Summary: From Chris Taylor and Gas Powered Games comes Supreme Commander 2. The original was highly praised for its deep RTS elements, but it was known for being system-intensive and didn't have the easiest learning curve for gamers new to the RTS scene. To widen the game's audience, GPG has implemented numerous changes with Supreme Commander 2 -- do these tweaks compromise the experience though? Read Vandy's take inside!
From Chris Taylor and Gas Powered Games comes the highly-anticipated Supreme Commander 2, sequel to 2007’s RTS of epic proportions. It seems attempts were made to inject more of a story into this title, which sees you taking on the role of distinguished commanders from each of the three factions as the Coalition falls apart around them. However, between the abysmal writing, juvenile dialogue, and uninspired performances, none of it made a lick of sense to me. For instance, a mission that was also shown in the demo depicts UEF commander Maddox defying orders:
CO: The Illuminate are terrorist scum! We’re going to destroy a civilian colony of theirs to teach them a lesson.
Maddox: Sir, my wife is there. She’s Illuminate…
CO: What!? You’re fired!
Maddox: Nuh uh! You’re not the boss of me!
CO: Grr! You’re public enemy number one, and we’ll hunt you down!
I’m paraphrasing, of course, but that’s basically what happens. At that point, I checked the “Skip briefing” option, but still endured more contrived plot devices and predictable twists than anyone should ever have to. It’s a good thing nobody plays an RTS for the story, right?
Promising “brutal battles on a massive scale,” SupCom 2 has actually made fundamental changes to the franchise formula, presumably in order to appeal to a wider, more casual audience. Knowing this, it comes as no surprise that it was developed simultaneously for the Xbox 360, rather than being ported to a console more than a year after release on PC, as was the case with the first SupCom. Did that really have an effect on how it turned out, though? Read on!
Resource management and construction has been completely overhauled. Mass and energy are joined by research points, and there is a single medium-sized building capable of producing each of them. The need for storage facilities has been eliminated, so your stockpiles will just grow and grow like in every other RTS. Mass deposits are still in limited quantities, but there is no structure that will autonomously produce it. The solution? Energy-to-mass converters! Yessir, these bad boys will let you spend your gobs of excess energy on small amounts of mass with just a click. With enough power plants and converters (Cybrans have a converter built-in), you will never run out of mass, eliminating the need for mass extractors at all.
In a drastic contrast to the first game’s unique system, SupCom 2 requires you have enough resources to cover the entire cost of a building or unit before you can make it. In other words, you pay up front rather than over time, so you cannot spend what you don’t have. This severely limits your ability to queue up several buildings or units, resulting in unnecessary micromanagement of engineers and factories. Also, only one engineer can work on a building or assist a factory at a time, which is disappointing, but doesn’t really matter since there is nothing that takes more than a couple minutes to construct anyway.
Research trees replace Tech I/II/III with universal upgrades. In response to criticisms that lower-tiered units in SupCom became obsolete and sometimes were never even used, changes were made that allow a basic set to simply become stronger over time. Each branch of the military units – land, air, naval – has its own research tree dedicated to enhancing firepower and survivability, as well as unlocking advanced units and experimentals in that category. Additionally, factories gain veterancy to produce faster, just like units and defenses rank up to become more effective.
While this was a good idea in theory, you lose that sense of advancement that accompanied the production of bigger, stronger units after a time spent advancing the tech level of an individual factory. Experimentals have been re-balanced to replace those upper-tier units, and as a result are weaker and less costly to produce. Rather than ultimate weapons, they’re the new standard in the late-game, able to be cranked out en masse by building multiple experimental factories and each worth only about 10-20 regular units. It’s also easy to unlock them, or any other technology, very quickly by constructing even a modest number of research labs to generate points at a much higher rate than should be possible.
A fancy new pathfinding algorithm treats units as particles in a liquid simulation. Rather than seeing each other as obstacles that must be traversed, they can push each other around and move out of each other’s way. This definitely eliminates the headaches of maneuvering a large force around constricted areas, as they will form up to fit a passage and still remain flexible enough to not get stuck. Sometimes they’ll clip through each other or stick in a solid group that occupies the space of only one or two, but it’s worth it. It’s really cool to see a huge experimental part a sea made up of its tiny allies, but when two giants come head to head, they tend to dance around and delay each other a bit.
The game is much smaller in scope across the board. The population cap is 300 for campaign missions and 500 for skirmish, reduced from 1000 before. Maps are tiny in comparison to those seen in SupCom, where an already huge campaign map would suddenly double in size when you thought you had just cleared it. The only 8-player map is made for a 4 vs. 4 match, with everyone bunched up on either side of a body of water with a strip of land through the middle. The next largest map, a 6-player free-for-all, has everyone confined to a space that takes only a couple minutes for an ACU to walk across. Placing everyone right next door to each other, literally within range of light artillery, is just a crude method of expediting conflict.
Your armored command unit, or ACU, is your physical embodiment on the battlefield and must be protected at all costs. Usually you lose if it is destroyed, a nuclear meltdown ensuring it goes out with a bang, but it is a valuable asset in any case. It builds and repairs faster than an engineer, can give a boost to resource production, will absorb tons of damage when hunkered, and is well-armed. An entire research tree is dedicated to enhancing the ACU’s performance in all of these areas and more.
At the start of a mission, you are given a couple of engineers and sometimes a handful of basic buildings and/or units. Immediately, mass extractors should be constructed on the specified locations; as this is the scarcest resource, it’s important to get it flowing as soon as possible. Next, since I prefer to turtle, I establish a perimeter of point defense turrets while building energy generators and researching structure upgrades.
If you like, you can start with factories and begin creating units right away, in which case you’d want to upgrade them instead, as well as keep the pressure on the enemy with early attacks. You can construct add-ons to factories such as localized shield generators and anti-air turrets, so you won’t be leaving your base completely vulnerable. This is a tactic put to better use in skirmishes, where the opponent(s) do not have a large, prebuilt base.
I found that victory is easily achieved by destroying the enemy from afar with artillery and nukes or by massing bombers to strike high-value targets. In fact, I mostly don’t even bother with land units because they can’t fly past base defenses. A lot of the campaign levels only require you kill opposing commanders, so precision raids simultaneously make the most sense and seem a little cheap.
Although, it’s not possible to pull off the same sort of coordinated strikes you could in the first SupCom, since it no longer shows an ETA on the strategic overlay. It does have an auto-grouping system, though, that will allow the selection of a bunch of units by clicking on a floating circle seen when you’ve zoomed out from the tactical view. This is easier than trying to double-click on a moving unit, and the unit count actually provides a handy way to gauge the strength of your forces at a glance.
Supreme Commander 2 might be the first instance I’ve ever seen of a sequel looking worse than the game that came before it. Everything has been toned down – models are simpler and blockier, textures are less detailed, the volume of particles and sprites has decreased, etc. It’s true that many people had trouble running SupCom at times because of the sheer size of the battles, but hasn’t technology advanced enough in the past few years that they could’ve at least made it look the same?
Newb friendly. It’s more easily accessible for those of you who were intimidated by the original.
Marginalized and generic. This is not a SupCom successor.
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