Supreme Commander Review
|Developer:||Gas Powered Games|
|Genre:||Real Time Strategy|
|Release Date:||February 16th, 2006 (UK)|
|Reviewer:||Craig Dudley (Mani)|
It's hard to talk about Supreme Commander without at least mentioning Total Annihilation, Chris Taylor's last foray into the RTS world (we'll conveniently forget about Total Annihilation: Kingdoms). Supreme Commander is indeed touted as Total Annihilation's spiritual successor; in fact the two games are so obviously alike that had Gas Powered Games decided to keep the storyline from TA they could easily have called this game Total Annihilation 2.
Supreme Commander takes place in a future where mankind has colonised the galaxy and subsequently splintered into three factions; the United Earth Federation, the Cybran Nation and the Aeon Illuminate. The UEF is what you might expect, an organisation hell bent on reuniting the human race under their control with Earth as its core. The Cybran Nation are a group of humans augmented by technology, many of which are still enslaved by the UEF using a pacifying loyalty program. And finally, the Aeon Illuminate are a bunch of religious fruit-cakes following something called 'The Way' - which was taught to them by a race known as the Seraphim before xenophobic humans killed them all. The three factions have been involved in what's termed the 'Infinite War' for a thousand years and it will be your task in each of the campaigns to end the Infinite War, if that's even feasible.
In many ways Supreme Commander is a very traditional RTS; it plays in much the same way as Total Annihilation did many years ago and indeed it has much the same art style and a very similar mix of units. There are however important differences, Strategic Zoom being the biggest - how many times have you played an RTS and wished that you could zoom out just that little bit further? I know I have in almost every RTS I've ever played, and Supreme Commander has granted that wish in the extreme. Strategic Zoom allows you to zoom all the way out to see the entire battle space (at which point all visible units are coloured shapes with symbols in the middle) and then zoom right back in to micro-manage your units and structures, and it really is revolutionary. Not only does it bring strategic planning in an RTS game to a whole new level, but it becomes a really easy way of navigating the maps as the zoom constantly follows your mouse pointer even whilst it's moving.
RTS games have used way-points for years, as ways to control the paths your units follow when patrolling for example, but Supreme Commander takes this a little bit further by adding coordinated attacks. Ordering a few groups of units to attack the same target will give you the option of shift-double clicking when you attack with all groups other than the first to order a coordinated strike. With a unit limit of 1000 that can get a little messy, but messy in a very cool way of course.
Controlling your robotic army is for the most part simple, despite having so much to do and manage it's all very natural to an experienced RTS gamer - even potentially complex tasks like moving large groups of units 20km via air transport can be accomplished in a number of ways with a little bit of knowledge and a few simple mouse clicks. That's a job you will need a fair bit as some of the maps are immense, even though your commander has twenty metre legs you're not going to want him walking twenty kilometres when he could be doing something much more useful, like building nuclear weapons.
Each of the three campaigns has six missions which might not sound that many, but when you consider that each mission will usually start in a confined area with a fairly easy objective, and then expand at least once, you soon end up with multiple goals on a huge map. Each of these missions will take between ninety minutes and four hours or more to complete, so we probably have at least thirty hours of single player game-play here. Excellent value indeed, if you can stop yourself playing long enough to eat and sleep it might last a few weeks of gaming - and that was just medium skill level.
Second monitor support is again something that's new for an RTS game, somewhat odd given that the interfaces used in such games lend themselves to multiple screens so easily. Unfortunately I haven't been able to try it out as my second screen is currently dead, but having played with the included split screen mode I can only imagine it enhances the experience even more.
With all the eye candy turned on and the quality settings maxed Supreme Commander is a beautiful game to look at, it will however make all but the very latest hardware sweat. Fortunately, there are plenty of quality settings and it will run just fine on most mid-range PC's if you're prepared to sacrifice a bit of visual fidelity. To be perfectly honest I spent most of my time zoomed all the way out in Strategic Zoom looking at multi-coloured dots, and performance is never an issue there.
Mods were one of the many reasons Total Annihilation was played for so many years by its fans, and Supreme Commander is promising to continue that legacy and be the most mod-able RTS game ever. Quite what that means for you and me in the future is unclear but at the very least I expect we'll see lots of third party units and structures, maybe even new single player campaigns, who knows.
Of course, Supreme Commander has skirmish mode games and multi-player, and in many ways this is where the game comes into its own. The sheer number of potential strategies makes for a varied and involved challenge almost every time. The skirmish AI isn't bad either; play the computer on supreme skill level and you're in for a test for sure, it builds so much stuff so quickly that I was convinced it was cheating for a while. As ever with an RTS, the choice is either to spend all your resources on hundreds of cheap units in the hope of overwhelming your opponent's defences or to try and fend them off whilst you reach the highest tech level and deploy some super weapons. I've always been the defensive type of player myself, and it doesn't work that well against the AI, which manages to constantly probe your defences, and still deploy the monstrous hulking experimental weapons before you. It really isn't a nice feeling seeing a couple of giant Monkeylord spider-bots striding towards your base cutting giant swathes out of your defensive line with their enormous lasers. That is however, just one of the nine experimental units in the game, there are three per faction and all of them are pretty nasty.
Potentially some of the single player missions can be a bit long, and that might be a bit of a barrier to some people, which would undoubtedly be a shame. The only other negative is performance, while it runs fine on medium settings on all but the biggest of maps; you won't be running it with maximum settings without a PC that costs as much as a decent car.
Having said that, I can't praise Supreme Commander as a game highly enough - I loved the single player campaign and really enjoy playing skirmish matches, although I seem to have the knack of getting my ass handed to me on a plate while playing most other humans. If you then consider the fact that you can pick Supreme Commander up for a penny less than twenty five pounds at most of the large on-line retailers and you have a must buy title for anyone who likes RTS games.
- Wide range of units and structures
- Lots of strategy options
- Strategic Zoom is incredible
- Easy to control
- Highly addictive
- Multiple monitor support
Not so good stuff
- Lower end PC's will struggle to run it
- Campaign missions will be too long for some