The legacy of giant armies of robots continues with Supreme Commander 2. The game introduces some surprising changes in comparison to the original, but is still just as great. More accessibility and huge everything, this real-time strategy game is as exciting as it is tactical.
- Refined, playable, and customizable armies of giant robots
- Looks great, sounds great, and offers up huge battlefields
- Superb online play
- Pathfinding and AI issues
- Graphics are actually downgraded from the original
- Diehard fans of the first game might not like the simplification
Despite its steep learning curve, the original Supreme Commander was thought of as the successor to the great late 90s strategy classic Total Annihilation, with hundreds of giant robots battling for supremacy on a vast playground of destruction. Supreme Commander 2, on the other hand, has a far gentler learning curve, with many key game elements changed or abandoned. For example, there are, as before, two resources to worry about -- mass and energy -- but once you set up collectors for them, you don’t have to spend much time worrying about managing either. Don’t worry, though: Supreme Commander 2 may be easier to get in to, but it’s not easy to conquer.
Research! Research! Research!
One key part of the game is researching new technology, an element that has changed a lot from the original. All three factions have regular, advanced, and experimental technology that can be unlocked as the battle progresses. You’ll earn or find research points during a level, which you use to customize your research path. As the commander, you can choose to investigate ways to increase your intel, health, damage levels, armaments, defenses, and other general stats. One new research item leads to yet another more progressively powerful upgrade, and then the branching system lets you open up a wide variety of different abilities, units, and tactics.
The best parts of the new research queue are the experimentals. These massively powerful juggernaut units are visually impressive, creative, and immensely fun to use. Experimentals include Teleporters, massive squid-like submarines, huge rail guns, nukes, hulking land beasts, and many more are available, with each faction having very different styles of experimental units. Just like the original Supreme Commander, you’ll build scores of units at a time, and these special units can be completely game-changing when used properly.
Let Slip the Bots of War
In the single-player game, all these elements are added gradually in a story-driven, linear campaign. The story adds elements of humanity to otherwise robot-filled battlefields by telling the personal stories of the commanders. It’s an interesting way to push the 18 otherwise standard missions. Each of the three factions has six missions, and since many of them can take an hour or so to complete, there’s a lot of meat for your money. To get the most out of the creative gameplay, single players can individualize the skirmish mode, which lets you battle free of restrictions.
That said, most players will prefer the multiplayer, which is where Supreme Commander 2 exhibits its greatest strength. Where most traditional RTS games tend to force players to a specific build and attack pattern -- inevitably focusing on speed -- here the huge selection of custom research and tactical styles means no two games will be the same. You can focus on stealth and subterfuge, massive frontal assault, strength in defense, or anything in between. Experimental units are easier to build this time around, so you won’t be lacking for epic battles.
Since there are three factions and up to eight players in multiplayer games, the scale of the online battles is enormous. Happily, the maps are perfectly designed to accommodate both the immense fights and a variety of playing styles, as well as the strengths of each faction. Another positive change is the smoother multiplayer interface. Gas Powered Games ditched the less-than-stellar GPGNet matching service, making single and multiplayer games available from the main menu.
One odd difference is that SC2’s visuals are actually a little downgraded. Supreme Commander was beautiful, but a complete hardware hog, which made it difficult to run on not quite top-of-the-line machines. In SC2, some of the advanced lighting and effects have been cut out, and the polygon count on units has been lowered. Those changes are worth it, because the end result is a game that still looks great, while running well on more computers.
Supreme Commander 2 does have some other small issues. Veteran players might not appreciate the simplified gameplay, although most other players will. Also, the enemy AI becomes rather predictable over several games. Unit pathfinding can sometimes be a pain as well, forcing players to babysit squads on the move. Your units may get caught on obstacles and waste time figuring out how to navigate the landscape. None of these are annoying enough to quit the game, but they’re still noticeable.
Some ardent fans of the first game might cry “blasphemy” at Gas Powered Games’ dramatic changes from the amazing 2007 original, but Supreme Commander 2 is both a great sequel and the best PC RTS game to hit in some time. It’s just huge on all fronts, from the number of available units to the size of the battles. Sure, the visuals have taken a hit to make it more accessible for more machines, but the improvements to the experience make up for the shortcomings that it suffers. Most importantly, the gameplay is fast-paced, action-packed fun. This sequel proves that sometimes, change is good.