Sunday, July 15, 2007

PC: Supreme Commander Review

I fondly remember playing a real-time strategy game known as Total Annihilation back in the late 1990s. It was highly innovative and was one of the first 3D RTS games created and what fun times it brought. Sadly, there was no sequel (not counting the expansions). Some of my other favorite RTSes of the time like Command & Conquer, Warcraft and Dark Reign got theirs (still no Starcraft 2…). But Chris Taylor is back and he promises us a ‘spiritual successor’ to Total Annihilation known as Supreme Commander. Is it worthy of such an honorable title? Read on and find out.

Supreme Commander takes place in the future where humanity is fighting an ‘Infinite War’ spanning many millennia. You can play as any of the three factions: your modern-day revamped military, the United Earth Federation, the technologically advanced jihadist fanatics known as the Aeon Illuminate and your freedom fighting cyborgs known as the Cybran Nation. Although don’t expect much variety between factions such as Starcraft’s Protoss, Zerg and Terran factions.

The difference between each side is mostly cosmetic but there are some key differences. The Aeons have a superior navy and rely on attack power; the Cybrans can build quickly and cheaply and can use stealth technology, allowing for quick and undetected rushes. The UEF is a mix of the two. But the main difference between each side is their ‘experimental units’. These units vary from submersible aircraft carriers, hulking killer robots, behemoth gunships and more. Unfortunately, these units are very expensive and time consuming to build. But once they are built, it will take an entire army to bring these bad-boys down.

Supreme Commander is definitely a thinking-man’s game. You must always be aware of both your economy and what’s going on. Early on you must decide whether to focus on rushing, defending or slowly building up a powerful army. Your enemy could easily annihilate you early on with a squadron of bombers or dozens of cheap and quick units.

The main focus of the game is on your Armored Command Unit (ACU), a humongous construction unit and the first thing you will start out with. This unit appears early on in a dramatic explosion and must be kept alive. Losing your ACU may end the game or may destroy your entire base. When an ACU is destroyed, it blows up like a thermonuclear bomb, spelling doom for your enemies or yourself. Luckily, they can repair themselves and they can upgrade to utilize special abilities, such as the ability to cast a shield on themselves, stealth, better building speeds, more building schematics, and more. Unfortunately, this takes a LOT of Energy.

The economy is very difficult to manage. There are two main resources: Mass and Energy. Mass is gathered from salvaging the surrounding environment, building Energy to Mass converters or building upon the actual resource. Energy is gathered from building power generators near your base. It is fairly easy to run out of either resource, especially Energy, for you need to quickly build up your base, defenses and army to survive early rushes. Once you run out of a particular resource, it is very hard to recover as everything is slowed down and it will make you vulnerable to attack. This is why it is imperative to decide on what you should focus on early in the game.

Supreme Commander introduces a great and innovative interface. You can zoom all the way out and into a strategic map of the battlefield where you can still command your units and when you put your cursor over a point of interest, you can zoom down on it. I no longer found my self side-scrolling and I would hate to play any RTS game that doesn’t include this feature.

You can queue up just about any order by holding down the shift key. So after your selected unit finishes his first order, he would go right away to the second. This makes it much easier to manage your army, especially an army that can be as much as 500 units.

You can also change where your main ‘action bar’ should be positioned (left, down or right of your screen) and a first for RTS games: the ability to use two monitors. You can delegate one monitor to portray a map of the battlefield or you can position it as a secondary camera on a place of interest, such as your base or a hot-spot, whilst you use the other monitor for everything else.

Of course, such a feature will require a good video card that can play the game without a hitch (and not just the min). If you want to play it even better, you should have two video cards installed. Unfortunately, this game doesn’t look kindly on 4 or even 2 year old computers. A fast processor is a must, preferably a Core 2 Duo.

The game is very lengthy and a scrimmage will usually last a good three hours. This game is very exhilarating with explosions everywhere… a pyrotechnics dream. But be prepared to invest on a computer upgrade if you wish to enjoy SupCom.

Gameplay: 9/10 – It plays like an improved version of Total Annihilation. If you aren’t a fan of thinking-man RTSes and you prefer brawns over brains, then this isn’t the game for you.

Graphics: 9/10 – Picture nuclear explosions on the horizon, silhouetting your 5-story tall robots as they mass-murder the hapless infantry below. But beware you poor unfortunate souls with old computers… don’t expect to be able to run the game properly, if at all.

Music: 9/10 – I love the music but that’s just personal taste. ^^

Sound: 7/10 – Nothing special.

Replay Value: 8/10 – Very fun, single-player scrimmages, multiplayer (although not many online), a very long campaign playable from all three factions and addictive gameplay.

Overall: 42/50 = 8/10

Supreme Commander is a worthy successor to Total Annihilation and will be one of my top 10 games of 2007 for sure. Of course, if you prefer the RTS where you just build up a base, get as many units as possible and charge your enemy… then this isn’t a game for you.

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