In Full Command
Historically, real-time strategy (RTS) games and consoles have been like oil and water; they don’t tend to mix very well. This is largely due to balancing and gameplay issues that arise as a direct result of not having the ability to use mouse and keyboard controls to play them. Instead, the complex controls required to handle an RTS experience are often oversimplified and/or broken in order to try to make them work with a controller. Either that or they are almost completely unmanageable due to the variety and complexity of commands that the developers try to pack into a controller that clearly isn’t meant to handle them. Thankfully, Supreme Commander 2’s control scheme manages to find a happy medium with its control scheme while also being a much more playable game than its predecessor.
While the previous Supreme Commander was loved on the PC, it was virtually an unplayable mess on the Xbox 360. A plethora of technical and control issues plagued the port, leaving many disappointed and doubtful about future console entries in the series. I’m happy to say, Supreme Commander 2 should definitely alleviate any fears that fans may have. Most notably, no matter what is going on on-screen, how many units you are controlling, and how you are viewing the game it continues to run at a consistent framerate; no horrible chugging or freezing to be found here.
The controls are also, surprisingly, quite good, being easy enough to use for beginners and newcomers while also supporting the complexity needed for more advanced players. For example, something that console RTS games typically have problems with is in selecting and sorting your forces. In Supreme Commander 2 players can select a single unit by pressing the A button or double tap it to select all units of the same type. It is also possible to hold down the A button to create a selection ring that can be drug over whichever units you’d like to control as a group. And when you’re making that last run on an opponent, you can also use the select all on-screen units command, by pressing the right bumper, in order to grab all of your forces for that final all-out push. Managing your forces, no matter how many fronts you are currently engaged on, works unexpectedly well and lays the foundation for this very enjoyable console RTS experience.
Another aspect that really makes managing several battlefields at the same time feasible is this game’s camera controls. As you’d expect in almost any RTS game at this point, you are able to move the camera around the battlefield using the left analog stick, while also being able to rotate the camera with the right stick. However, what you may not expect is this game’s strategic zoom feature, which is another major reason this game plays so well.
Pressing up on the right analog stick is used in order to zoom in incredibly closely on units, structures, or anything else you may want a closer view of. Holding down on the same stick will pull the camera out to the point where the entire map will be visible. In this view you are still able to keep track of units, structures, and your foes as they are all still displayed, and even conveniently numbered in the case of your grouped units, giving you a great strategic view from which to launch attacks on multiple fronts. Players can also use any view point in between, not being limited to just close-ups or distant views, and zoom in and out at will. Because of this, being able to see what is going on anywhere on the battlefield is never an issue.
Supreme Commander 2’s single-player campaign is fairly lengthy, coming in at eighteen missions. During the course of the campaign you’ll play as three different factions, at six missions apiece. While there definitely are some differences between playing as the United Earth Federation (UEF), Illuminate, or the Cybran Nation, they all still feel rather similar. Some of the units or their abilities may be slightly different but, for the most part, they are almost indistinguishable. While the many similarities do make switching between these three factions seem largely unnecessary, it doesn’t really detract from the game. At least it seems much easier to get the hang of playing as each faction since they are largely the same. Still, once you fully learn the ins and outs of each faction, it is possible to find certain nuances that will make you favor some above others.
While the single-player campaign is fairly enjoyable to play through, it mostly just serves as a story-driven tutorial for learning how to play the game. The early missions for each faction are little more than basic introductions to the different structures and units you’ll need early on as well as how to collect resources and spend research points. The economy of this game relies mainly on two resources: mass and energy. Energy is gained by building energy stations anywhere on the map, while mass collectors can only be built upon specific nodes. Seeking out these nodes and defending your mass collectors serves as the driving force behind many of your missions, as it is nearly impossible to collect enough mass from just the nodes nearby your starting point.
As you successfully dispatch enemies and build more research facilities, you’ll also gain research points. These points are used to basically level up your various units and structures as well as open up new build options. This is done through a series of tech trees such as land, air, structures, etc., which helps to improve your existing units as well as soon to be produced ones. Early upgrades will consist of things like adding a percentage of damage to attacks, making units and structures less vulnerable to damage and even improving attack range. However, as you progress to later upgrades on the tree, you’ll uncover major benefits such as shields, regeneration, and even experimental units. If you heavily focus on gaining research points, it is entirely possible to get to these massive and powerful experimental units fairly quickly. While this may feel a little cheap since experimental units can help to swing most battles in your favor, having an enormous mech stomping through an enemy’s base gunning down everything in sight is also incredibly hilarious and rewarding.
Once you’ve gotten through the single-player campaign and have a decent grasp of your build and research progressions, you’ll want to move on to Supreme Commander 2’s skirmish and multiplayer modes. Skirmish will allow you to continue to practice against a computer opponent without having to worry about hitting certain checkpoints like in the single-player. However, online multiplayer is likely where you’ll spend most of your time with this game, challenging human opponents who will provide much more resistance than the fairly lenient A.I. foes. Online multiplayer runs just as well as the single-player and has a host of decently sized maps on which to do battle. The only slight letdown here is that it only supports up to four players.
While it can generally be easy to write off a console RTS, Supreme Commander 2 on the Xbox 360 is a surprisingly great title. The controls work much better than you’d expect, the build mechanics have been simplified to help new players get into it while still maintaining a good amount of depth for more experienced players, it looks good and runs immeasurably better than its predecessor. If you’re looking for an RTS to play on a console, Supreme Commander 2 is definitely one of the few good options available to you.
RATING OUT OF 5 RATING DESCRIPTION 4.0 Graphics
While you’ll probably spend much of your time with the camera pulled out, the game still looks great when zoomed in fully too. 4.3 Control
Using a controller to play an RTS certainly isn’t ideal, but this game does a great job of making you feel totally in control while also not overly complicating things. 3.8 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
The music and sound effects are decent, but the dialogue can be rather cheesy much of the time. 4.1 Play Value
The single-player campaign is fun and functions as a good tutorial, and the skirmish mode can help you further practice your skills, but the majority of your time with this game should, and probably will, be spent playing the enjoyable online multiplayer. 4.1 Overall Rating – Great
Not an average. See Rating legend above for a final score breakdown.