Review: Supreme Commander 2

SupremeCommander2.jpg It is STILL hard to believe that the massive and excellent Supreme Commander is destined to be a mere footnote in history with its release coming shortly after the awesome juggernaut that is Company of Heroes. Disbelief comes not from the placement of the games – both are deserving of attention – but rather the fact that Supreme Commander is a wonderful game deserving of accolades, but it will get none because Company of Heroes is better in pretty much every way.

The good news is that the game and its Forged Alliance expansion got enough critical – and, more importantly, commercial – attention that a sequel has been released. The other good news is that the sequel is also a good game. However, it has just enough flaws to ensure that even in a year without any Company of Heroes competition, Supreme Commander 2 will do nothing to change the series’ position as living in the shadow of the very best games in the genre.

The core of the gameplay comes down to building the best units and weapons as fast as you can. As always, there is a world of resource management behind that strategy, and that is where battles and wars are won and lost. But compared to the original game, much of the detail has been simplified to make your life easier – too easy, some will undoubtedly say. But make no mistake, Supreme Commander 2 remains a large and complex RTS.

Technically, Supreme Commander 2 is a seriously mixed bag. Everything works fine, from the solid soundtrack to the solid visuals. But while the soundtrack is well done and evocative of the original game, the voice acting is surprisingly stiff and lifeless. The game focuses more on individuals than the original, so the poor voice acting stands out even more. Sound effects, though, are well done and give the battles life.

The visuals are solid and nicely detailed, just as they were in the original game – but that is part of the problem. The original game came out in 2007 and Supreme Commander 2 does little to feel like it has kept up with the times. The reason for that is simple – the game needed to work on the Xbox 360. Allowing for large scale battles across platforms requires compromises, and leaving the graphics more or less the same as the original allowed the developers to focus on delivering a more satisfying console experience this time around.

If you played the original game and the Forged Alliance expansion you will be disappointed, make no mistake. The original game was mammoth in scope, and the expansion hinted at a storyline to a sequel, but instead Supreme Commander 2 starts with a fragile piece between the three main factions falling apart, and you being at the core of the efforts to keep it from crumbling. The game is structured into three campaigns so that you play the entire game as each of the factions in turn. This means that you get to appreciate the different perspectives and experience the differences in strategy … but it also means that the overall campaign is pretty linear and there are no surprise endings in store.

Of course, in an RTS most people consider the single player campaign simply a warm-up to the multiplayer experience. For Supreme Commander 2, the game is integrated into Steamworks for multiplayer matchmaking and achievements. While I didn’t have any issues with the original system, I know that the consensus is that Steam’s online system is much more robust. Sadly, it isn’t particularly busy, so even after a few weeks of availability finding decent Supreme Commander 2 games online is not trivial. But once you do get a match, the game plays very well and the matches are loads of fun and keep you going for hours.

As an aside, I really can’t stand the growing practice of retail games that require a gamer to enter a Steam serial number and become irrevocably tied into your Steam account. For a game like Supreme Commander 2 it makes some sense, but personally I would prefer to have an option to enter the serial number to authenticate and play off-line, or to lock-in to Steam and be able to go online. This would allow someone who liked the original game to try out the sequel and see if they like it before being stuck with it forever.

I mentioned the compromise of graphics to fit both the PC and Xbox 360 at once. Beyond just keeping a sameness of the graphics, I found that the overall environmental design was rather bland and lifeless. That is only one compromise – the biggest one is the general attempt to simplify everything in the game. The economic complexities and systems of unit progressions being tied into the overall state of your economic and factory systems has been simplified – now you have research trees and all factories are separate and just produce the upgraded units when research is complete. It definitely lowers the entry-point for new gamers, but also removes many things I liked from the original.

That said, Supreme Commander 2 remains a deep and difficult RTS that will undoubtedly be more complex than any other game in the genre this year. Yet the compromises made to make it more accessible have failed in two ways – the game is still too complicated for new players, but is also unsatisfying for fans of the original. It is a solid game, to be sure, but not one that anyone will remember six months from now.

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Pros:
+ Solid graphics and audio
+ Tons of content
+ Large scale battles

Cons:
– Feels smaller than the original
– Doesn’t take any chances
– Compromises made in design are clear

Game Info:
Platform: Reviewed on PC, also available on Xbox 360
Publisher: Square Enix
Developer: Gas Powered Games
Release Date: PC – 3/2/2010, Xbox 360 – 3/17/2010
Genre: RTS
ESRB Rating: E10+
Players: 1-8
Source: Review copy provided by publisher

About the Author

I have loved technology for as long as I can remember - and have been a computer gamer since the PDP-10! Mobile Technology has played a major role in my life - I have used an electronic companion since the HP95LX more than 20 years ago, and have been a 'Laptop First' person since my Compaq LTE Lite 3/20 and Powerbook 170 back in 1991! As an avid gamer and gadget-junkie I was constantly asked for my opinions on new technology, which led to writing small blurbs ... and eventually becoming a reviewer many years ago. My family is my biggest priority in life, and they alternate between loving and tolerating my gaming and gadget hobbies ... but ultimately benefits from the addition of technology to our lives!