, the first time I connected to find an available game, I was amazed to only find 16 different games that I could join. I’m not sure how developed the online community is for Supreme Commander 2, but if the number of available games is any indication, it should be taken into consideration if you’re a gamer with competitive multiplayer mind.
Along with the Steam integration comes a variety of other non-essential goodies like unlocks, which players will get for completing specific types of objectives. Of course, they are nothing more than virtual trophies and have no real impact on the gameplay.
Supreme Commander 2 was a sequel long-anticipated by fans. Unfortunately, most of them who prefer the complex gameplay style of the original will be disappointed. This sequel is very much an RTS hoping to capture a larger audience by introducing simpler gameplay elements. For newcomers to the series who were originally turned off by the series’ high learning curve, this may be your opportunity to jump in and see what massive-scale RTS is all about. Unfortunately, if you’re a veteran who isn’t sure, trying a demo is the way to go.
RATING OUT OF 5 RATING DESCRIPTION 3.0 Graphics
The aging visuals aren’t helped by the lifeless environments, although the increase in performance is both noticeable and welcome. 3.5 Control
Standard RTS controls remained unchanged from the original, which is a good thing. 2.5 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
The music provides nostalgic moments while the voice acting is too terrible to even laugh at. 3.0 Play Value
Simplified gameplay can be hit or miss, while Steam integration and leaderboards for the multiplayer are a welcome addition. The single-player campaign remains very weak. 3.0 Overall Rating – Fair
Not an average. See Rating legend above for a final score breakdown.