Supreme Commander

5_1Oh, how marvelous and numerous real-time strategy games have become. It seems like it was yesterday that we were weaned on Command & Conquer, spending endless nights marshaling around tiny pixelated soldiers. Later on we’ve had another contender for the RTS crown – Total Annihilation, which introduced a vast array of units, terrain height, and even more hectic combat. Granted, it wasn’t a true 3D terrain – it took a little intuition to notice topographic differences, since you couldn’t just rotate the camera a la Myth: The Fallen Lords. But it was addictive and innovative all the same.

Fast forward a decade and you have the spiritual successor to Total Annihilation – Supreme Commander, and true to its source material, the game has a massive amount of stuff to keep gamers happy. As is rather traditional, there are three different factions in the Supreme Commander universe, all of which have a campaign mode with around ten missions. These missions are all an hour and up, with the latter-half taking two hours and up. That’s not counting the multiplayer, where you’ll find over twenty dedicated MP maps for different game sizes, a full online playing network, mod options and more game types than you’ll ever need.

Of course, that’s not saying that these campaigns are particularly inspired in terms of plotline, which is your usual sci-fi scenario. The people of earth have begun to colonize the galaxy in the far future, obviously, and this has had far-reaching consequences. To help support the United Earth Federation (faction one, and your standard human side), the humans built cyborgs to serve them. Can you guess which side the other one happens to be? Bingo, it’s the evil cyborgs. A group of them fled, determined to end the tyranny and oppression of the UEF (thus creating the second faction, the Cybron: revenge-hungry, mental cyber-people with a dark side). As the humans wage their war, they discover an ancient alien race many galaxies away – the Aeon – numbering faction number three.

Totally Commanded

All three factions – UEF, Cybrons and Aeon – follow typecast RTS variations. They have similar units, similar buildings, but with slightly different playing strategies. The UEF is a nation of land-based units, with a preference for tanks, bots and artillery. Being all spiritual, the Aeon admire the sea, and are strong at naval building and combat on the high seas. The Cybron, with their lightning quick reflexes, are great pilots, and prefer to fly their way to destruction. It’s the classic rock-paper-scissors combination of styles, and there’s a reason that it’s ubiquitous – it works well.

So far, so much like any other RTS. So what’s the first thing you notice about Supreme Commander? For one thing, you have to rely on a central starting unit as your main builder and combat aid. People who have played Total Annihilation will already know what I’m talking about. Likewise and in keeping with TA, you’ll be dealing with swarms of troops, command them all into the bloody fray, and then churn out more. It’s the ultimate sci-fi Total War, with a touch more on the chaotic side, as Supreme Commander requires you to build tank battalions in the thousands, bombers in the hundreds and naval crews of tens of battleships.

9_1So forget idle skirmishes you’re used to with most RTS games. This is war on a massive, epic scale, and you’ll find yourself executing complex military manoeuvres on three or four different fronts at a time, sending in wave after wave of tanks to kill shield generators, ships to kill anti-aircraft installations and bombers to flatten everything. Few strategy games have delivered this ‘total war’ approach on this scale, and because the sides are pretty much evenly matched, front lines usually take time to buckle.

Supreme War Tools

There are some useful interface aids to help you make sense of each fight. For one thing, there’s a very handy viepoint mode that gives you a closer view of the action. Imagine a standard RTS viewpoint. Then imagine you can zoom right in to examine your troops and the battle in staggering, gorgeously-lit detail. Then imagine you can zoom back out, and out, and out, and out – until you’re left with a graphic depiction of the map, with your units as mere markers on a board, like a mini-map. All of this happens with a flick of your scroll wheel, and it’s a seamless transition.

Supreme Commander’s second innovation is multi-monitor support, which is something we don’t usually see in RTS gaming. If you have two monitors connected up to your PC, you can use both in-game – a first, as far as we can see. You can use one monitor to stay close to the action, and another to watch the tactical movement of troops from afar. You can zoom both in and out at will, although the command interface only appears on one, and this means you can keep track of two separate parts of the battlefield at the same time. The whole setup makes you feel you’re top brass directing some far away battle in a war room.

I Have To Collect It All

There are two resources in Supreme Commander to collect – Energy and Matter – and both are infinitely regenerating. There are only a certain number of mass deposits on the map, and you’ll need to build extractors on these to harvest the mass. Power generators bring energy, and hooking these up to mass extractors give a bonus. Your status of both is represented by a bar, representing a percentage of your storage capacity.

11_1Building mass or energy storage facilities allow you to store extra, expanding your capacity for resources. The resources regenerate at a speed dependent on how many facilities you have harvesting them, and deplete depending on how you spend them on troops, buildings etc. Rather than just give you absolute numbers, the game handily gives you a ‘rate’ figure for both, in the plus or minus, indicating whether you are currently accumulating resources or burning your reserves. Balancing your consumption rate is hard to do, but will make it faster and easier to expand, if you get the balance right.

Your initial building will be done by the eponymous Supreme Commander, i.e. your avatar on the battlefield, represented by a bloody great robot. You’re bigger and tougher than virtually every other unit, but there’s only one of you, and if you are killed, it’s game over. Killing a Commander generates a nuclear explosion that will wipe out the surrounding area, and is often the way to win a map. You therefore have a balance between using your Commander to build quickly on the battlefield and keeping him out of harm’s way. The missions in the game, then, are varied – in terms of the surrounding scenery, the plot and win conditions, and the kind of battles required to get ahead.

And such are the reasons why you should enjoy Supreme Commander. If you’re a fan of the original Total Annihilation, consider it a must-have, since the spirit of that game is very much back and refined here. You will find everything you’ve enjoyed in that game, all of it oiled to perfection. If massive RTS blastathons are your thing, look no further.

System Requirements: Pentium IV 2 GHz, 256 MB RAM, 8 GB HDD, WinXP

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